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Science & Health

Q&A: A UCLA Dietician’s Take on “International No Diet Week”

Diet: (n) the kinds of food a person habitually eats; (v) to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.

Doesn’t sound very fun, does it?

This week is International No Diet Week, spearheaded by the UCLA EATask force with the aim of challenging the cultural attitudes in society today that cause people to diet. On Wednesday, there will be a screening of America the Beautiful, a film that touches on subjects such as the perception of beauty and the dieting craze. After the film, a panel of professionals will answer students’ questions concerning nutrition, fitness and body image.

One of the professionals on the panel is Eve Lahijani, a registered dietician at the Bruin Resource Center. She also teaches a Fiat Lux class about nutrition and body image. This week we caught up with Lahijani and asked her a few questions about what to expect at the event this Wednesday and her thoughts on dieting in general.

First, can you tell us a little bit more about the event on Wednesday? 

We’re going to show the film, and then we’re going to answer two questions: What is the biggest wellness myth? What is the truth? The myth I’m going to cover is how restricting and skipping meals actually causes people to eat more and be more obsessed with food.

We’re also going to talk about our favorite parts of the movie. My favorite part of the movie is when the dietician in the movie shows what balanced eating is actually like.

What are your thoughts on gender and dieting, from your experience with students and clients?

From my experience, dieting is just as much a problem for men as it is for women. And unfortunately men seem to have less resources, so the problem is sometimes even worse. Men often are trying to bulk up by consistently overeating or overexercising to the point where they have overuse injuries. It’s definitely a problem for men as well as women.

Do you think that location – living in LA, for example – influences people’s decision to diet?

Los Angeles is a hard place to be, for both women and men. This campus being right in the middle of Hollywood and Santa Monica, that’s tough. I definitely think that location feeds into it.

What would you say is the alternative to dieting?

It’s like what we teach in the Cosmo class and the FITTED class – learning how to reconnect with your body’s own natural hunger and fullness. Your body is very wise, and we trust (our bodies). For example, we don’t ever ask ourselves “is it okay to go pee?”. Eating should be self regulatory too; it’s about listening to your body’s cues, interpreting those cues and responding to them.

What does listening to your body look like?

Eating a balanced meal (including carbohydrates, protein and fat) every few hours when you get hungry, and making sure that the meal is both satisfying and nourishing. And if every now and then that includes fried food or chocolate, that’s okay too. Balance, variety and moderation are all important. If you eat a cookie or some ice cream, that’s not going to make you or break you. It’s when you binge on the bag of cookies that it’s a problem, especially if you’re doing that consistently.

Where’s your favorite place to eat on campus?

I love burritos and I love Mexican food, so I like to order a burrito at Rubio’s when I eat on campus. Sometimes I go to the bistro on South Campus. That’s really good, too.

What’s your favorite snack?

A mini burrito? Or something like a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of soymilk, or a piece of fruit with string cheese.

What’s the importance of the no diet week to college students?

I think that a very important aspect of healthy eating is a healthy relationship with food. You might know some people who eat “totally clean” and it looks like they’re doing the right thing, but if they happen to be around a cookie they freak out. I think that a healthy relationship and attitude towards food is very overlooked.

Lahijani will speak at the International No Diet week panel on Wednesday, May 8, at 6:30 p.m. in De Neve Auditorium.