Push for healthy habits is personal for student life chief

When Tim Miller’s mother died at age 65, after a life of poor eating habits, he decided to trade in steak for salad.

He became a vegan in May and slimmed down 30 pounds in three months. And the 39-year-old said he wishes he started 10 years ago.

This fall, Miller will help launch cooking classes and weight loss seminars to help students make the same switch to a healthy lifestyle.

The Center for Student Engagement will sponsor a campus dietician to visit first-year residence halls during the first few weeks of school next fall, expanding J Street’s nutrition programs.

“The freshman 15 joke is always out there, but for me it’s not as much of a joke,” Miller said. “When you really look at how someone starts college and how they end college, that can negatively impact them for the rest of their lives.”

Miller will also help create weekly and monthly programs targeting freshmen, teaching them how to eat healthily while saving money and using just the microwave in their residence hall room. He called freshman year “the biggest challenge,” because students are adjusting from home-cooked meals to nearly unlimited options in D.C.

“You could eat chicken wings every dinner for the entire year if you wanted. There’s no forcing you into other options that would be better for you,” he said. He added that many freshmen are used to playing varsity sports in high school and do not know how to eat fewer proportions now that they do not have scheduled exercise each day.

The CSE will also team up with School of Public Health and Health Sciences professors to develop an online education program for weight loss and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, similar to online alcohol education required of all GW students their freshman year. The group received a grant of about $30,000 from GW in January.

Melissa Napolitano, associate professor of prevention and community health, is spearheading the grant project and said universities don’t spend enough time “teaching students positive health behaviors.” She said the project will survey 200 GW students and 200 high school students in about two months, with a demo version set for testing within a year.

She said she expects the full program to be done by next summer, and hopes all incoming students will experience it during Colonial Inauguration.

“If you looked for this information on campus it would be really hard to find it targeted for college students,” Napolitano said. “Ours will have a menu of options.”

The Lerner Health and Wellness Center already offers nutrition and exercise classes each semester. An initial 30-minute nutrition consultation costs $10, with each subsequent session for $30. Students can pay for multiple sessions at once for a discounted price.

University President Steven Knapp’s wife, Diane, held a series of eight non-credit cooking classes at the F Street House in 2010 to teach students about healthy eating. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Cornell University and also steers the University’s Urban Food Task Force.

Exercise science professor Jean Gutierrez, who has been part of Mitchell Hall’s faculty-in-residence program for the past three years, holds healthy cooking classes for residents in her apartment up to three times a month. Her husband, who teaches lifestyle, sport and physical activity classes, has also held free boxing sessions.

“It can be easier if you have those cooking skills. It’s a combination of cost and priority. It’s expensive to eat well around here, and even if it’s possible to eat well, the amount you have to prioritize what your money and your time is a challenge,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said she gained 30 pounds during college because she stopped running with her high school team. She said it is important to help students “get on the right track.”

“People tend to not maintain good lifestyles throughout their entire lives,” Gutierrez added. “We need to enable students to make better choices.”

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