Requiring Calories on Menus is Dangerous

As of January 1, 2017, restaurants in Ontario, Canada are required by law to list the calorie counts for all food and drink items they serve. Technically, this only applies to companies with more than 20 locations so it doesn’t impact small businesses but does change the way things look at Starbucks, Montanas, and Mr. Sub, for example. Information has to be included on restaurant menus, smartphone apps, and on both in-store and drive-thru menu boards. They are also required to be able to provide the sodium percentage if asked, but it is not required to be listed prominently and as a result, most are not doing so. The goal of this legislation is to reduce “the childhood obesity epidemic” and improve overall health even though the evidence says the change that will come as a result is minimal at best. It is a particularly ironic reason for enacting legislation given how few food choices children actually make for themselves. In fact, they say that only people who already pay close attention to nutritional information will use these postings in the long run. Others will be shocked at first and may change their behaviour initially but will quickly choose to ignore the numbers. Therefore, those who are most likely to use this calorie information are those who are struggling with an eating disorder. That’s incredibly dangerous if you ask me. We are putting people’s lives on the line in the name of fat shaming.

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As a person who has often said she has recovered from a restrictive eating disorder, I’ve got to tell you that this recent change has me questioning the validity of using the word recovered versus recovering. I feel triggered every time I have to see these new numbers on a menu. I’ve seen it many times already as some restaurants have been doing this for a few months in order to ensure they are in compliance with the law on time. I don’t necessarily feel a need to start counting calories in an obsessive way again, but I am conscious that I have been avoiding looking at this information. I have chosen to avoid looking at nutritional labels as a coping mechanism or survival strategy and it has worked to allow me to eat more intuitively. Unfortunately, I no longer have that choice available to me it if I want to eat at a mainstream restaurant. Others with a similar food history have said: “I would have loved it because it would have fed my eating disorder mind” when referring to the new laws in Ontario, Canada. January is already an incredibly hard time of year for those struggling to embrace body love instead dieting, but when combined with this new legislation, it’s become somewhat unavoidable. As a society, we are constantly being confronted with these body-shaming ideas and this has made it more pervasive and obvious. I wonder if people so concerned with our “health” consider mental health and the impact body shaming and bullying has on people, especially on “overweight” children.

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I think it is obvious this campaign isn’t about health because the restaurants aren’t required to list the vitamin content of each food item, the focus is on calories. This is not about encouraging people to make healthier choices in terms of eating more vegetables or other foods with a high nutritional value, it is simply about getting people to reduce their overall caloric intake. That is a fatphobic approach. That is an example of diet culture. If people were truly concerned with our society’s overall health they would recognise that restrictive eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are far more deadly than obesity is. Anorexia is known as the deadliest psychiatric disorder ever. Andrea LaMarre, a PhD candidate has launched a campaign to have the legislation repealed and stated, “given the lack of strong evidence to support the actual enactment of calorie counts on menus, it’s not really worth the risk of making life a lot more difficult with eating disorders”. Personally, I am completely against legislators who are not doctors passing laws which are not supported by evidence. I am against laws that require such prominent placement of calorie counts but I feel the full nutritional chart, including vitamin percentages, should be available upon request for those who want that information. I’d like to see companies demonstrate that they really care about health and saving lives by also choosing to include the website of a national eating disorder organisation or clinic for anyone in need of help with their own disorder eating.

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