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  • Jason Wood

Off The Menu: Calorie Counts

There’s been a lot of buzz from followers in the UK, who are outraged over the government’s plan to require calorie counts on menus. The government believes this to be an anti-obesity strategy; however, they fail to recognize the harmful impacts these numbers can have on an individual battling, recovering, or subject to an eating disorder.

Several cities and states in the US also have similar requirements. The FDA requires all restaurants and similar dining establishments with twenty or more locations to provide this information on menus and menu boards.

I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food since I was 16, so needless to say that I used to applaud these initiatives. But now I realize I wasn’t the one doing the clapping, it was my eating disorder celebrating the inclusion of even more numbers to make me feel bad about myself.

With orthorexia, I was often more concerned about the type of food and the macronutrient breakdown; however, calories also played a major factor in my anxiety. The bigger the caloric number, the more fears I had about “bad” carbohydrates and fats. I can say with absolute certainty that the calorie counts on the menu often influenced my food choices. Again, something or someone else was deciding what I wanted to eat.

I’ve deleted all calorie-tracking apps. I make an effort to place all groceries in the fridge and pantry with the nutritional labels facing backward so I won’t be tempted to read them. While the temptations are always there to peek, I celebrate every meal when I don’t.

The same applies to dining out. I used to spend hours researching restaurant menus and nutritional information, but again I am able to resist temptations for the most part. Each meal is an opportunity for growth!

However, mandated calorie counts on the menu mean I have no escape. It’s basically like placing a drink in an alcoholic’s hand. Or taking a gambling addict to the casino. You’re handing me information that my addiction thrives on. Numbers that can cause relapse and inflict damage.

Case in point, last week we were on vacation for my husband’s birthday. He decided he wanted ice cream for his birthday dessert, so we headed to a well-known ice cream chain. Under the FDA’s menu labeling rules, they have to post their calorie counts on the menu board.

I walk into the place and am seduced by the smell of fresh waffle cones; however, this joy is quickly replaced with sheer anxiety when I see big bold numbers next to every menu item. The hostage situation began as orthorexia walked up to the counter with me. I panicked and was unable to order anything. I couldn’t justify eating one thing on the menu because of those big red numbers. I’m months into recovery and doing really well but that night the triggers were just too damn strong.

I went to bed feeling defeated but also determined to treat myself the next day. I couldn’t let orthorexia win again. Little did I know, my next challenge was awaiting me at breakfast. I opened the menu and was greeted by numbers galore next to every single menu item. Good Morning!

This place is known for its LARGE portion sizes which made every calorie count seem extremely high. My stomach tensed up, my pulse raced, and that feeling of defeat started tickling my mind.

“Do you need me to read the menu to you, so you won’t have to see the numbers?” Matt offered.

“No, I let this thing get the best of me last night. I’m going to have to face calorie counts on menus in the future so I gotta face this head-on now.”

Wow, did I really just say that?! I persevered and ordered what I wanted and not what the calorie counts dictated.

Was it hard? YES!

Did regret and guilt try to creep in? YES!

But was it worth it? HELL YES!

I batted .500 on this trip, however, I know there will be more tests in the future as long as restaurants are required to post calorie counts.

I urge leaders and restaurant associations to work together to find alternative ways to provide this information. Please remember that there are a lot of us there who are triggered by this unavoidable content.


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