Calorie Counting: No. 10’s way of battling British Obesity.

Source: Precision Nutrition

Alice Brooks discusses the Government’s plan to display calories on menus and why this can be triggering.

By Alice Brooks

Calorie counting is the name for keeping track of the number of calories in the food one eats; there are many reasons why people do this including wanting to lose, gain or maintain weight. Regardless of why someone counts calories – for anyone, it can quickly become obsessive and can lead to a variety of long-term problems.

As someone who faces the constant struggle of trying to keep weight off and can be fixated on calorie counting, it is a daunting initiative commencing on behalf of the British government. Something that has come at the wrong time, with many people experiencing the ‘lockdown stone’ and consequently plummeting into self-critique. 

When the new regulations were first announced, the calorie-counter in me was excited by the idea of going out for dinner and knowing I would be able to count my calories accurately, however, as I started to delve deeper into the repercussions of this, I realised that this new regime would do more harm than good. 

Those of us who concentrate so severely on the number of calories we eat often lack the right amount of what we need. In my case, I began to cut out carbohydrates after midday and sugar almost altogether. I would avoid fruit thinking it is an unnecessary snack and as you can imagine, I ended up with iron and vitamin deficiencies. This is not uncommon. When discussing my addiction to calorie counting, it surprised me to hear that many others have dealt with these same problems. So, with the government adding only the calorie count to restaurant menus with no further nutritional information, they should expect to see an increase in deficiency problems. 

Not only will there be problems with lacking essential foods and nutrients, but the government needs to anticipate the increase in demand for GP services, counselling, and other support systems, as cases of eating disorders will inevitably rise. When faced with a menu with meals that have different calorie counts, those who are calorie-conscious will pick the meal with the lowest calorie value. I personally have found that the guilt of picking something with a high-calorie value is immeasurable, even after you’ve barely eaten all day to accommodate for it. As time goes by, you begin to believe that you never needed the high-calorie meals in the first place. 

Although calorie counting shouldn’t be used as a ploy to encourage the British population to lose weight, this is in no way condoning obesity. There are many factors that determine someone’s weight and ultimately, weight does not matter as long as people are healthy and exercising appropriately for them and even if they are not, that is the concern of that person and any doctors involved only. But there is no question that across the United Kingdom, obesity has become more prevalent. And with it, those who encourage people to love the body they are in. 

Whilst I see the importance of raising each other up and not discriminating against someone’s size, there are situations in which we need to acknowledge the dangers that can come with being overweight. This is not to say that people who are overweight are any less deserving of being treated humanely and with respect, which is something the government seems to have forgotten. Perhaps, for some of those who do weigh more than others, calorie counting, when done healthily, could be an efficient way to help them control their weight. But I would ask the government: when do we stop counting our calories? When do we realise that we are at an appropriate weight and should stop? And then, when we do stop, how do we maintain our weight without calorie tracking?

Perhaps urging the government to consider other ways to reduce the national obesity rate, would be a safer and more sustainable solution. Many have taken to Twitter to voice their opinion on this, saying that the government must tackle food prices so that everyone has access to a healthy balanced diet before insisting that we all calorie count. With a typical punnet of strawberries costing between £2 and £3 at Tesco while a frozen pizza, that could be a whole meal, costs only 67p, Twitter users have made the point that when someone already lives on a tight budget, they are most likely going to pick the cheaper option. This also no doubt contributes to the fact that over 60% of students experience weight gain in their first year of university, according to data published by BioMed Central, as for many, healthier options are simply not accessible.

As well as reducing food prices, the government could work to reduce obesity by changing the  current ‘Sugar Tax’ so that it actually deters people from buying products that contain high amounts of sugar. At the moment, Sugar Tax is 24p for 8g of sugar and is paid for by the manufacturers and while currently it isn’t seen to have had that much of an effect, 50% of manufacturers have changed their formulas to reduce sugar. If the government truly wanted to discourage the purchase of sugar-filled products, perhaps we need a sugar tax that the consumers themselves pay.

Another option would be to support the School Healthy Rating Scheme that Jamie Oliver has long campaigned on. Pressure should be put on the Department of Education to create a school environment where healthier foods are promoted both in and outside the canteen. I think we can all remember our school canteens having ice lollies in summer, fish and chips on Fridays, milkshakes and fizzy drinks available 24/7. We need to be feeding the next generation healthier foods that will help them to work and learn better throughout their time at school. It should be mandatory that schools provide well-rounded meals which will help kids learn about healthy habits that they will take with them through life and aid the families who are unable to provide these meals at home.

Regardless of how the government wants to tackle obesity there are numerous options for them to choose from. The option that they have chosen – calorie counting – is insensitive and triggering to those who struggle with their weight or eating disorders. They should be promoting healthier foods by reducing the price of fruits, vegetables and foods that can sustain people, increasing the price of processed sugar, and helping schools promote and supply healthy eating options so that the next generation is educated on healthy lifestyle habits.

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