It isn't just about calories, and the Govt is wrong for making it so...
As of the 6th of April 2022 it is now mandatory that cafés, restaurants and takeaways label all their meals, side dishes and drinks with the calories that are inside.
Not the macros... not the ingredients... not the levels of Vitamin C, Fibre, Zinc or Iron...
The flat amount of calories.
This new law only applies to business with over 250 staff however... which is great for two reasons; firstly, for small businesses, designing, printing and re-printing their menus endlessly, to keep up with the fluctuations in ingredients or offerings that running an exciting food establishment demands... would be extremely costly! Secondly; it 'may' encourage some people who don't wish to be bombarded with this information to 'support small business'... Wahhhoooo! Especially after the shit storm that was the pandemic vs hospitality fiasco...
Unfortunately, if you struggle with an eating disorder... the latter of these two reasons might not be as brilliant as it should be... familiarity is very much safety.
Let me explain...
The unknown is terrifying for someone with an eating disorder... All my life I would choose a restaurant based on what I knew I felt 'safe' consuming there; Will it be free from gluten? Were they vegan friendly? Do I feel I can have a satiating (veggie rich) meal that isn't triggering and too full of [insert scary carbohydrate here]?
I choose the places I know and trust - and if I wasn't in my home town or somewhere I knew, this would most likely be a chain... with over 250 staff nationwide. Thankfully some restaurants have already piped up and said "this is shit" and will continue to also provide Calorie Free menus to those who want them... shout out to Wagamama and Pho btw... we see you and WE LOVE YOU. Pho, for your information, is actually my number one favourite chain to go to!
Anyway, I digress... as none of this really solves the issue.
The labelling of calories on menus is being introduced in hopes of tackling health and obesity related-issues and and to encourage the public to make “healthier choices” when eating out.
Healthier you say...? So you mean the focus is on HEALTH... overall health? Health that you cannot possibly predict just by LOOKING AT SOMEONE...?! See where we are going with this...?
This new mandatory bullshit menu-labelling was announced by the government in May 2021 but has faced mixed reviews with nutritionists and very strong objection from eating disorder charities, who are (understandably) VERY worried about the potential unhealthy behaviours towards food it could cause.
Places like Wetherspoons have been doing this for years, and thus been boycotted by a lot of people in the ED sector, including myself. Plus their food is utter gash and the bloke that runs it is a bit of a prick too... but anyway... I DIGRESS.
This obsession with calories is really problematic, it is very simplistic and it is very lazy. Labelling 500 calories of chocolate as an equally good choice to 500 calories of fresh protein, vegetable and potatoes... is trash.
The government bought this new ruling into place as part of it's “Tackling Obesity” strategy' - but this whole thing needs completely reframing.
“The goal should not be anti-obesity and using shock tactics, but one that promotes a healthy relationship towards food and bodies.” Quote from an article by the British Medical Journal.
In the UK, obesity is measured based on a person’s body mass index (BMI)... and we all know how I feel about this dipshit measurement. It is a lazy flawed, 200-year-old scale – made up by a white man (of course) who did the majority of his research on other white men. He invented it so Doctors didn't have to touch their patients in order to tell them they were a "bit chubby".
It doesn't consider athletes, bone density, muscle volume or fat and tells us almost nothing about a person’s health. It is is also bloody racist... Black women are far more likely to be classed as ‘obese’ than other ethnic and gender groups, thus it has been made discriminatory in the USA. See the diagram below, published in a manual by the PMC.
So, ok... if this isn't the solution, what should be done...?
The government should look to promote healthy, holistic lifestyles... where people are educated (money) and supported (money) and healthy food is made more affordable to those on low incomes (money...)
If the government is serious about promoting healthier lifestyles, it should start by alleviating poverty and ensuring access to healthy foods is a right, not a privilege.
Instead they slash P.E. time in schools... physical education (more than any other subject) has been cut from curriculums of schools. Adults in most deprived regions are twice as likely to be considered obese than those in least deprived areas
Anyway... now that you've sat through my Sermon *upside down smiley*...
Here is a quick round up of why I think this is a bullshit idea!
Number 1 - Eating Disorders
If you suffer with an eating disorder this is going to make eating out (which is a huge part of normal everyday life, professional working situations, family events, being able to function in society) near on fucking impossible.
We (ED warriors) eat out as part of the recovery process to try and find 'enjoyment' in our food and the whole experience... not to be reminded of what we are consuming... which is going to either create a huge amount of mental anguish, trigger a relapse, or make us do things that are simply fucking distressing.
These are some of the many responses I had when I asked the question "How does this new law make you feel" on my Instagram... needless to say it was pretty heart wrenching.
Number 2 - Food isn't just about calories
This obsession with calories is really flawed. A calorie is a measure of energy... a simple measure of energy burned.
If I eat 500 calories of chocolate (and I can...) I am not going to have the same physiological response/benefit as if I eat 500 calories of fresh tofu, vegetables and rice... Simple caloric content DOES NOT INFORM THE CUSTOMER PROPERLY. It is fucking lazy to be quite honest... if you really want to help, then tell us how much fibre is in there... or how much beta carotene it contains... or how this meal will benefit us in terms of vitamins and minerals etc... not how fucking long we need to spend on a stairmaster to try and 'earn it'... no pissing thank you. (Other shitty cardio machines are available.)
Number 3 - It takes away the focus of a meal out for many people
I have been inundated with messages from people stressed about this. Meals out are meant to be enjoyable experiences...
These are "normal" people. People like my friend, who now, for fear of judgement, said he doesn't want to order his usual fave meal as it is "one of the higher calorie meals..." Heartbreaking. This is a man who eats out once in a blue moon, so should be able to do so free from guilt. (We are working on this.)
But for real - people who have a healthy relationship with food, who would eat out and usually have "what their taste buds fancied" are now freaking out over this compulsory information.
Number 4 - This information is (mostly) already available... so make it an opt in, not an opt out... like organ donation.
If you are currently tracking for your health, have a healthy relationship with food and want to stay informed... or perhaps working away, and on a 'meal/macro plan' that you want to adhere to... then YES YES YES you will want this information to stay on track... so you absolutely should be able to get easy access to it. I completely agree with this POV.
But... can we not let THIS be the 'opt in' part. That someone of 'sound mind' *uncomfortable shuffle* can request or ping up to look at. Something like a QR code (Yes Steve!) that takes you directly to the information perhaps?
For those of us who suffer with allergies *sniff* we know that a lot of establishments already have this sort of thing in place for the allergen menu.
Having the information available digitally also alleviates that perpetual cost implication of menu changes and reprints that restaurants are going to be facing... keep it digital... are you with me so far padre?
Number 6 - If having the calories on a menu means you feel more "mental stable" eating out, this is a problem in and of itself... get help.
This (and I cannot stress this enough) is not a healthy relationship with food. If you NEED to know the calories in a meal in order to "allow" yourself to eat out... then sadly, you have a problem my friend.
If you are holding back in other meals during the day, by which I mean restricting cause the mental stress of eating out is so severe, that you have to do that in order to be able to eat out... then please please seek out some professional help. This is not true joy. It is relatively normal to do this a little, but to the point of mental anguish is not. If you ever feel distressed about eating, then I implore you to seek support for this.
I have spent the last 16 years of my life tracking my food... that's 10-30 mins a day (let's say 20)... so 20 mins a day x 7 days of the week x 54 weeks of the year x 16 years... I'll let you do the maths.
And for what? A compounded obsession.
Ask yourself: "Am I happy obsessing this much over meals out?" "Am I happy needing to know the calorific value of every meal in my life?" "Am I happy feeling that I am only in control when I know how much I need to exercise to 'burn off' this meal I am about to consume?"
I can't imagine the answer is a heartfelt yes. Freedom from food control is pure joy and I wish it for every single one of us.
I have linked below some really helpful resources and amazing people that might be the next step in seeking some help: