In order to tackle obesity, Boris Johnson wants restaurant menus to include calorie counts. I believe that this will only cause more mental health problems – the problem that actually needs addressing.
Calorie counts on restaurant menus; words should be flowing. Emotions definitely are. I know the words are there, somewhere, but it’s like I’ve lost a set of keys. I know they are in the house because I locked the door, but they aren’t in their usual place: hanging on the little hook with the rest of the keys and various keyrings (well-travelled souvenirs brought back from holidays and a large, fluffy pompom).
My first thought that came to mind was, well, I’m never going to enjoy going out for a meal again. I spent years counting calories, fats and sugars; studying the side of food packaging and not consuming something if what I read was too high, to the point I didn’t really eat anything at all. It got out of control. It can become addictive, especially if you see results, but also if you don’t. I understand that it won’t get out of control for everyone, but even eight years later, I don’t think I will be wanting to eat out very often if everyone is just going to be discussing what they can and can’t eat because of its calorie content.
But it’s not just about me. I’m worried for those who are currently battling with anorexia and eating disorders. I really think this will have a negative impact on their recovery. It is bad enough that diet culture normalises calorie counting, but if the government also enforces it, psychiatrists’ evidence that counting calories is not a healthy behaviour drops even lower.
But it’s not just about those with eating disorders. I’m also worried about children. If they grow up counting calories, will this not damage their relationship with food and their body image? (Two things that already have enough pressure attached to them…)
But it’s not just about children. It’s about everyone. We should be able to look down at our pizza and see a pizza, not calories and carbohydrates; fats and guilt. That isn’t what we should be focusing on because not only does it take the pleasure out of food, it also disguises food as something bad when the food isn’t the actual problem.
I think society needs to be educated in what our bodies really require, and the importance of minerals, vitamins and natural ingredients. I also think the quick and easy foods that don’t offer as much nutrition shouldn’t be the cheapest option, or the items that are always on offer – encouraging us to consume more than we need.
But in my opinion, I think the actual problem is that we are unhappy.
I think the government needs to focus on everyone’s mental health, not their weight. I know that when I am unhappy, stressed or worried, my eating habits reflect this, but now I know that it only makes me feel worse if I do under or overeat. I know that taking out how I feel on food isn’t the answer. I’ve also noticed that when I eat what is good for my body, or I know that I’m contributing to the good of a bigger cause through what I buy, it makes me feel good too. But I could really be craving some chocolate, or some chip shop chips, and they can also make me feel good – because I fancied them. We need to distinguish between when our bodies actually want something, and when it’s just an emotional response that won’t actually help our mood or situation.
I also know that when I don’t exercise, it really affects my mental and physical health. I think society also needs to realise that exercise is not just an activity that allows us to lose weight, and for it to be re-introduced with all the real benefits it can provide us with if we stop focusing on burning calories, losing weight or gaining muscle.
What if we stopped thinking about what we could lose or gain through our eating habits and exercise, and instead did it to stay the same; to just be us?
When I don’t look after myself, I don’t feel like myself. It’s as if I can feel the real me start to deteriorate, and if I’m not careful, I turn to bad habits that only push me further away from who I am really am. And the problem is that when we are brainwashed into thinking we are this person that we are not, our mental state becomes a dangerous place.
But eating healthy and exercising isn’t the only answer, and I realise that there are a lot of people who have restrictions around what they can eat, and what exercise they can take part in.
I’ve found that I also need something to give me a sense of purpose, because without it, I feel lost and empty. For me, it’s doing something creative or something that allows me to feel as though I am making a positive difference for someone or something, even if it is small.
So, I don’t think the answer is counting calories. I’ve tried that and it didn’t work – it only caused more problems, put my health at risk and landed me in a hospital bed. I think those things could be the outcome of introducing calorie counts on restaurant menus too.
I think we need to be more mindful about what we are eating and why we are eating it, to learn to enjoy exercise, and to find what gives us that sense of purpose. I think we, and the government, need to prioritise our mental health, and to also be aware of how we can help others with theirs too. Once we do, other things, such as obesity, maybe even environmental issues, could start to fall into place if we are kinder to ourselves, those around us and our environment…
It would be great if you could take a look at