I’ve had an eating disorder, and food exercise labels are the dumbest idea

Exercise should not be a punishment for food


CW: discussions of anorexia, bulimia, and disordered eating

Researchers at Loughborough University have today revealed advice to add labels to food items with suggestions on how long it would take to burn off the calories it contains. As someone with a history of bulimia, disordered eating, and obsessive calorie counting, I'm disgusted at the prospect of what this could do to other sufferers.

Professor Amanda Daley told BBC News: "So if you buy a chocolate muffin and it contains 500 calories, for example, then that's about 50 minutes of running.

"It's about educating the public that when you consume foods, there is an energy cost, so that they can think, 'Do I really want to spend two hours burning off that chocolate cake? Is the chocolate cake really worth it?'"

"Is the chocolate cake really worth it?" is a question I've asked myself countless times throughout my eight years of disordered eating. Eating a 'treat' would either lead to serious guilt and regret or throwing it back up an hour later.

Between the ages of 16 and 19, when I was fully in the grips of my eating disorder, I had a calorie counting app on my phone where I'd obsessively track everything I ate, every day. Every orange segment, every drink at a party, whenever I actually ate lunch, it all went in the app. Every evening, I'd see how many calories I'd consumed, and use the helpful feature on the app to work out just what exercises I needed to do to burn every. single. calorie. off.

When you have an eating disorder, you don't care about the fact that you literally need food to survive. You see every calorie as a sin (especially when I tried out Slimming World and had items of food referred to as actual "syns"), and something you need to get out of your body. Your body needs calories and fats to function, so telling someone to run for 45 minutes to burn off a Kit Kat implies an eating disorder rhetoric: get the calories out of your body.

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Me aged 17, and today aged 20

Additionally, the exercise advice discriminates against disabled people. I know friends who have been hospitalised and confined to wheelchairs due to their eating disorders, and who couldn't walk for four hours to burn off a pizza, and shouldn't.

I don't doubt that the researchers involved in this advice have good intentions. The UK is in an obesity crisis, with two thirds of adults overweight or obese. But chances are most people won't take a second glance at the guidelines (as they don't with calories), apart from those with disordered eating habits. From the girl who compares the calories in tins of reduced fat soup on every trip to Sainsbury's, I can say I'd look at the exercise guidelines, and I'd care.

Exercise should not be a punishment for food. Every person should have a healthy balance of food and exercise, but food is not put into your body for you to burn it off in a gym every evening. Every bodily function requires energy and calories, from breathing to walking to laughing.

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