Topics mentioned: eating problems
Author: Tegan, 17 and Molly, 16
About: Tegan and Molly explain how the new calorie labelling law will affect young people with eating disorders and all those who struggle with food and eating.
What the new law means
From 6 April 2022, some businesses which serve food, like restaurants, cafes and takeaways, will legally have to put calorie content information on their food. This is a new law that will apply to businesses with over 250 employees, meaning it will mostly affect bigger chain restaurants, takeaways (including when you order online), and supermarkets. Calorie content information will also be put on more menus and food products.
Putting calories on menus could affect eating disorder recovery
In the past, I struggled with an eating disorder. I’ve been in recovery for two years now, and it’s something that I have worked hard to overcome. So, when I heard that the Government was planning to introduce a law meaning that restaurants would have to put calorie counts on menus, I was obviously disheartened, knowing how much this would have affected me when I was struggling and how much this will affect others who are struggling now. My friends and family and I signed petitions, shared stuff around and did whatever else we could think of to try and stop this from going through, but unfortunately it did.
Having been recovered from my eating disorder for some time, I didn’t think that this would affect me too much. But when I visited a restaurant soon after this legislation came into force, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. I have a go-to order at this restaurant and I wasn’t about to let that be affected by the calories, but I did find myself scanning the menu and looking for the option that I would have felt I needed to order in years gone by. A lot of the memories of how hard that time were came back to me and, at first, I found it quite hard. But then I decided to turn this into a positive thing. Reminding myself of how far I had come, how I was living the life now that past me could only have wished for, and how I never imagined that I would get to be in a position where I could order whatever I liked regardless of calories.
When I heard that the Government was planning to introduce a law meaning that restaurants would have to put calorie counts on menus, I was obviously disheartened, knowing how much this would have affected me when I was struggling.
Tips for coping with the new law
My advice for anyone who is struggling with this new legislation is to get a friend or family member to read the menu for you and suggest things that they think you would like. That way you don’t have to look at the calories and you can decide on what sounds the nicest to you. You could even take this further and ask the server not to hand you a menu at all.
Another option is to think about what you fancy before you go into the restaurant. You can even tell the person you’re going with what you really want in advance, so you know that calories haven’t come into it. A final piece of advice would be to go somewhere where you had a go-to order or a childhood favourite before your eating disorder and order that. Sometimes having an old favourite can be fun and you can be confident that you are making the choice that you would have made before food became an issue for you.
My advice for anyone who is struggling with this new legislation is to get a friend or family member to read the menu for you and suggest things that they think you would like.
Calories aren't the enemy
The new requirement for restaurants and cafes to display calories on menus will no doubt challenge people with eating disorders – myself included, as I have personally suffered with anorexia. Here are some things to remember, which might help if you’re struggling with this.
Firstly, calories aren’t the enemy. Calories are simply units of energy, which everyone needs in order for your body to carry out its basic functions. You wouldn’t tell your younger self that you couldn’t have that cookie because it had ‘too many’ calories in it, would you? You wouldn’t make your younger self have that plain salad instead of pizza would you? So why would you now? You are still as deserving as your younger self to have full food freedom and have permission to live your life to the fullest, without a number on a flimsy menu telling you otherwise.
Calories aren’t the enemy. Calories are simply units of energy, which everyone needs in order for your body to carry out its basic functions.
Calories aren't a currency you spend
Secondly, for someone with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, it may be hard to have foods that you’re scared you may not like, and it be a ‘waste of calories’. But calories aren’t a currency you spend, they’re something everyone needs to live! When you’re older, looking back on your life, don’t you want to say you made the most of it, and enjoyed it to the fullest? Don’t let a number control you. Calories aren’t money and you don’t need to ‘save’ them up, or decide what to get with them. You control food. Don’t let food control you. Because a life of food freedom, will always be better than a life listening to an eating disorder.
Lastly, calories aren’t an exact science. They’re simply an indicator of how much energy a food contains. Your body doesn’t care if it’s had X more calories than usual; it only cares that it’s getting enough fuel.
Calories aren’t money and you don’t need to ‘save’ them up, or decide what to get with them.
Recovery is worth it
One thing I can promise you is that once you push through the hardest parts of recovery, you will not regret it. I can't promise that things will be perfect, or that recovery will be easy. But I promise that you will find yourself again and things will be so much better than they are.
So, don’t let this new law knock you back. Get that pudding. Eat what younger you would really want. You wouldn’t tell your friends they couldn’t have something, so why would you tell yourself that? Don’t let a number on a menu get in the way of you enjoying yourself and creating memories. You’ve got this!
One thing I can promise you is that once you push through the hardest parts of recovery, you will not regret it.
More information and advice
We have tips and advice to help you find the support you need. Take a look at our guides.
Where to get help
However you're feeling, there are people who can help you if you are struggling. Here are some services that can support you.
Offers information and support for anybody affected by eating disorders.
Enter your postcode in the HelpFinder to see what eating disorder support is available in your area.
- Opening times:
- 365 days a year - weekdays (9am - 8pm); weekends (4pm - 8pm)
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.
- Opening times: