New government legislation on calorie labeling has arrived, with menus in restaurants and cafes now required by law to state the number of calories in each dish.
It was introduced as an anti-obesity measure, to enable customers to ‘make informed and healthier decisions’ – but eating disorder charities have condemned the move.
Currently, 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, and the pandemic has contributed to more people than ever needing help for these serious mental illnesses.
Beat, the UK eating disorders charity, said it was “extremely disappointed” with the mandatory ruling, citing evidence it causes anxiety and distress in people with eating disorders. food.
Beat’s Director of External Affairs, Tom Quinn, said: ‘We know from the people we support that including calories on menus can contribute to the worsening of harmful eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. , for example, it may increase fixation on calorie restriction for people with anorexia or bulimia, or increase feelings of guilt in people with binge eating.
“There is also very limited evidence that the legislation will lead to a change in the eating habits of the general population,” he added.
For example, a recent British Medical Journal studywho investigated different restaurant chains in the United States, found that calorie labeling resulted in a negligible decrease of only 4% in the average amount of calories consumed by customers, which fell entirely during a follow-up. ‘a year.
Beat Clinical Advice Coordinator Martha Williams saysThe Independent that “counting calories can keep people sick longer”.
Williams suggests people create an action plan before eating out, if the prospect makes them feel panicked or out of control.
She said: “One way to own the experience is for people to tell a friend or loved one about how you feel. Once you are at a restaurant, be aware of the feelings that arise, because externalizing your thoughts can sometimes help.
Other tips include setting a limit on how long you spend looking at the menu – for example, spend 30 seconds, then choose an option.
Alternatively, ordering the same as a friend or family member can make the decision process easier.
“Think about your motivations for choosing – which is the recovery choice and which is the eating disorder choice. Remember that the recovery choice will be scary, while the eating disorder option will be Remember that calories aren’t the only measure of nutrition, and just because something has fewer calories doesn’t mean it’s nutritionally better. think about what you would really like to eat,” Williams says.
She adds, “Focusing on the social aspect, and the way eating out allows us to spend quality time with friends and family, socialize and celebrate important life events.
Similarly, Renee McGregor, a dietitian specializing in eating disorders, says that “if we only focus on calories, we’re not learning how to eat properly.”
She explains: “If we look at breakfast for example, a croissant has fewer calories but it’s also less satisfying, so we tend to go looking for a mid-morning snack. While eggs and avocado on toast, for example, are full of protein, essential fats and starches that will keep you going until lunch. This is just one example of how a meal’s calories don’t necessarily make for better nutritional choices for long-term health.
She adds that “humans are biologically hardwired to achieve energy balance, which is why diets don’t work.”
McGregor thinks the new mandatory calorie labeling “has the potential to take away the enjoyment of eating and affect all of us, even those of us who have no problem with food.”
“The human body is complicated and it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories out,” she adds.
For those worried about calorie labels, mental health activist and #DumpTheScales founder Hope Virgo has some specific advice.
She says The Independent“Try small restaurants that aren’t part of a chain. Ask for a zero-calorie menu – the restaurant should be able to provide this for you. Set limits in advance.
Virgo went on to say, “There’s an added concern that because of calorie labeling it normalizes a lot of the conversation around numbers, so if you feel up to it, set those limits first, and if you don’t feel you can, get someone else to do it for you!
“Remember that the eating disorder is not related to food, so it is essential to sit down with the uncertainty of the meal and give yourself space to talk and let off steam through the Continue. Have mantras in your head. Your brain may be telling you to choose the lower calorie options, but challenge that. And deliberately say yes to recovery.
“Eating disorders are not a choice, but a serious mental illness. We have to find it within ourselves so that we don’t let it isolate us or spiral back. Easier said, but defying the thought will definitely be worth it.
For more tips and tricks, Beat has compiled a guidefor restaurant outings with calorie labeling.
If you are worried about your own health or that of someone else, you can contact Beat, the UK eating disorders charity, on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk