Last year, as part of a new ‘anti-obesity’ strategy, the UK Government made it mandatory for all eateries serving takeaway food to highlight the calorie content of each serving.
I wrote a post when this legislation was first announced to illustrate my views on the matter (An open letter to the UK goverment- Please reconsider the new ‘anti-obesity’ measures.) and they have remained largely unchanged. The reason why I am revisiting the topic today, is because I have noticed the new ruling in action even more so recently, what with restaurants being shut meaning that takeaway food has been the only option for people wanting to ‘splash out’ on food.
Though I rarely go out for food, my Mum goes to Costa Coffee at least once a week for a drink, and while waiting at the counter, I am faced with the sweet items (muffins, brownies etc.) They always look so nice, but rather than considering buying something, my eyes automatically divert to the calories which are boldly printed next to the price tag. Even when I don’t intentionally look for the calorie content of things, I can’t help but see it. This puts me off from buying anything, as I’m sure it does with loads of other people, whether they have an eating disorder, or not.
Not only does displaying mandatory calories on menus harm people’s mental health, it also harms the businesses themselves. According to Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorders charity, there are approximately 1.25 million people in the UK suffering with an eating disorder of some form. For these people, having calories so obviously on display will be a trigger for them, and may ‘put them off’ going to places where they are on show (which, due to the legislation, should be, everywhere.) As such, businesses will lose customers who avoid the unnecessary distress seeing calories plastered everywhere causes them to feel. So, to put it bluntly, its a lose-lose situation for everyone, really.
Don’t get me wrong, I do recognise that we have a problem with obesity in this country, but we also have a problem with eating disorders- a problem that is only getting worse, especially with the issues lockdown has left so many of us with.
To preserve people’s mental health then, instead of making the display of calories on menus mandatory, why can’t the legislation be changed to make the knowledge of calories optional? Keep menus free from calories, with a separate menu devoted to highlighting the calorie content of items for those who actually want to see it. This way, a targeted approach will be taken, whereby those affected by eating disorders do not have to decide where to visit based on whether or not calories will be on show.
I know that I, for one, would appreciate this shift in the legislation immensley. It would get me one step closer to experiencing the ‘food freedom’ that I so often talk of.
The thought of being able to go to a coffee shop with my Mum and get something just because I ‘fancy it’, is such a freeing one. No longer would I see a number when looking at the muffins. I would finally be able to stop pretending that I don’t really like them and actually enjoy one. The only hard decision being which flavour to buy; lemon or blueberry?
I know that I could just get a muffin anyway, regardless of knowing its calorie content, but seeing that a bun contains more than my lunch puts me off every.. single.. time.
I hope that as I progress through my recovery, I will challenge myself by getting a ‘takeaway treat’ anyway, whether I am aware of its calorie conent or not.
My biggest hope, however, is that the legislation will change, for the sake of everyone it has a negative impact on, myself included.