Media Partners | Contributors | Advertise | Contact | Log in | Tuesday 21 May 2019

Why showing calorie counts on menus is a bad idea


Share This Article:

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".

Measuring sandwich

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.

However, for many with anorexia, this is a huge part of their illness.

Many people with anorexia, or other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED), set a calorie limit a day that is ridiculously low – often much below 1000 calories.

They count calories to make sure they are eating as few as possible, while also exercising as much as they can to either lose weight or not gain weight; They count and recount every calorie they eat and work off.

Of course, not everyone who counts calories develops a clinical eating disorder, but it does increase the chances of it massively.

People do it for the feeling of control, particularly if other parts of their life feel out of control, and most don’t realise it’s a problem until it’s too late.

Indeed, another big part of eating disorders is massive denial.

As I said, I never really counted calories but I did pay attention to them.

I still do, sometimes.

I try my hardest not to feel bad about what I eat as part of my recovery and my goal is to actually enjoy food again; I think I’m getting there.

However, having something labelled as being more than say, 500 calories, will still set alarm bells off in my head.

I eat at Wetherspoons a couple of times a month with friends and it takes a lot to be able to ignore the calorie information that they have labelled on their menus.

Since I’ve been receiving therapy and seeing a dietitian, it’s gotten a lot easier, but I can’t imagine how much more difficult recovery would be if I was faced by calorie numbers in every restaurant or café I entered.

If having calorie counts displayed on menus would affect me, as someone who never counted calories, badly then how will it affect those in recovery from eating disorders who did count calories obsessively?

It has the potential to set thousands of people back in their recovery process, since they can’t avoid looking at calories if they go out to eat.

Cooking and preparing meals can be really difficult for people with eating disorders, and in recovery from them, so suggesting they never go out to eat is insensitive and doesn’t solve anything.

I don’t doubt that the government is well-intentioned with this policy, however, if they must put calories on menus it shouldn’t be on every menu.

Instead, these menus should be made available to those who would like to know.

When eating disorders are the most lethal psychiatric disorder, it is hugely important that this is taken into account when any new policy to combat childhood obesity is introduced.

© 2019 is a website of BigChoice Group Limited | 201 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1JA | registered in England No 6842641 VAT # 971692974