Letter to my MP regarding the UK’s tackling obesity strategy

Letter to my MP regarding the UK’s tackling obesity strategy

Letter to my MP regarding the UK’s tackling obesity strategy 2000 1000 Yellow Door

A blog by young volunteer Charlie Black

 

To whomever has the pleasure to read this,

I am an undergraduate student who, sadly, has spent most of the year scrambling to catch up. I really underestimated how hard it is to battle an eating disorder and I think I stayed in hospital for as long as I stayed in halls – ironically, they were similar in some ways.

At the age of 17, I began to speed past mirrors, uncomfortable when it took a minute to zip my jeans up. I thought the plan was pretty reasonable, to cut out unhealthy food and to begin exercising. I restricted because I thought I was doing the right thing, to be healthy, to do what I was supposed to do. And oh, how much easier it would have been if the government was rewarding me for losing weight [i].

I don’t know how one could go into a restaurant knowing that the calories of the meal are RIGHT THERE when ordering. I would taste the numbers with every mouthful, associate eating with weight, and I have only just begun to disconnect the two!

I have had to learn the hard way that restrictive eating never works out, the weight you have lost will inevitably return once you stop restricting. And no, you cannot restrict forever, eventually, you are challenged to eat. Anorexia nervosa, often regarded as a fear of food, is agreed to have one of the highest morbidity rates for mental health [ii]. Why then, would we create a health strategy that is putting an already vulnerable population at risk?

I acknowledge that the government have been oh so considerate, advising restaurants to include a menu without detailed calories. However, when one has a complex relationship to food, getting into a restaurant is hard enough. To have enough self-control to not look at your partner/friend/parent’s menu who is right beside you is asking too much of a person who is already struggling.

Furthermore, BEAT, the UK’s eating disorder charity, had a 97% increased demand for their helpline over the lockdowns in 2020, [iii] illustrating that there is a significant amount of the population who have a troubled relationship with food. To give an incentive to restrict, to choose what you eat based on the number of calories it will provide, to go against what your body asks for can be described as disordered eating. I would argue, making this normality would only exacerbate, or even trigger, eating disorder patterns.

Interestingly, the more I learn about my eating disorder, the more I question whether putting calories on menus would even be effective. When someone goes out for a meal it is probably a special occasion, therefore they already know their meal is going to be more calories than normal. When you go to McDonald’s you don’t prepare to order a salad, you order a burger; no matter the calories it provides. Crucially, this first step to tackle obesity is not very reassuring. To even use the word tackle [iv] maintains a stigma. It assumes that obesity is a choice [v], that individuals are choosing to break these constructed food rules, rather than being so deprived that they do not have the time or income to prepare healthy food.

… it just doesn’t sound like our mental wellbeing is being taken into account. If we want to have a healthy nation, shouldn’t we be asking why deprived communities are more likely to access fast food? why we even allow fast food to be so cheap? And crucially, why an individual feels the need to overeat? It sounds like an improvement to a menu that shames someone who wants to eat a meal that is being offered to them.

In conclusion, any calorie measures – including the amount of activity needed to burn off an item – is dangerous for the population’s health, especially to vulnerable groups, as it dismisses that we need so much energy just to exist. I truly don’t believe that individuals are making uninformed decisions when it comes to food, instead, it seems to be a cultural issue where a certain body shape is seen as desirable. Relationships with food are complex and policies should be taken from an emotional perceptive, rather than just a rational, approach.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Charlie Black

 

If you would like to write to your MP, you can use this template to help you get started: https://www.canveyislandyouthproject.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Dear-MP-Template-The-UKs-Poor-Relationship-to-Food.docx

I would love to hear your views on this issue. Please comment below how you feel about calories becoming mandatory in major UK restaurants and cafes. I will be checking the comments on Yellow Door’s social media. 🙂

 


