PLEASE NOTE: I am using the word “ob*se” to talk about the construct of a BMI over 30. BMI is a completely outdated and flawed diagnostic tool. Overweight? Over what weight I ask? It is stigmatising and wrong to call someone ob*se and it is NOT a descriptor that should be automatically used for fat people. NEVER assume someone’s health based on their size.
I haven’t spoken much about this topic on my instagram lately, simply because I have been completely overwhelmed with anger, fear and sadness.
I have, however, spent the past few days compiling reasons why I think the government’s plans to put calories on menus, to try and tackle the ob*sity crisis, is utter bullshit, in an attempt to get more people to sign Hope Virgo’s petiton against it. (Hope Virgo is a multi award-winning mental health campaigner who has a huge amount of influence in the ED-recovery world, find her Instagram account here).
I am asking you as politely as I possibly can, please, please sign this (and get as many people as you can to as well). There is enormous power in numbers here which shouldn’t be overlooked.
In case you missed it, here is a brief outline of what the government is doing:
⁃ Boris Johnson announced that his government plans to introduce a new legislation regarding calories counts on menus.
⁃ All restaurants and cafes with over 250 employees must add a calorie count and food labels to their menu from April 2022. This includes calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drink items that are prepared for customers.
⁃ The government have stated that “rules will help the public to make healthier choices when eating out”.
⁃ UK Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “Our aim is to make it as easy as possible for people to make healthier food choices for themselves and their families, both in restaurants and at home.”
You can find the exact page to the official government website here too.
Right, so here we go.
Here are 50 reasons (and trust me, I could come up so many with more) to sign the petiton as an attempt to try and halt calories being displayed on menus.
1. Putting calories on menus to help “tackle ob*sity”, implies that people who are “overweight” are so because they make bad choices. This in itself is dangerous, stigmatising and such an incredibly priviledged statement to make. Let’s get this straight right now: ob*sity is NOT a result of making bad decisions.
2. It will isolate people who are struggling with an eating disorder more than they already are. Its pretty well known that EDs are isolating at the best of times, but the scheme will cause people, especially those struggling in recovery, to avoid eating out comletely. I know personally, at the start of my recovery, I would have definitely have felt safer eating alone at home then have to make calorie-based decisions head-on in public.
3. Calories just aren’t indicative of the health of a food. For example, a smoothie that contains proteins, fats and lots of important micronutrients will have more calories than a can of Coke which probably won’t fill you up or provide much nutrition. Lack of education and funding in schools will mean people might get confused by this and actually make worse food choices when faced with calories.
4. Dietary composition influences the accumulation of body fat far more than calorie balance alone because of the different effects of macronutrients in food and also endocrine pathways. Basically, hormones and nutrients in the body are way more important than calories in determining whether someone is ob*se (along with so many other factors), therefore calories alone are pretty redundant.
5. The correlation the campaign is based upon is just that – a correlation. The government has looked at the numbers and deduced that a lower life expectancy is caused by ob*esity when in fact they should have been considering the link between poverty and obe*sity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic as hospital beds became sparse.
6. It’s going to cause people to make food-based choices based on calories. Yes, this is exactly the government’s aim, however for people with restrictive eating disorders this is extremely detrimental to recovery and will undoubtably cause people to relapse and worsen the symptoms of those already struggling. It is completely unethical to disregard this, as the government is completely doing by implementing this legislation.
7. A study by Dr Joel Ray, a physician-researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto found that patietns of all ages with a BMI of 18.5 or less (i.e “underweight”) faced a 1.8x greater risk of dying from ill health compared to those with a “normal” BMI of 18.5-25.9. HOWEVER, (now this is where it gets interesting) patients with a BMI of 30+ (i.e. “ob*se” to “severely ob*se) faced just a 1.3x greater risk of dying from health issues. Why is this being ignored?!
8. We are already facing a devastating mental health crisis, where people with eating disorders can be left in Oxfordshire for over 21 months and in Buckinghamshire 25 months last year, before getting help. The scheme will put even more people at risk as the disaster that is ED services is put under more pressure. Lack of treatment causes death for people with eating disorders.
9. Eating out is a huge part of eating disorder recovery and it is so much easier psychologically when you don’t know the calories. It means you can choose what YOU want instead of basing your choices on the numbers. This scheme will completely destroy this essential aspect of recovery and will prevent sufferers leading normal, social lives.
10. Empiracally-supported treatments indicate calorie counting cannot be conducive to eating disorder recovery. (Fairburn 2008, Smith et al 2018). How can people recover when the calories are thrown in their faces without the choice to ignore them?
11. It’s simply not going to help ob*se people lose weight in the long term. (More to come on this one later).
12. Eating disorders everywhere will be rejoicing. You need to sign this petition on behalf of the sufferers whose ED loves the idea of the scheme. Speaking from experience, this scheme would have put me at ease when I was very unwell. I would have, irrationally, thought that it would make it a lot easier for me to get iller and iller as I could make choices which would “cause weight loss” which was the ultimate goal. If not for you, sign it for those who don’t have the strength to.
13. Health is so much more than the foods we eat. It is multi-faceted and complex, and includes physical, social, occupational, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and mental factors.
14. It’s actually completely impractical and the lack of accuracy makes the whole thing pointless. In restaurants, chefs usually throw a bit of this, a handful of that, a splash of that etc. into the foods they create. The same dish can be slightly different each time. If they were to calculate the number of calories specifically, they’d have to do extremely precise measuring and that’s just not going to happen.
15. The government are out of their depth. The sheer suggestion of this scheme shows they know literally nothing about dietetics, nutrition and eating disorders. They have created this based on diet-culture fads and are completely ignoring the science. It’s stupid and they’re stupid basically.
16. It’s triggering. Recovery or not, the scheme is triggering. Numbers are triggering. That’s not a suprise to anyone who knows anything about eating disorders.
17. Unlearning calories is a result of YEARS of neural re-wiring for hundreds of thousands of people who have recovered from eating disorders. This is a huge slap in the face for them and has the potential for relapse.
18. It’s going to make restaurants places of fear. Eating out should fun. It should be a place of celebration and joy and comfort. Adding calories to the menus is going to cause so many people so much uneccesary anxiety and fear.
19. There is virtually no evidence that putting calories on menus helps people lose weight.
20. 62.9% of people with eating disorders stated in a study conducted by Levinson et al. in 2017 that calorie counting mobile apps at least moderately contributed to their eating disorder.
21. It is ridiculous because it assumes that everyone needs the same amount of calories. Ok, so they might have different guidelines based on gender, but factors like physical activity, metabolism, socio-economic status and muscle mass will not be considered, all of which hugely impact the amount of energy needed.
22. Ob*sity levels are staying the same but eating disorder prevelance is rising.
23. Choosing a lower calorie option from a menu does not make you a better, cooler, healthier or more valuable person. Burgers are yummy and you deserve to eat foods you like.
24. So, so many alternative and low-risk policy options exist to tackle ob*sity. For example, educational initiatives following the intuitive eating guidelines that discourage weight-loss, emphasises the use of physiological hunger and fullness cues, granting unconditional permission to eat and consuming foods the body craves. Intuitive eating is associated with a lower BMI in general and has positive effects on cholesterol and triglyceride levels, systolic blood pressure, eating disorder symptoms, depression, body dissatisfaction and self-esteem (Romano et al 2018). So please, someone tell me how this approach is less beneficial to society than showing calories on menus…
25. Calories are just units of energy. Units of energy enable you to do stuff you love, have fun and be a productive member of society. Calories are not the devil.
26. If the government truly cared about the health of the nation, they would make fresh fruit and vegetables more accessible, putting more accessible pedestrian routes in place, creating access to joyful movement and cookery classes in schools and ditching diet-culture altogether.
27. It creates a culture of shame and abuse for those who are already facing weight-stigma. Making someone feel bad has a habit of not improving anything.
28. Children are going to grow up viewing food as numbers. Eating disorder rates are already rising but this campaign will heighten the issue and engrain the notion that some foods are “good” and others are “bad” when ob*sity is really a multi-faceted, complex issue.
29. Foods that are high in calorie don’t cause weight gain or ob*sity. You are not going to become ob*se because you chose one meal over another. End of.
30. The USA commonly has calories on their menus and studies have shown it has a “minimal to negligible impact on public health” and another study, by Harvard, showed that people ate about 23 calories less per meal because of visible calorie counts. For perspective, this would result in less than half a KG weight loss over 3 years…
31. The people who are going to look at the calorie count on the menu, and change their chosen meal as a result of it, are not going to be the people who are the intended target of the scheme.
