If you are at all interested in dismantling diet culture you will be aware that new government legislation regarding calories on menus has now come into force. The legislation is part of the government’s plan to tackle ‘obesity’. Whilst I have a lot to say on that larger topic, I’ll stick to the calorie information for now. It will come as no surprise that I am not in favour of this development.
As a fat woman who spent years of my life embroiled in yo-yo dieting I know how dangerous constant calorie counting can be. In the depths of my disordered eating I was obsessed with calories. They were my enemy and required constant monitoring. I had calorie based rules for everything. Limits for every meal and limits for the entire day. If I was going to drink alcohol I wasn’t allowed any food. I counted the calories burned during exercise in an attempt to cancel out what I had consumed. I knew & counted the calorie content of everything; a smint, a grape, a sip of wine. Calories were omnipresent. It was an exhausting battle against my body’s basic needs and I was miserable. My quest to be thin damaged me, physically & mentally.
I’m not the only one nor am I the most severely impacted. We live in a world that is constantly reinforcing the message that smaller is better. Putting the calorie content of every item in every menu only compounds that. It won’t encourage ‘healthy eating’, everyone already knows what foods are full of saturated fat. What it will encourage is distorted view of what a healthy lifestyle is. It will support the diet culture narrative; fewer calories are better. Looking at the numbers every time we go out to eat will reinforce an unhealthy relationship with food. People will feel guilty for ordering the dish they want. It’ll trigger obsessive thoughts and behaviours in those who are dealing with or have experienced disordered eating. It will cement the connection in the collective mind between health and calorie control.
I posted about this legislation on my Instagram stories today and have already received multiple messages from people who have been distressed by seeing these menu additions. These are people trying to claw back control of their eating. People who have worked hard at ignoring that voice in their head telling them what they can and cannot have. They’re scared. Genuinely frightened of how they feel when they see signs telling them how many calories an adult shout eat in a day. Worried about the thoughts the calorie count on their coffee provokes. This isn’t a surge towards a healthier society, it’s a huge step backwards.
The problem with this move is the thinking from which it stems. Our government is telling us that being fat is a problem. That fat people are a burden we must shift. That isn’t true. There is no proven way to permanently make a fat person thin. Diets do not work; within 5 years 95% of those who intentionally lose weight will regain all they have lost and more. Calorie restriction is not sustainable. More over, it is not good for you. It ignores the intersections between weight and poverty & disabilities. Not to mention the impact of medical weight stigma on the health of fat patients. There are many lifestyle changes a person can explore if they want to improve their health. Focusing entirely on calories and weight loss is not one them. Health and weight are not intrinsically linked. Adding the calorie content to menus is dangerous. It sidesteps the issue of public health and props up stale old diet culture tropes.
I am not a doctor or an expert. I am merely an informed former victim of the diet industry. I am a fat activist and as such I can see that many people may dismiss me as having an agenda. With that in mind I point you towards the following resources.
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