Why showing calorie counts on menus is a bad idea
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In a bid to tackle childhood obesity, the UK Government is planning on forcing restaurants, cafés and takeaway outlets to display calorie counts for each meal on their menus. This is, allegedly, in order to help people make "informed and healthy choices for themselves and their family". However, while concerns have been raised by the Treasury that it will be a huge expense to small businesses, there is an arguably bigger problem with this policy. Calorie counting has become all too commonplace in modern society, particularly amongst women, with women’s magazines encouraging fad diets and demonising calories as if they are evil, and not just units of energy. Indeed, the global weight loss market is worth $158.2billion, and there are thousands of products out there intended to ‘aid’ weight loss by encouraging fasting, detoxing and more. However, this diet culture is incredibly toxic. Registered nutritionists recognise that many diets are examples of disordered eating, which is often the beginning of the slippery slope that leads to life-threatening eating disorders, especially those that involve restricting food including anorexia). Behaviours such as fasting, skipping meals, restricting major food groups, counting calories, using laxatives and detox teas or diet pills are all symptoms of disordered eating. Contrary to popular belief, diets like these simply don’t work. Fad diets don’t take into account a person’s individual requirements, and rapid weight loss is never going to be healthy. Indeed research has shown that at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they have lost within four to five years. The culture that we live in still idolises the thin, “perfect” bodies which perfectly accompanies diet culture and the two work together to make women, and men, feel worthless. Returning our focus to calories, it is clear that calories are a big part of dieting yet they are also a big part of eating disorders, particularly anorexia. Earlier this year I received a diagnosis of atypical anorexia nervosa, after suffering from symptoms for 5 years. The ‘atypical’ part means that I present at a healthy weight and I don’t fit all of the usual criteria for anorexia, including calorie counting. During my worst bouts of the illness I would lose between 1 and 2 stone in a single month, but I never obsessively counted calories.
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