[1] Beat. (2021). New Government announcement about plans to address obesity. Beat eating disorders. [https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/news/government-plans-address-obesity]
[2] Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, Nielsen. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders: a meta-analysis of 36 studies. Archives of General Psychiatry. 68, 7: 724-731.
[3] Beat. (2020). Helpline demand soars with 28% of new contacts noting coronavirus as a trigger. [https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/news/beat-news/helpline-demand-soars]
[4] Department of Health & Social Care. (2020). Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives.
[5] Beat. (2020). Anti-obesity report. Beat eating disorders [https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/uploads/documents/2020/7/anti-obesity-report-final-2.pdf]

2 Comments
  • Thankyou Charlie for expressing this to people, it’s so very important people are aware. And for sharing your own experiences and how it is effecting so many people at the moment. I feel that calories being put on a menu is dangerous and is going to cause more problems and anxiety and also may lead to some form of eating habits..

  • In this essay, you claim that in ‘tackling’ obesity, the government is saying that it is choice where you argue that obesity is not a choice, yet you also claim that the government should investigate why people choose to overeat. Therefore, I ask you to clarify whether or not you believe people make choices that result in their obesity (thus it is a choice rather than a natural phenotype such as race or a physical/mental disability such as being blind, downs syndrome and etc, which is not preventable).

    Furthermore, you state that individuals are not making uninformed decisions about food, so in essence, once again, logically if they are fully aware that they are eating more than they should (as you suggest) then they ARE making a choice. While I sympathize with your history with eating disorders, as someone well-researched in nutrition, your caloric intake determines whether or not you gain weight. To maintain your weight, you consume the same number of calories that you burn, to lose weight you’re in a caloric deficit and to gain weight you are incrementally eating more calories than your body is able to burn — therefore, understanding how weight maintenance works is crucial for people to know exactly how much their body requires for fuel and what is excessive as well as what is insufficient. Pertaining to obesity, the individual consumes more than their specific body type is supposed to consume: this is a biological standard, not a beauty standard — our bodies have physiological limits that if we don’t adhere to, we face biological consequences for.

    Adding the calories to a menu is not meant to stigmatize food, instead, it allows you to have an understanding of what it is you are consuming so you can make well-informed choices. You can still eat a meal with 700 calories and be within your daily caloric intake, however, the problem is that the general population is not educated proficiently in nutrition in addition to sociological factors, and yes, I agree that this is just as much of a sociology issue as it is medical and economic; however, I think it is contradictory to claim that the reason people in the UK are obese is because of the pressure to be thin. Also, majority of people are uninformed of the nutritional content of the food they are consuming, in fact, oftentimes when people are made more aware of what they are eating they tend to make better choices which healthier implications. For example, many who are uninformed about food will believe that ordering a salad at McDonalds is a healthy alternative, unbeknownst to them that a salad at McDonalds can have up to 800 calories (more than what you’d make one yourself at home or even at another restaurant that cooks with healthier methods).

    I believe your approach to this issue revolves around those who struggle through restricting too much, however the majority of the population struggle with eating too much. Therefore, the root of the problems are different. Obese people do not have the same struggles with food as anorexic people, therefore the tactics used to tackle it will be different. I do agree that the government has to address the mental health aspect, however,

    Additionally, obesity has severe health and economic consequences that I encourage you to research (there is a sea of research into both its strain on the human body and how it affects the economy, the healthcare system and taxpayers), which also differ to that of anorexia and other eating disorders. The UK government is trying to specifically address obesity which is the greatest problem in our country, more so than other eating disorders as they exist in frighteningly higher frequencies.

    Finally, this was not meant to attack you in any way, I just feel as though you approach the proposed strategies from a perspective that doesn’t take into account obesity, but rather takes into account other eating disorders that are currently not as societally preponderant. For instance, Argentina has historically been a country with the highest rates of anorexia, sure there are also obese people there, however their strategies were focused on majority of the population’s issue with undereating as opposed to the minority whom overate.

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