TW: Calories, Weight, Eating Disorders.
This post is an attempt to summarise the new government policy which dictates that calories should be shown on menus. I want to try and express just how it makes me feel and the harm this policy will do not just to me; not just to those with eating disorders; but to anyone who has ever struggled with their relationship with food. That is despite the evidence from calorie labelling in supermarkets that displaying and counting calories does not reduce obesity. In case you aren’t up to date with the rulings I am going to start this post off with a quote from the Government
Government statement 12th May 2021: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/calorie-labelling-on-menus-to-be-introduced-in-cafes-restaurants-and-takeaways
“Calories will be labelled on menus and food labels in out-of-home food businesses from April 2022, the government has announced. Regulations will be laid in parliament tomorrow that will require large businesses with 250 or more employees in England, including cafes, restaurants and takeaways, to display the calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drink items that are prepared for customers. Calorie information will need to be displayed at the point of choice for the customer, such as physical menus, online menus, food delivery platforms and food labels.”
“Within the Regulations, the government has a provision which permits businesses to provide a menu without calorie information at the express request of the customer. As a result, people who may find viewing calorie information more difficult may be able to avoid this information in certain situations when eating out.”
I will express my feelings on this (anger, worry, fear, all spring to mind) in a poem at the end of this post but I think it is important to include a statement by ‘Beat’, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity against this policy. Beat is an incredible charity and if you are struggling I would highly recommend checking out their website for guidance and support. But the fact they are against the placing of calories on menus should be a clear sign that this is a policy that will be hugely damaging towards the most vulnerable.
Beat Statement September 2018 (there are many more recent posts but this summarised things best I think) https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/news/beats-response-government-plan-calorie-count:
“Requiring calorie counts on menus risks causing great distress for people suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders, since evidence shows that calorie labelling exacerbates eating disorders of all kinds. Although we recognise the importance of reducing obesity, research shows that anti-obesity campaigns that focus on weight instead of health are counter-productive, while the number of calories consumed is not a reliable indicator of health.”
It is important to remember the complexity of obesity and over eating. It isn’t just about not knowing which foods have more calories in them. Most people who are overweight know which foods are healthy and unhealthy. In fact it is often that mindset of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods that can lead to restricting and binging cycles. Or vis-versa food is used as a means of control, it can be a way to lift our mood and distract from difficult emotions, eating can be a way to have total freedom of choice and control. Food is something we all have the face and eating should be so natural to us but it isn’t for so many people, myself included. That is before you get onto the class and income inequalities that often contribute towards high rates of obesity. Plus certain medications and metabolic conditions that can make a person gain weight. Having calories on menus will not help any of these issues.
We need complex policy not simply surface level rule additions.
So on to my poem. I am not a poet by any means but I hope this gets across how emotional I am about this issue and how damaging I believe it to be.
Calories on the menu.
It sounds a small thing
Barely worth noticing.
But not for me.
I’ll try and make you see.
My whole life I have struggled
My thoughts all muddled
With calories and food
I see everything I eat as bad and good.
Bad and good.
Food is to be feared.
I go from eating too much to eating too little
I cannot see to find the middle.
I look at my body and I hate the shape
Hate every gram of weight
To control it I’ll measure, portion and plan
Building a mental dam
Against loosing control.
A binge eat is so shameful.
Feeling one step away from disaster.
Holding the counting closer.
Feeling like life is a roller coaster.
But I have been trying to change
Although it feels strange
To try and eat without rules
To accept who I am without rules.
Okay so what?
Why do calories on menus prompt thought.
Because I’m scared
I can never be prepared.
For enjoying a meal out, choosing what I want
When the negative numbers are in front.
I panic just thinking about it
I want to cry where I sit.
How much have numbers really helped?
When laid out on the supermarket shelves?
Because policy makers are so out of touch,
With what actually affects weight.
They need to learn before it’s too late.
Please just listen.
Don’t take critiques as given.
Calories on menus will harm many.
Can you live with a price that heavy?