32. Calorie options and health factors for cheaper, fast food restaurants probably won’t vary that much between choices. It’s true that a common factor contributing towards ob*sity is socio-economic status. Fast food restaurants are cheap so we can’t expect consumers to utilise the calorie information and then change their long-term eating habits because they may not even have access to the more nutritious choice.
33. Choosing a lower calorie option isn’t going to make the average Joe more healthy. Again, health is so complex and definitely not determined purely by the amount of calories you eat. It’s amount the nutritious content of the food, your state of mind when choosing the food, your exercise regime, your general mental health.
34. It’s normalising disordered eating. Counting calories is NOT normal. Our bodies are wise and they know what they need. Micromanaging your food is unnecessary, especially in the pursuit of health.
35. Counting calories, especially for those who has suffered with an eating disorder, is going to lead to restriction. Consciously or not, putting a number on and meticulously examining your food intake will lead to restriction, whether that’s psychologically or physically. Your brain and body need to know that food is abundant and available. If not, you may find yourself in a cycle of restriction and bingeing and even purging.
36. Enhanced cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders (one of the most respected and highly researched) highlights the importance of actively discouraging calorie counting. (Fairburn 2008).
37. There is a LOT of evidence that shows a “calories in vs calories out” approach does not lead to long term weight-loss.
38. As mentioned previously, once you know the calories in foods, it can take years of hard work and mental rewiring to ignore them.
39. In New York City, it has been mandatory for menus to show the calories on them since 2008 yet studies have shown that there has been no change in diet-based behaviours or a reduction in obesity levels.
40. The government is probably just doing this so that they can say they did something. It’s easier for them to tell restaurants to put calories on the menus than it is for them to put in place sufficient health education, funding or research. They are just trying to shift the blame. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, wrote in the Daily Telegraph about the new policies, that “If everyone who is overweight lost five pounds it could save the NHS over £100m over the next five years.” Once again, the responsibility has been shifted to the individual.
41. Counting and restricting calories does not lead to a fulfilling and happy life and certainty will taint your relationship with food.
42. BEAT have stated that ‘evidence shows that calorie labelling exacerbates eating disorders of all kinds’.
43. It’s going to encourage people to over-exercise. For so many people, such a huge part of their eating disorder is wrapped up in over-exercising. This campaign will definitely impact this as people will think they know the numbers and exercise to burn it off. Numbers are fatal for people with eating disorders.
44. Reducing calorie intake without improving the nutrition of the food might might cause weight-loss in the short term by decreasing metabolically active, fat-free mass (like muscle) but will be less effective at decreasing fat mass. This means subsequent weight-gain is pretty likely, especially if this turns into a cycle.
45. An intervention focussing on restricting calories and weight loss commonly elicits poor mental health, poor physical health, weight stigma, eating disorder symptoms and has a negligible improvement improving health and ob*sity .
46. Most people won’t even notice the calories shown. A study by Larson at al. 2018 showed that among 1930 adults in the general population, only 52% even noticed the calories were shown in a restaurant over the past month. Not only this, 33% who said they did notice the numbers stated that their choice did not change because of it.
47. Intention is probably the most important tenet of health behaviour. Without intent to “improve” or change one’s eating, providing calorific content won’t have any effect.
48. On the other hand of the point above, actual use of the menu labels to limit calorie intake is associated with people with a greater self-reported weight concern, as well as a greater likelihood of engaging in unhealthy weight-control behaviours like purging and skipping meals. Therefore, those with weight concerns and pathological eating are the people who are most likely to be impacted by the scheme.
49. It’s not ethical or reasonable for people with people suffering with an eating disorder, which is already the most fatal mental illness.
50. Boris Johnson is a slave to the money-making scheme that is diet culture and this plan reflects it. He constantly refers to his belief that thinner = healthier (utter nonsense). He attributes his own weight gain to laziness so therefore assumes everyone else in the world who has ever also gained weight was the same. It is absolutely abhorrent that he doesn’t acknowledge the social determinants to health.
If those reasons aren’t enough to get you, and every person you know, to sign the petition, then frankly I don’t know what will.
This new legislation is damning and will cost lives for people with eating disorders. We can only do so much, but we can do SO MUCH.