9% of the world’s population is affected by eating disorders. 9% of approximately 8 billion people makes 7.200.000 (Seven million two hundred thousand).
26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide.
According to the World Health Organisation, 39 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2020. But according to their website, obesity is preventable. Which probably was what some British scientist must have taken as inspiration to advise the government with. The advice: Simply put calories on menus, so people stop eating.
In the beginning of April, the UK announced that restaurants with more than 250 employees will have to include a calorie count on their menus to help fight obesity. As important as the aim may be, the method remains highly incompatible. To some, the idea of alarming people as to how many calories their meals include may sound like a plausible idea. However, not only is the issue of obesity much more complicated than that, but politicians seem to have overlooked other people affected by this new rule.
Obviously, obesity is a severe problem that deserves attention. But how can we know for sure that calorie counts on menus will help people fight this illness?
Calories on Menus = No More Obesity?
First of all, there is a lack of scientific evidence showing that people will opt for healthier options on the menu. And secondly, should we really be led to believe that healthy equals lower in calories? Less calories is not always the healthier option, even for obese people. Food is not only about calories, but the various nutrients it is made of – without which our bodies cannot survive. A chocolate bar may have less calories than a chicken salad, but does this mean we should choose the former over the latter? Of course there is absolutely nothing bad about eating chocolate, but maybe not as a replacement for an actual meal.
But apart from the fact that there is barely any evidence provided – it may simply be the case that the evidence does not exist. How this new rule will help fight obesity exactly is a mystery.
What About Other Eating Disorders?
And there is another major issue politicians and lawmakers appear to have overlooked.
Although obesity may be the most prevalent eating disorder, undereating, anorexia, and bulimia cannot be neglected. The growing number of adolescents with body image issues, aggravated due to social media, is undeniable. And yet, only less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight”. In other words, it is far too easy to pretend that you don’t have a problem with food if doctors don’t diagnose you as physically ill. And I would not be surprised if this new rule in the UK endangers even more people to develop serious mental health issues and eating disorders in the future.
While it may be true that, a lot of people will not be affected by the new numbers on the menu, many others will be. The trend of the past years of counting calories, downloading fitness apps such as “MyFitnessPal”, or using a smartwatch to monitor your food consumption has led many to develop an obsession with hitting the “right” calorie count. The line between counting calories and developing a distorted relationship towards food is very thin.
Going out to restaurants with friends or families and enjoying your favourite meal is one of the best experiences you can have in life. But now, going to restaurants in the UK can be a triggering experience for many who are fighting eating disorders at the moment or who have recently recovered.
For people with eating disorders, there is almost nothing more daunting than going to restaurants and eating a meal without knowing its exact calories. And this is exactly why it’s so important for them to confront that fear. Food should never be feared by anyone. Food is so much more than its calories – and I’m not only talking about its essential nutrients. Going out to restaurants with friends or families and enjoying your favourite meal is one of the best experiences you can have in life. But now, going to restaurants in the UK can be a triggering experience for many who are fighting eating disorders at the moment or who have recently recovered. Instead of picking their meal of choice, they may opt for the least caloric meal.
But having a balanced diet is not about consuming the least amount of calories possible. Being healthy is not just being the skinniest version of yourself. First of all, being skinny does not automatically signal great physical or mental health. And, secondly, it does not result in being mentally healthy.
If you do not have the freedom and flexibility to replace a planned meal with a spontaneous trip to a restaurant with your friend. If you’re too afraid to go on vacation because you fear having to eat out instead of cooking for yourself. If you cannot even eat a meal prepared by another person, your mom, or your friend. It may be more often than not that you feel unhappy and discontent.
Having never experienced any trouble with eating, some people might think I am exaggerating, but it often takes the darkest experiences to realize how we take something so vital for granted- a healthy relationship with food- because for many this is far from self-evident. As a government, UK representatives should be better informed and responsible enough to know that it needs to include all people affected by their rules into their decision-making process and also provide concrete evidence for this ominous new law.
Edited by: Pritha Ray