As part of the government’s plan to tackle obesity, big changes have been made to how we consume food and drink when out and about.
Under new laws, from today, restaurants, cafes and takeaways in England that employ more than 250 staff must now display calorie information on their menus and websites (including delivery platforms).
However, the move has proved controversial and has been criticised by some people in the restaurant industry, as well as representatives from eating disorder charities.
So, following the announcement, OK! spoke to the experts to find out exactly how calories really affect our fitness, what they think of the decision and how to avoid it becoming detrimental to your mental health…
What are calories?
First things first, calories measure how much energy is in an item of food or drink.
How many calories a person requires depends on factors such as their gender, age, weight and how much exercise they do.
Who will the change in law help?
Given that consuming more calories than we expend is one factor that can contribute to weight gain, the change in law may help inform people’s food choices.
“The information may be helpful to members of the public to make it clear which are the healthier choices when eating out,” explainswellness and nutrition expert Penny Weston.
“Some people find it hard to know which meal is healthier and having the calories declared up front means they can decide what works best for them, rather than thinking they have eaten healthily but then finding out a meal contains lots of hidden calories.”
Could the introduction of calorie labels be harmful?
But while labels may help inform some people’s decisions, critics have warned that the move could be detrimental to people’s mental health, especially those who suffer from disordered eating or eating disorders.
In fact, according to a 2021 report fromEIT food, 55% of 18 to 24 year olds believe that including calories on menu choices will be detrimental to mental health.
Penny agrees. She says: “I do really worry for people who have eating disorders and how seeing the number of calories on a menu might be triggering or stressful for them.”
Registered nutritionist andPho ambassador Rhiannon Lambert feels similarly. “For people who already have an eating disorder or disordered eating, the introduction of calories to menus may cause more harm than good.
“Becoming consumed with calories may lead to an unhappy long-term lifestyle choice and it may further encourage negativity towards food,” she says.
Are calories a reliable measure of ‘healthiness’?
When it comes to eating a balanced diet, calories aren’t the best indicator of a food’s nutritional value, explains Penny.
“All calories aren’t equal in terms of how they are treated in the body and the effects on people’s health,” she says.
“For example, with protein the calories will help you stay full for longer, whereas sugary processed foods may have similar calories but they have little nutritional value.”
She adds: “Eating healthily is not just about counting calories. While helpful in some ways, people shouldn’t be obsessing about sticking to calorie limits as it really does depend on your own health and diet.”
What should people do if they feel triggered by calories on menus?
For anyone who is affected by the change, Rhiannon recommends that people open up about their feelings.
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“Perhaps ask the people you are with to read out the choices that are available to you or you could ask the waiting staff if there is a menu that does not show the calories,” she says.
However, for anyone who is particularly struggling, seeking professional help from a medical professional may be the support that is needed.
How can we support people who may be uncomfortable with the change?
With the introduction of calories on menus affecting many people, it’s likely that this will crop up during mealtimes as diners get used to the change.
Where possible, Rhiannon recommends steering conversation away from the numbers and focusing on the experience instead.
“When surrounded by others and people you know that are uncomfortable with calories being visible, try to be supportive and non-judgmental on both food choices and body shape, as well as offering compassion,” she says.
“Food is not just about the energy that we get from it, it’s about enjoyment and having fun, so instead of focusing on the numbers in front of you, think about the moment and the memories you are making with your loved ones.”
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