UBC removes caloric information from residence dining rooms to improve students' relationship with food

Content warning: This article contains mentions of eating disorders.

UBC recently removed nutritional and caloric information from signs and digital platforms in first-year residence dining rooms.

In the past, residence dining rooms displayed caloric information at food serving stations. This information could also be found on Nutrislice, a web-based platform where students can view daily menus for all first-year dining locations, as well as certain other food outlets on campus. As of this year, this information is no longer accessible — although ingredient lists and allergen information are still available.

Colin Moore, director of food services at UBC, said it was important to look at the bigger picture of residence dining rather than focusing on the removal of nutritional information, which is only one aspect of the greater shift toward an all-access meal plan.

Gloria Sun, manager of nutrition and wellbeing at UBC and the in-house dietitian for first-year residences, said the broader goal of removing nutritional information was to help students “improve their relationship with food in the body and in the mind.”

Sun said one important reason for removing nutritional information in particular was that nutritional labeling can be inaccurate. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a 20 per cent margin of error for nutritional labels, she said. Moreover, terms like calories, carbohydrates and sugars can be misleading.

“You might have heard of the term like eating that 2,000 calorie per day kind of diet,” Sun said. “But it’s important to understand that that 2,000 calories is based on self-reported data and not really actual energy needs.”

Andy Bains, a graduate student in the dietetics program at UBC, agreed. He pointed out that nutritional information can be very inaccurate — especially when calculating for individual portions which can vary in size.

Labelling can also generate a restrictive mentality toward food, Sun said. This restrictive mentality, according to Sun, leads to dieting behaviour, which can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness in Canada, and nutritional information can be triggering for those with eating disorders.

Bernice Hong, a third-year student in the dietetics program, was recovering from an eating disorder when she lived in first-year residence.

When Hong used the meal plan, she had mixed feelings about the readily available nutritional information, but appreciated that she could make informed decisions.

“Sometimes, seeing those calories, it would scare me into not wanting to eat there. But other times when I did want to eat there, it was nice seeing that nutritional info,” she said. “It gave me a sense of relief almost.”

Hong worried that removing access to information may discourage students from eating.

“I’m not going to speak on behalf of those with eating disorders, obviously, but I do think that some people might choose to not eat instead of eating something that they don’t know the nutrition [information] about.”

Several community members have also expressed concerns in online forums with not being able to access nutritional information.

Sun responded to the concerns by saying that students could access the on-campus dietitian for more serious concerns and work together to create a plan for their own nutrition and well-being.

Sun said, the change could promote intuitive eating.

“[Intuitive eating] is focusing on internal factors, like listening to what our body needs,” she said.

Bains agreed that the change promoted intuitive eating, and said it was important to keep in mind that dining halls are often students first exposure to choosing food entirely on their own.

“After students leave this dining hall, what are they leaving with when it comes to dietary habits?”