‘Menu calories: straight from the eating disorder playbook’

1:55 PM April 18, 2022

“The government should immediately scrap its plans for calorie labels on food in restaurants, cafes, and takeaways.”

That’s what the Women’s and Equalities Commission concluded in its public inquiry on the impact of poor body image in April 2021.

Straight forward advice is it not? Advice based on an in-depth investigation, holding evidence from thousands of participants, researchers, psychologists, scientists and experts in the eating disorder, body image and healthcare space.

Advice that the government clearly either chose to ignore, or did not even bother to read, despite commissioning the inquiry themselves.

Restaurant chains with more than 250 staff must now feature calorie information on menus.

The government has plucked its policies straight from the eating disorder playbook. It has refused to confront the complexities of health because it is not in its interest to accept that the main contributor to ill-health is poverty, and that to better the nation’s health, it needs to improve living standards. That’s too expensive for it. It’s far simpler to plaster calories on menus, regardless of its effectiveness, or of the impact on eating disorder sufferers, or of the fact that it will provide fertile soil for toxic comparison (“Oh, the meal I’m getting is much higher in calories than my friend… maybe I should choose something else .. ”) and could result in disordered relationships with food.

Diet culture has made our relationships with food complicated enough. The last thing we need is more guilt attached to what we’re eating.

For the majority of those who are dealing with, or have dealt with, an eating disorder, overcoming the obsession with numbers; be that weight, calories, numbers of steps or clothing size, is one of the hardest obstacles in recovery. To unlearn that success is found in high numbers of steps, that worthiness comes in a low number on a scale, and that food is a number to be burned off. Eating disorders love numbers. Numbers provide structure and safety. Numbers are far more clear cut than the gray areas of real life. So, they live by numbers, and convince sufferers to live by numbers too.

Living by numbers is an easy distraction from the complexities of life. It is also joyless.

Food is so much more than numbers. Its taste, energy, community, culture, love, experience and pleasure. Do not pay any attention to the meaningless numbers printed next to your favorite meal, we can not allow an idiotic policy to dictate our food choices. Trust me when I say: a life of numbers is no life at all.

Rachael Boyd lives in Highgate and writes the blog Life Of A Fruitcake at www.lifeofafruitcake.com

Find information on and support for eating disorders at www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Rachael Boyd
– Credit: Rachael Boyd

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