Oregon student creates petition to end calorie tracking assignment

Student says assignment paved way for her eating disorder, creates low self-esteem

OREGON, Wis. — An Oregon Middle School student is asking the school district to end an assignment that requires students to count their calories every day for one week.

Fifteen-year-old Evelyn Becker started the petition on change.org “at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, in my pajamas in my bedroom, I wrote up a petition, published it on change.org and now people are listening to it, talking about it.”

The assignment called ‘Super Tracker Nutritional Goals’ was to be completed as follows, according to Becker:

“The instructions of this assignment tell students typically in eighth (8th) grade to use the app, My Fitness Pal, to track their calories and other nutritional values for one week. Then they are expected to analyze the amount of each of these factor and write a paper about what they should do to change their diet to meet the limits that the app provides. They repeat the tracking and writing progress for one more week. Finally they turn in all of their information to the teacher to be graded.”

Becker said the assignment was “dreadful.”

“I was suffering from depression and anxiety due to some traumatic events that happened the year before,” Becker wrote on the online petition page. “I had a very strong belief that I wasn’t good enough and this project made things a lot worse. I remember logging my food and feeling guilty about every piece of food I swallowed. The first (1st) day I ate food as I always did, but once day two (2) came around I would only eat half of the calories I was supposed to. I became fixated on the numbers only two (2) days in. That week I believe started my disordered eating. I continued to use that app after the assignments, and I didn’t stop until I met with my first therapist, who immediately prompted me to delete it and told me that no student should be allowed to use the app at all, let alone for school work.”

Becker said she is not the only one who was affected by the assignment.

She wrote: “By giving them an assignment like this one teachers are opening doors for unhealthy food obsessions like disordered eating, eating disorders, and so on. As young people develop they experience a lot of change in their mind and body. This abrupt change as well are the media’s portrayal  of what people “should” look like adds to this self esteem drop and makes many students dislike their bodies. This project gives young people the idea that they can control their eating to themselves “healthier” or “make their bodies “better”. Young people do not need more reason to feel that their bodies are inadequate. This assignment is a breeding ground for low self esteem students to develop unhealthy relationships with food.”

The petition has nearly 500 signatures so far.

Becker said in an interview, “Once you’re already in that spot where you already don’t like your body, because you’re 13 years old and it’s ever changing, the numbers become some sort of way to gauge your worth.” Becker added that starting the petition was never for her own benefit, but for the benefit of other students who may have to go through the same thing when they’re assigned this same project.

According to a district assistant, the assignment has been given on and off for the past 10 years.

In a statement, Oregon School District Superintendent Brian Busler said:”As we prepare for the 2020-21 school year, we will look at the entire curriculum to make sure that it’s all aligned and still moving in the direction that we would like it to move,” he said. “The project was designed to help students be mindful of their habits regarding nutrition, exercise, sleep and how these relate to their overall wellness. We don’t want a single student to feel uncomfortable in a class that they’re taking. We do know the sensitivity of eating disorders, body image, self-esteem issues and we want to make sure that all of our students are feeling comfortable at school.”

Becker said she never expected the petition to gain as much momentum as it has. She said she’s been contacted by other students in other school districts thanking her for starting a conversation about how schools can look at different ways to teach a health and nutrition curriculum.

“It’s super incredible that what was just an angry me in my bedroom writing things turned into a genuine change,” Becker said. “I don’t think that would have been possible if people hadn’t signed it and if the community hadn’t supported it and decided that this is an issue worth fighting for.”