"Calories on a menu could hinder my recovery"

15/05/2022

Katie has lived with an eating disorder for almost 15 years. While she is currently in recovery, she is worried about the government’s decision to make calories on menus mandatory in some restaurants. In this blog, she tells us about her recovery journey and what impact calories on menus could have on those of us who experience eating disorders.

My name is Katie and I am 27 years old. I was diagnosed with anorexia at the young age of 13 and then re-diagnosed with bulimia at age 15. Throughout my teenage years and early adulthood, I battled to keep my eating disorder at bay, due to a perfectionist personality and poor self-image. My eating disorder peaked around age 16, which unfortunately marked several hospital admissions and intensive treatments.

“I couldn’t maintain relationships, manage my emotions and often found myself feeling out of control. I was unable to take part in social gatherings and often opted to avoid any event which might involve food.”

Being diagnosed with an eating disorder by the local Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) gave meaning to the chaos and constant battle for control that surrounded my life. A diagnosis gave me access to adolescent treatment options and a team of support, which led to a further diagnosis at 15 of a mood and temperament disorder.

My treatment plan during adolescence ranged from talking therapies and intensive outpatient treatment to inpatient stays in hospital. As a young adult, medication and therapies were the best treatment options available. Part of the treatment process was professionally-led meal plans which helped me to regain weight healthily.

Thankfully, I was well enough to be discharged aged 24 after the birth of my first child, and have not needed psychiatric support since. I would consider myself to be in recovery and have been for most of my 20s. Despite labelling myself as ‘recovering’ or ‘recovered’, I reflect on the process as a journey and still battle negative thoughts periodically. Food remains an area of control and  eating out can sometimes be difficult.

The law change requiring calories to be displayed on menus may unfortunately hinder me staying on track with my recovery, as an individual who has been on that path for many years. Eating out and social events can undoubtably invoke anxiety and stress when choosing options on a menu. A lot of my eating disorder battle was centred around control. Having calories on a menu gives the eating disordered persona control and would hinder me from choosing a meal for enjoyment.

 “Time spent calculating calorie totals and subsequent exercise goals destroys the enjoyment of social gatherings which revolve around meals and food.

This shift in focus, away from the enjoyment of spending time with friends and family towards calorie counting, would ruin the positive experience of socialising and hinder the benefits for someone living in an already lonely world of anorexia or bulimia.”

I remember being taken to a cafe as part of my own recovery, and to even set foot inside left me shaken and overwhelmed. Having calories explicitly displayed on a menu would have deterred me from choosing a challenging meal or taking the next step in my recovery. An action which is viewed as a simple choice to so many. Being faced with a meal that you haven’t prepared yourself is already an anxiety-inducing situation.

As someone who has lived with and through an eating disorder, I would like you all to know that recovery takes time, but it gets easier. Something that was unbearable yesterday might be tolerable today and achievable tomorrow.

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