Calorie counts on menus. (See here)
Where to start?
Firstly, this is an overly-simplistic measure which misses the mark. It perpetuates the myth that calories are the be all and end all of dieting: that all you have to do is cut down on how many calories you put in your body and you’re good. That’s just not right. There is far more to a healthy diet and lifestyle than counting your calories.
The new proposal by the government passes the book when it comes to actually tackling the root causes of obesity: poor quality food being more accessible and affordable than better quality food, along with a myriad of factors around inequality, incomes, lifestyle choices and education. This measure is them trying to look like they’re doing something without actually doing anything radical to tackle the crisis (or spending money!).
Besides – 100 calories from an apple is NOT the same as 100 calories from my favourite chocolate bar (a Boost, by the way, in case you were wondering). Not all calories are created equal. And let’s face it, most people who walk into a McDonalds and see the numbers by the side of a Big Mac and the numbers by the side of one of the ‘light’ options have probably already chosen to go for the Big Mac anyway – and why not treat yourself!? If I’ve decided to have a pudding in a restaurant when out for a meal to celebrate someone’s birthday, I’m definitely going to go for the sticky toffee pudding over the fruit salad – why would I pay 7 quid for a bit of melon and a strawberry that I could buy from the shop round the corner for less than half that? And it’s a special occassion.
So this measure just misses the mark. It won’t reach the people the government most seeks to influence when it comes to dieting, it won’t influence people in the way they say it will, and it won’t help tackle the root causes of the obesity problem in this country.
And this isn’t even touching on the incredibly harmful effects this measure could have on people with eating disorders. And just before you say that this is just a minority, I’ll stop you there – over 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. Eating out is hard enough with an eating disorder. When I was ill, what I saw when I looked at a menu was not a list of delicious opportunities, but an offering of different torture methods – “will it be the rack or the thumb screws for you, sir?”
Adding a number next to those choices and you’re in breakdown territory! Believe me, I’ve been there.
My first trip to Maccy D’s in recovery was horrific – and seeing the numbers by the side of the items almost sent me bolting out of those always too-heavy doors. The idea of going to that restaraunt in itself felt like chopping my left hand off – seeing what I thought I was doing to myself when the eating disorder saw those numbers was like chopping off the right hand and the whole left arm at the same time.
Had this measure been in place while I was in recovery, it would have taken a much, much longer time for me to adjust to life in the ‘normal’ world, where ‘normal’ people do go out to eat occassionally, to have fun, to socialise, to enjoy themselves and food. The idea of having to look at those numbers as well as just pushing myself to eat out in the first place would have set me way back.
That’s why I urge the government not to put these new proposals into place. Not only will they not work, not only will they miss the mark, but it will be hugely damaging, harmful, and detrimental to the many, many people who suffer from eating disorders. Even now, when I consider myself almost fully recovered, I still have a minor panic when I see calorie counts at the dinner table.
This isn’t the right step. Yes, we need to tackle obesity. No, we don’t need to make life een harder for people with eating disorders at the same time. Counting calories is not the answer. Let’s abort this countdown before it starts.
If you or someone you know may be suffering with an eating disorder, here are some links to find out more information about the illness and treatment. Please don’t think you’re not ‘ill enough’: if you need help, ask for it...