UCCS dietitians discuss eating disorders, how to eat healthy during pandemic

Taylor Burnfield

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 The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reports that eating disorders typically begin between the ages of 18 and 21. According to the NEDA, the stresses of being a college student can sometimes contribute to the development of these disorders.  

     In addition to the stresses of college, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the eating habits of students as well. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that the stay-at-home orders that began last year have negatively impacted people who were already struggling with eating disorders.  

     Frances Treat has worked as a registered dietitian at UCCS for about four and a half years. She has noticed her clients struggling to maintain healthy eating habits during the pandemic.  

     “I have seen increased reporting of emotional and associated eating patterns,” she said. “Most people usually relate emotional eating to stress or sadness, but emotional eating can occur with mild, yet chronic anxiety, frustration and even exhaustion. Eating due to boredom is also considered a version of emotional eating,” 

     Nikki Fioretti, a registered dietitian and graduate student studying sports nutrition, has worked at UCCS for a year and a half and has similar observations. “I have seen some people who are turning towards food as a comfort throughout this time. I have also seen others who have lost their appetite due to stress and are not eating as much.”  

     Treat explains that disordered eating can present itself in many ways. There are some warning signs to look out for, such as “withdrawing from normal activities because of anxieties about eating. … Excessively comparing one’s body to other people’s bodies and excessive self-criticism can be a clue. Cycling between over-restriction and over-consumption repeatedly can be a sign.” 

     To maintain healthy eating habits, both Treat and Fioretti advocate for mindful eating practices. 

Frances Treat (left) and Nikki Fioretti (right).
Photos courtesy of UCCS.

     “It is important to keep structured meal times and to avoid grazing all day. Having a place to sit and eat meals that is not dedicated to schoolwork or entertainment is also key. … Computer and schoolwork areas, TV watching and gaming areas … should be designated as no food zones,” Treat said.  

     Fioretti stated, “Mindfulness is the act of slowing down and being present. Some mindfulness tips when it comes to eating include turning off all screens while you are eating, chewing every few bites 20-30 times, taking note of all the flavors you are experiencing, and asking yourself if you are eating because you are hungry or because you are bored.” 

     Fioretti gives additional advice for vegan and vegetarian students. “A few nutrients of particular concern for vegans and vegetarians include protein, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and zinc. These deficiencies can impact your mood, ability to focus, energy level and more.”  

     Fioretti recommends that students who plan on switching to a plant-based diet meet with their healthcare provider and a registered dietitian first. “Your healthcare provider can work with you to monitor these nutrient levels through lab work and your dietitian can help educate you on how you can meet these needs through your diet.” 

     Maintaining a healthy diet does not have to be expensive or complicated. The UCCS Health and Wellness Center offers many convenient and affordable options to students seeking to improve their nutrition.  

     UCCS students are eligible for three free sessions with a registered dietitian at the Wellness Center. After the first three free sessions, each additional session costs $20. 

     Currently, these sessions are done virtually through Microsoft Teams. You can set up an appointment with the Wellness Center by calling them at 719-255-4444.  

     The Wellness Center offers other services such as cooking classes and healthy recipes. For more information, follow the link to their website here

     Fioretti wants students to know that they should not be too hard on themselves. “This has been a very stressful time for many people. Be kind to yourself with how you are handling it.  These are truly unprecedented times and even though it may feel permanent it will not be and you will get through this.”