Calories on UK Menus: Why it matters, and what you can do about it
In the Queen’s speech last week, a new legislation was announced requiring all restaurants, cafes and pubs with over 250 employees to add calorie count to their menus.
This legislation will be devastating for those with eating disorders. For many, eating out is already a stressful experience, which will be significantly exacerbated by this law. But restaurants also provide a unique opportunity in recovery: to eat a meal prepared by someone else, whose caloric content can’t be known, manipulated or controlled, in the company of others. This is a vital stepping stone in many people’s recovery, and for many, the introduction of calorie counts on menus will stop them moving forwards.
But calorie counts on menus aren’t just harmful for those with eating disorders. An increased fixation with calories can only harm a society already oppressed by diet culture. Not only is a meal’s caloric content a poor indicator of its nutritional value (healthy, nutrient-dense foods are often high in calories), an obsession with calorie counting is far from healthy. While only a small (but rising) proportion of the population will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime, many more will experience disordered eating, manifesting in years of yo-yo dieting, obsessive tracking of food and movement and frequent guilt, shame and anxiety around food.
Research has shown that calorie counts on menus are unlikely to influence the choices of those for whom the legislation is intended. For those with a disordered relationship with food, however, the numbers will be unavoidable and will do significant harm.
If you're in the UK, you can help to stop this legislation by writing to your MP. Beat has written a draft template email which you can send to your MP via this page on their website.
If you'd like to understand more how calorie counts on menus could impact people with eating disorders,
you can read Emma's blog, sharing her fears about the policy as someone in recovery from anorexia, here.
If you are feeling distressed about this legislation and would like to talk to someone, Beat's helplines is open every
day 9am-8pm on weekdays and 4pm-8pm on weekends. Call 0808 801 0677 or join one of their chat rooms.