Published: April 22, 2020
Student Nutritional Counselors Help Peers Balance Full Plates
For many college students, balancing a full course load, a social life, various extracurricular activities, as well as jobs and internships often means nutrition and healthy eating aren’t priorities. The UT Wellness Center is hoping to change that through the help of peer nutritional counseling.
“Do students have a lot of other things on their plates? Of course,” said Addie Carothers, associate director of wellness. “But, when well-being is not a focus, then studies often are negatively impacted. Good nutrition can positively impact your immune system, your mental health and your energy levels, which all lead to higher success in academics and satisfaction in social realms.”
Through a UT Wellness Center scholarship, interested students attend a workshop and are certified as nutrition consultants by the American Academy of Sports Dietitians and Nutritionists (AASDN). They are then employed through the Wellness Center, providing both a benefit to their peers as well as hands-on professional experience for their own careers.
Two of UT’s nutritional consultants are public health majors Ariana Capece ’22 of Annandale, NJ, and Emily Amato ’20 of Long Island, NY.
Amato and Capece had Gina Firth, the associate dean of wellness, for their first-year seminar course their freshman year. When they expressed an interest in nutrition, Firth introduced them to the program.
“With a class full of freshmen who were all new to UT, Gina understood the transition we were all going through,” Amato said. “She wanted us to focus on all areas of our well-being so we could best enjoy our time at UT.”
The nutrition consultations are tailored to each student’s needs, whether that’s to gain weight, lose weight or just overall eat healthier and meet their nutrient needs. Consultants make recommendations on how and where to eat healthier at on-campus dining locations. For students who live on campus and don’t have a vehicle, they often rely solely on their meal plans.
To adapt to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, the nutrition consultations are now held via Zoom. Students can contact the Wellness Center via email to set up an appointment.
While Amato has not had any nutrition consultations since the start of the pandemic, through conversations with her peers she knows that some people are struggling with being back home.
“Students have much more free time on their hands, so they are mindlessly eating junk food,” said Amato. “I encourage them to use that time to get creative in the kitchen.”
When students are on campus, consultants recommend a number of ways to eat healthier.
“I chose to be involved with this because I went from getting homemade meals every day and being very active in high school to eating Salsa Rico three times a day and feeling like I couldn’t make time to go work out,” said Capece. “A lot of my clients say they feel like meal plans don’t have the best options for them. A goal of mine is to make sure my clients know that our meal plans do contain healthy options, and you can get creative with the meals.”
UT's Dining Services offers several options through its mindful health and wellness approach. For example, Fresh Creations in the Vaughn Center’s Spartan Club offers healthy wraps and salads. Capece recommends when ordering here to get the dressing on the side. Since portions are larger at Salsa Rico in Morsani Hall, Capece recommends splitting the container in half and saving one for later.
Dining Services also offers BITE, an app that is linked to menus in Ultimate Dining and Panache. Through the app, students can view all of the nutritional information and allergens for each dish. Plus, they can rate the food, which provides Dining with immediate feedback.
“Each food place that UT has offers healthy options,” Capece said. “You just need to play with the menu and portions and use nutritional guidelines to make healthy choices.”
A typical consultation consists of an informal conversation, where the client talks about their goals. The consultants then make their recommendations, accounting for the client’s other activities, stressors such as schoolwork and being homesick, and previous medical history. Students are allowed four free consultations per semester and can be scheduled whenever the student and consultant choose.
“By the end of every first consultation, I develop a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goal with my client,” said Amato
Both Capece and Amato said they’ve gained valuable experience from both AASDN and their clients to use not only in their professional careers but for their own nutritional needs. The job has also been rewarding for each by allowing them to help their fellow students.
“I saw an opportunity where I was able to learn more information, develop a new skill and give back to the UT community,” said Amato. “Being a nutrition consultant on campus is extremely rewarding. I love knowing that I am impacting the UT community in a positive way.”
Story by Mallory Culhane ’21, journalism major