The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

Demystifying the c-word

It was a word I had rarely heard until arriving at the University of Richmond on that scorching, second-to-last week in August for freshman year. A few months in an all-girls dorm would quickly change that. A few years would expose a pervasiveness in student vocabulary that not even separate, coordinate colleges could prevent. Calorie.

All right, maybe not the c-word you were imagining. But as the infamous "Beach Week Diet" should've tacked a color-coded eating/exercise regimen above your bed weeks ago (if you have any hope of entering North Myrtle Beach sans cover-up or awkward white T-shirt), it's the more relevant one.

Especially because most of us probably aren't where we'd like to be. (Thanks, Mom. Best Easter candy package yet.) But as you reassess, think beyond Beach Week. Diets don't work - lifestyles do.

To ditch the cover-up, ditch the c-word - not the calories themselves.

I understand not everyone was as fortunate as I to attend a strange, but wonderful all-girls high school where lunchtime Wing Bowls and two turns through the make-your-own-sundae line were causes for celebration, even ways of bringing glory upon your family name; birthday rejoices were not for the lives they marked, but for the desserts they'd yield; and re-enacting the Bruce Bogtrotter scene from "Matilda" was not an isolated occasion.

The only preparation I had for the freshmania calorie craze was from chemistry: the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1*C from a standard initial temperature. (Yikes, these Richmond girls were smart.)

Unfortunately, wings, ice cream and chocolate cake aren't the solution. But the truth is, you do need to eat to lose weight. The body will cling to fat until it is nourished enough to release it. Tests of anorexic girls have shown that although they appear to be thin, their bodies are 60 percent fat.

The important distinction is the quality of the ingredients, not the quantity of calories. For the gentleman (yes, ladies, it seems you are not alone in memorizing the calorie content of every comestible known to student-kind) who told me he drinks vodka and Coke Zero because it has less calories than shots: a) That doesn't even make sense because you're essentially drinking shots anyway. b) Coke Zero is not going to help your beach bod just because it lacks calories.

Think about it: An apple has 55 calories. A bottle of Coke Zero mysteriously has zero. Yet, which do you think is better for you?

Our misguided obsession is not our fault. In fact, we should be outraged. The food, magazine and infomercial industries have hijacked our minds and vocabulary, not to help us, but to pad their own wallets.

Aside from the fact that our minds already work too hard to survive school here without computing calories on the side, our bodies simply aren't programmed that way. Rather, we're programmed to require six things for cellular function and fat release.

Seven to nine servings of fresh fruit and raw or steamed vegetables will give you five of the six: protein, minerals, enzymes, pure water and glucose. And by the time you fill this quota, there's not that much time left during the day to screw it up that badly.

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The sixth is raw oil (cold- or expeller-pressed flax, extra virgin olive or borage). Calorie counters, deep breath. It has 110 to 120 calories per tablespoon, but you need one tablespoon per day per 50 lbs of body weight to lose weight.

Alternatively, you gain weight when you feed your body foods it cannot digest.

Hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup are the worst things you could ingest.

Anything white - flour, rice, salt, sugar, cocaine - has been refined, meaning it has been stripped of nearly all nutrients and, therefore, has nothing to offer you but extra weight and a craving for more food.

Instead, breads and cereals should be sprouted, flourless and gluten-free (Ezekiel 4:9 brand). Get real sea salt (not the cheap imitation), brown rice (not instant) and, if necessary, raw cane sugar. I have no advice about the best kind of blow.

Avoid meat, which might not be so unthinkable as it was only last month that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that cattle that couldn't walk ("downer cattle") would be banned from slaughter. Glad we got that cleared up.

But your body still can't digest meat. With anything, cooking kills the food's enzymes necessary to digest your food, forcing your body to steal from its finite supply that is crucial for keeping your body running. Cooked proteins putrefy in your stomach (7 oz. of red meat takes seven days to digest). Switch to fish and ditch the microwave, which kills all the nutrients.

As for dairy, pasteurization also kills the enzymes required for digestion. That and I wouldn't want to ingest the milk meant to raise an 1,000-lb cow.

Ladies, the weight will disappear without chaining yourself to the elliptical. Gents, unless you're growing a third bicep, you'll be strong without the bionic tubs of synthetic protein powder. Your minds will be sharper without decorating your library workstations with a coffee cup, Red Bull or 5-hour-energy (let alone all three).

Beyond college, poor eating habits mean long-term diseases for you and disorders for your children - if you can have children.

In the Pottenger Cat Study, the cats fed a diet that included cooked meat developed degenerative diseases by the end of the first generation, mid-life during the second generation and early in life during the third generation. There was no fourth generation. Sound similar to another species' trends?

It seems more logical to avoid foods by learning how they harm you rather than mastering their caloric stats. But after witnessing students still able to put a handle to their mouths the night after it left them on their apartment floors, maybe not.

Speaking of peer pressure, though, my fondest memory freshman year of being pointed at by a hallmate's visiting friend (too drunk to realize I could hear her) as she inquired, "Is that the girl with the eating disorder?" imparts two final lessons:

Because eating is such a social ritual, those who mock you for eating alternatively usually just want to make themselves feel better about what's on their plates. At the same time, when you eat well most of the time, it's OK to cave when cravings hit.

But I think you'll find them dwindling. Especially when you ditch the scanty models for portion sizes revered in Wellness class and that D-Hall glass case of what are supposed to satisfy you. When food is made from proper ingredients, you can eat as much as you want.

So forget which item at the Pier has the least calories. Most of it's not fit for dogs anyway. ETC has begun to order the right brands, the weird section in Ukrop's is right down the street and there's even a new Whole Foods by Short Pump mall.

It's true it's more expensive. But if we can afford to spend $225 adorning ourselves with Tory Burch totes (see: logo resembling modified Swastika), we can pay an extra dollar to feed our bodies. After all, they're the most valuable possessions we have.

Contact opinion editor Maura Bogue at

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