“Nutritional information, including calories, is already available on the labels of many items we buy at the grocery store.” […] “As of January 1, 2017, all food-service chains with 20 or more locations in Ontario must post the number of calories in the food and drink items they sell.”
–Calories on Menus in regards to the Healthy Menu Choices Act
The government of Ontario has decided that their citizens need to be more mindful of the calories entering their bodies, and has chosen to have all foods and drinks in restaurant chains with over 20 restaurants listed with their respective calories. Their goal is to ensure everyone is getting the right amount of energy needed for their bodies, but this listed number is doing more than that, and sadly, it’s not all good.
On one hand, those who want to lose weight healthily and have the means to do so have an advantage when they’re eating out, but a group has been forgotten in this whole equation.
In the US, 30 million people of all ages and genders struggle with an eating disorder, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any one mental illness. From anorexia nervosa, to binge eating disorder, to OSFED (Otherwise Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder), there seems to be no leg up through their struggles.
I, being a 19 year old woman in eating disorder recovery, diagnosed with OSFED (past atypical anorexia, and currently compensatory subtype) can no longer go out to eat without those numbers haunting me and triggering me. Those numbers call out to me and scream the horrors that I have worked so hard to hush. I am no longer safe when I am out of the house; my nightmares have followed me into my social life and make outdoor meals all that much harder. I could get by, reminding myself that not knowing the calories would be okay, but that safety blanket has been ripped away from me.
My mother offered me food from a Costco stand the other day, and there I was considering it, until that 3 to 4 digit number made my mind up for me.
I am now forced to not eat out, or keep my head down wile my partner/friend orders for me. I can no longer look up at the menu freely, deciding what I want to eat, without letting my disorder make my mind up for me.
This new law is not all good; and here’s why.
Favours one agenda over another. I am constantly reminded when I go out that my recovery and the struggles I have with my eating disorder are not as important as someone who is struggling with weight loss. There is a divide where one groups’ health is put above mine, and I have no control over it. No where do I see on the Ontario governmental page a worry regarding eating disorders or the benefits it could have on those struggling or recovering.
It isn’t only in fast food chains. I would be more understanding if these numbers affected the well-known unhealthy fast food chains such as McDonald’s, KFC and Wendy’s, because people go there and expect an unhealthy meal. They are aware that they’re not getting exactly what their bodies need. But this law seeps into Pita Pit, Burrito joints and so many other locations that are mainly vegetable dishes. These favoured places of mine have become less safe as the calories stare me in the face as I build a well balanced meal.
Being affected with an eating disorder, 600 calories can seem terrifying when at one time, I considered this more than my daily allowance of calories.
Calories aren’t always the most influential part of a meal on ones body. This law puts emphasis on caloric contents instead of nutritional contents. They didn’t choose to label the vitamins and minerals, but chose calories. They also don’t state if these are healthy or unhealthy calories. Some people need to watch cholesterol whilst others need to watch sugars, but don’t worry, darling. In this diet culture, calories are all that matters. No need to care about your actual health. (Is you sarcasm meter on?)
It encourages the notion that fewer calories defines a healthier meal. If I were to have a McDonald’s cheeseburger (290 calories) with a side of small fries (240 calories) and a Medium Strawberry Passion Awareness drink (240 calories), it would amount to 770 calories, which is rather low for a full McDonald’s meal. Compared to a large shrimp burrito from Burrito Boyz with all the toppings amounting to the same amount of calories, the McDonald’s meal will not have the same nutritional benefits or calories from vegetables that the burrito has, leaving this caloric number misleading in some respects to people whom don’t know better.
The new law does encourage getting enough calories, but also achieves the opposite effect. Though this law states that they aim for people to eat enough calories, it does the opposite. We live in the age of diet culture, where magazines and ads constantly remind us we need to lose weight, no matter how much we weigh. Some diets encourage 1500 calories for adult women, which is less than needed, and encourages our bodies to enter starvation mode. The majority of people nowadays would prefer to consume less calories to lose a few pounds than to make sure they eat enough.
Children are exposed to calorie counts at a young age. I distinctly recall being a child, sitting at my table eating cereal, and reading the numbers from the nutritional value over and over. I didn’t understand what those numbers meant, but I think I knew even then that it was encouraged to have less of that first number; calories.
This new law may encourage parents to make diet decisions for their children that aren’t totally beneficial as they may fall in line with diet culture, or they may begin to starve their child unintentionally to help them lose weight.
Being easily influenced, these children whom grow into young adults are constantly surrounded with pictures of fit or emaciated models on social media and television, that they don’t understand what is truly attainable and healthy. Ads for weight loss drugs and workout foods or items run in front of the eyes of these children, and they understand the language. They watch social media stars and their family members struggle with weight, and they may do it, too.
Canada also presents the Canada Food Guide to young children, teaching them about calories and exercise. There is no doubt that this encouragement could easily spark an eating disorder in our youth, and an obsession with that pesky little number known as calories.
The obsession with numbers can perpetuate eating disorders. A common trait in restrictive eating disorders is an obsession with numbers; whether that be calories, weight or measurements. It becomes this internal dialogue where the counting begins. As this obsession increases, that caloric intake may decrease to a starvation diet; anything to be seen as skinny.
We are taught since we are young to obsess over these numbers, and having them in our face isn’t doing us favours.
Those in ED recovery have a harder time staying on track. How the HELL do you expect me or my fellow recovering peers to stay on track in our recovery; to put our health and our needs first, when that (sorry for my language) FUCKING number is flashing in our faces? How do you expect us to get ahead and be healthy when our triggers follow us everywhere? It would be unreasonable to tell us to just not look, because some of us can’t. We can no longer ignore the calories; we must now try even harder to not let them affect us, and some of us can’t fight that.
Calories follow us everywhere, along with images of the frailest, most photoshopped images we have available. With access to the internet and even more ways to perpetuate eating disorders, nearly nobody is safe from the possibility of it taking over their lives. Male or female; nobody is safe.
The overall relationship society has with food will not let us get ahead as a society; the statistics for eating disorders will continue to rise unless we take into the account everyone and teach the public about true nutrition and healthy eating.
These calorie listings could cost someone a meal, periods of pain and their life.