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.
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. 🙂
 Beat. (2021). New Government announcement about plans to address obesity. Beat eating disorders. [https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/news/government-plans-address-obesity]
 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.
 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]
 Department of Health & Social Care. (2020). Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives.
 Beat. (2020). Anti-obesity report. Beat eating disorders [https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/uploads/documents/2020/7/anti-obesity-report-final-2.pdf]