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Eating in a communal dining hall—special tactics for a special situation

By the time Sara returned from the Commonwealth Games, she had gained over 2 kg. Her coach at home was half expecting it. He had heard of other swimmers going to the Australian Institute of Sport and gaining 4 kg in the first six months, mostly from increased body fat. His own daughter was heading off to a university dorm life with trepidation.

Thanks to her obsession with American teen soaps, she had heard all about the ‘fresher 10’—the 10 lb that college students in the US allegedly gain in their first (freshman) year. His son, on the other hand, who’d gone off to university the previous year, came home at the end of each term complaining that there was never enough to eat in his college dining room.

Most people who eat in an institution, whether it’s a boarding school, a hospital or the Olympic Athletes’ Village, have definite views about the food there. Common complaints are: ‘there’s no variety’, ‘all the goodness is cooked out of it’, ‘it’s fattening—you’ll put on weight’, and ‘there’s never enough to eat—weight just drops off ’. Dining rooms specially set up for athletes, such as those at the Australian Institute of Sport or at big sports meets, or the ‘training tables’ for athletes at American universities are definitely not guilty of these charges.

In addition to serving massive volumes of food, and staying open for long hours to cater for the varying schedules of the athletes, the cooks at these dining rooms pay particular attention to the nutritional needs of athletes. It is the athletes who are ultimately responsible for what goes into their mouth. In most cases, when a complaint about bad food is closely examined, the real problem is found to be the athlete’s choices not the foods themselves.

Conclusion

Most people are accustomed to eating at home, where the cooking is done by them or a family member. They are used to having one or two items on the ‘menu’ at a time, and although they may think they eat a variety of dishes, they probably stick to a handful of favourite recipes with only an occasional change. In any case, it is all very familiar and under control. The sudden switch to a communal cafeteria-style dining hall brings:

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