Sitting down with Bates Nutritionist: Bates Peer Health Educators and Josh Palomera

Trigger warning: this article contains sensitive information regarding food and nutrition.

In October, Bates Peer Health Educators developed a survey to find out which health resource students know the least about. The result was Nutritional Counseling and Services, which got 56.3% of the total votes. Bates Peer Health decided to develop programming with the on-campus Dietician and Nutrition Educator, Josh Palomera. Palomera obtained his bachelor’s degree in Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and his master’s degree in Dietetics at Simmons University. 

The Bates Peer Health Educator, Tamrin Ghai ’26, was the first person to bridge the gap between the student body and Bates Nutritional Services and visited Palomera’s office on Nov. 10 to talk about his work on campus.

Bates students can access nutrition services by directly emailing [email protected]. Moreover, nutrition counseling is accessible through referrals of sports coaches, Health Services, CAPS, or Dining Services. Students can get a referral from Dining Services by letting them know their food allergies and restrictions. This Thursday, November 17th, from 12 p.m. -2 p.m., Peer Health Educators will host an open Q&A “Food for Thought” with Palomera at Fireplace Lounge. Come if you want to ask more personalized questions to Palomera or just say hi!

What’s your philosophy on working with clients who come from different backgrounds and food cultures? Coming from a different background makes it easier to understand that other people approach eating in different ways. Halal and Kosher options can be seen on the online menu.

“As a Hispanic and Middle Eastern, I recognize how important it is to understand that not everyone eats in the same way. When I meet with someone, [for] about the first 15 minutes, I’m trying to concentrate on their background information.”

What is your biggest piece of advice for crafting a balanced plate in Commons?

“It is multifaceted. Part of this, I encourage people to eat what they want first. There is hesitation to grab meals that people enjoy. However, recognizing that you should have grain, protein and color (fruits, veggies) is essential.”

Which resources would you recommend for people who want to learn more about nutrition? Organize their diet more effectively? 

“Going to the Bates Dining Website and seeing the menu and offerings of the day. Check the stations that change around every day.”

How do you balance sharing nutrition knowledge when disordered eating habits are a concern? What are some ways you help these clients navigate the challenge of creating healthier habits at Bates?

“It is hard as it is really individualized. More knowledge could help certain people whereas it could be harming other people. Part of my job is to recognize when somebody is at risk to be harmed by this knowledge. The other part of my job that I really enjoy is helping people to create a healthier relationship with food that will not only nourish your body physiologically, but also that brings you joy.”

As a professional in this realm, do you think there can be ‘too much’ knowledge that may encourage someone to develop unhealthy habits? Do you worry about the tipping point between balance and control?

“There is such a thing as ‘too much’ knowledge. Food tracking is one of those things that can be beneficial, but a lot of the time it can be harmful as well. A lot of times when they look at food they see a number versus something beneficial. There is an issue with misinformation online where you can have so much knowledge that is wrong.” 

Would you recommend “creating your own plate” feature in the online menu? 

“Yes, what I like about this feature is being able to know what you will eat. However, I don’t like an idea of putting the number of calories to it.”

What are the most prevalent issues you’ve encountered in meetings with Bates students so far?

“Number one is undereating, on purpose or not. Most students aren’t eating enough to fill their needs. You need to control your meals while managing classwork and all the activities. A lot of things are working against you, such as having time to eat or anxiety around going to Commons. Almost everyone [I’ve talked to] in some way has mentioned that they have [this anxiety], as it is very overwhelming. Something that could help is reminding that everyone feels that way. Actually, I have a chart with busier times of Commons for some students.” 

I know Thanksgiving can be a tumultuous time when talking about food boundaries, what are some tips you have for navigating meals during the holiday season? How do you set boundaries about food with the people you love? 

“Being honest, if something is upsetting, or someone makes a comment, call it out in the way that makes you comfortable might help. You can openly say that ‘that question made me uncomfortable.’ Sometimes, people with whom we are the closest do not realize that their words can get harmful.”

Do you have any advice on maintaining healthy eating habits during stressful times, like finals week? Exams? 

“You need food to function both physically and mentally. There is no one way to remind yourself about nutrition during times of stress. It can be something [like] reminders on your phone. Don’t forget to drink more water. Be mindful of how your body feels and note when you are tired. In nutrition, sleeping plays an important role. Make sure you note the way your nutrition affects your sleeping.”

What are your thoughts on snacking? 

“You are allowed to take stuff out of Commons. You can’t do your grocery shopping and take the hot food, but you can take the on the go things such as bagels, peanut butter, bread, fruit or yogurts. College students should snack.”