The government’s plans to show calories on menus will harm people with disordered eating
Instead of trying to educate people on healthy diets, the government wants to shame people into eating less
Earlier this week, the government announced calorie labelling on menus would be introduced. The legislation would require large businesses 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 be displayed on physical and online menus and as well as on food labels. The legislation would come into force from April 2022.
The measure is part of the government’s strategy to tackle obesity and promote healthier eating, but, putting calories on menus is detrimental to many who have suffered, or are still suffering, from disordered eating.
Calorie counting is a common behaviour in people with disordered eating. As someone who has suffered with disordered eating and has tried to restrict calories in the past, the thought of knowing that calories will be visible on menus scares me. It scares me because I’m worired I will start thinking about calories too much again, will I start to restrict calories instead of enjoying a meal out with friends? Probably.
It can also affect people with other eating disorders such as binge eating disorder (BED) where “people eat very large quantities of food without feeling like they’re in control of what they’re doing”. Being able to see calories on the menu may lead people suffering from BED to order meals with high calories which is just as dangerous as restricting calories.
Seeing calories on menus will be triggering for many people and could result in increased anxiety and worry when eating out. It is also an ineffective measure. Instead of trying to educate people on healthy diets, the government wants to shame people into eating less. The government could make healthier foods cheaper, promote initiatives that did not shame people, and actually care about people with eating disorders. But do they? No.
Beat, the UK’s national eating disorder charity, tweeted to say: “Calorie labelling on menus is ineffective, and dangerous to people affected by eating disorders.” Clearly, the government has not consulted Beat or other eating disorders charities. If it had, Boris Johnson would know this is a ridiculous piece of legislation to put forward.
Beat continued to say that there is clear evidence putting calories on menus is not an effective measure and instead will be dangerous to those affected by eating disorders. Beat has also drafted a letter that people can send to their MPs asking them to oppose this legislation.
Part of the letter reads: “It is clear that introducing mandatory calorie labelling on menus will have a negative impact on people with an eating disorder.
“Research has found that when making hypothetical food choices from a menu that includes a calorie count, individuals with anorexia and bulimia are more likely to order food with significantly fewer calories, whereas people with binge eating disorder are more likely to order food with significantly more calories, exacerbating eating disorder behaviours.
“In addition, there is very limited, low-quality evidence supporting the idea that calorie counts on menus will lead to a reduction in calories purchased by the general population.”
People are able to personalise this letter and are encouraged to include their personal stories about how the legislation would affect them if they feel comfortable in doing so.
If you or someone close to you is going through these issues or similar, do not hesitate to contact your GP, or for further information and help you can visit Beat Eating Disorders, Mind, and The NHS website. If you want to talk to someone confidentially you can call the Beat Eating Disorders helpline, they also have web chats and online support groups, and can help you find therapists, private clinics and support groups.