Healthy inside and out: A conversation with the campus nutritionist
The “Freshman Fifteen.” Convenient vending machines. Cookies, candies and gum right by the register. The line between fact and fiction is often blurred when it comes to eating on your college campus, but it boils down to one simple idea: eat healthy, you’re an adult now. However, it can feel isolating at times; you’re either the girl who is in line for an excellently-balanced fat-free salad, or you’re the guy buying two trays of fries.
The thing is that neither of these two choices are necessarily healthy or unhealthy; many students just are not sure how to balance their own nutrition. This doesn’t need to be a problem, especially since Hofstra has its very own on-campus registered dietitian and sports nutritionist, Jessica Jaeger, R.D., C.D.N.
Just as you see your advisor when you are unsure of your semester schedule, Jaeger is there when you are unsure of how to correctly balance your eating habits.
Jaeger completed her undergraduate degree at New York University and is currently attending LIU Post for her master’s degree. She was inspired to become a nutritionist due to an experience she had during her first few years of school.
“Around the time I started college, I began working at a local health food store. This was the first time I started to really pay attention to what I was eating and all of the benefits that I could acquire from eating real, wholesome food,” Jaeger said.
Outside of Hofstra, she is the nutritionist for other Long Island colleges, including Adelphi University.
On why she chose to work outside the city, she explained, “I grew up on Long Island. [I’ve] found it to be a great location to serve college campuses.”
“There are many different focuses for a nutritionist,” Jaeger said. “Some other dietitians may work in hospitals, nursing homes, corporate wellness, private practice and the community setting. A campus nutritionist position is unique because you are generally working with a very specific age group with specific needs, such as healthy campus dining or eating on the go with a busy schedule.”
The importance of proper nutrition education in college has only grown as time goes on. In 2012, the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior published a study on student eating habits that revealed that many college students do not eat even one serving of fruits or vegetables in one day.
When asked if she thought there was a culture that encouraged eating a certain way on college campuses, Jaeger said, “Busy schedules definitely lead to rushed or convenience eating. I don’t think it’s necessarily being promoted, but it’s definitely something I’ve observed ... I most frequently get questions regarding trending diets and how to eat well in the midst of a busy college schedule.”
On Hofstra’s habits in particular, she said, “I don’t think it would be fair to assign a label to the entire university. From what I see, everyone does the best they can.”
Jaeger outlined what an appointment with the campus dietitian might look like.
“In an initial appointment, I do my best to ask questions to give me a picture of who the student is as a whole. I will ask about anthropometric measurements like height and weight, medical and family history, lifestyle behaviors and a 24-hour recall, which is a very detailed account of what the student will typically eat in a day,” she said. “From there, we create attainable dietary goals together. In follow up appointments, we re-evaluate the last session’s goals and see if we can create either additional goals or a new plan to better achieve the same goals.”
On the best piece of advice she could give a student looking to change their diet for the better, Jaeger opts for a custom approach, reminding students that “there is no one-size-fits-all piece of nutrition information,” and “Ultimately, do your best to incorporate a fruit or vegetable into every meal.”
College students who go see the campus dietitian have already made a choice to change their lives for the better, beginning with what they put into their bodies. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone knows what questions to ask.
“I wish more students would take my nutrition label reading advice, which I have adapted from the book ‘In Defense of Food’ [by Michael Pollan]. The idea is for people to focus less on the numbers like calories and fat, and focus more on ingredients.” Jaeger outlines three easy requirements for students to do this: “One, make sure the ingredient list is short; two, you can pronounce all the ingredients; and three, you’re potentially able to find the ingredients in your (or someone else’s) kitchen. This ensures that the ingredients are real, whole foods.”
Students with special diets have traditionally had a hard time finding foods that are healthy but also respect their beliefs. The campus dietitian is also dedicated to supporting students who choose to follow different dietary needs due to religious, personal or medical reasons.
“We are very cognizant of students with special dietary restrictions,” Jaeger said. “The first step will usually be a meeting with both myself and the head chef here on campus, so we can address any concerns from both a dietary and culinary standpoint. We often then will do a walk-through, in which we identify all the dining locations across campus where students can feel comfortable eating.” Whether you are a vegan or allergic to specific ingredients, this offers a great resource for finding a diet that best suits your needs.
Like any medical professional, a campus nutritionist faces some challenges when it comes to patient health. “The toughest part of my job, and perhaps any dietitian’s job, is focusing on diet and lifestyle modifications. I love when students feel comfortable enough to share their concerns with me, but food and eating are so commonly tied into other aspects. If I see a student is beginning to share information that falls outside of my scope of practice, I direct them to the counseling center to make sure that they have access to all the healthcare professionals that can best serve them,” Jaeger said.
The job isn’t always tough, though. “The best part of my job is having students come back for follow-ups and finding out they have accomplished the goals we’ve set together. Even better than that is when students come back and say, ‘I feel so much better!’ If I can get students to come back feeling good and like they are developing a better relationship with food, I’ve done my job,” Jaeger said.
As to what her own favorite foods are, she responded, “Peanut butter is definitely a staple for me! The mix of healthy fats and protein makes for a great snack to keep me full. As far as go-to meals, I keep it simple and will make things like whole wheat pasta, grilled chicken and lots of veggies topped with olive oil and garlic. When I’m on campus I like making salads with a variety of colorful veggies and a source of lean protein, like tofu or edamame.”
While your academic performance is important, your mental and physical well-being are determined in part by how you fuel yourself. It is never too late to change your diet for the better.
If you are a student who is interested in meeting with Jessica Jaeger to discuss your campus nutrition needs, the best way to reach her is at CampusDiningDietitian@compass-usa.com.