Calories on menus causes anxiety and distress, says eating disorder charity

Undated file photo of a pile of cheeseburgers and french fries. A ban on junk food advertising by Tr

Restaurants that employ more than 250 staff have to display calorie information on their menus from April 6 - Credit: PA

A Sprowston woman who has battled anorexia for 20 years has expressed serious concerns over the impact of a new government policy on people with eating disorders. 

There are also worries about the impact the new rules will have on the under-pressure hospitality industry.

From April 6, restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 staff must display how many calories are in non-prepacked food and soft drinks.

As well as on their menus, this includes websites and delivery platforms.

This change comes as part of government plans to tackle obesity by encouraging healthier choices.

The rollout comes as a change for many, however a string of chains - such as JD Wetherspoon, McDonalds and The Real Greek - already published the information. 

If people want to spend £100 on a good meal out as opposed to going to a Premier League match, peop

A Sprowston mum-of-two, who has battled anorexia for more than 20 years, said the move was "brutal" - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to eating disorder charity Beat, 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder.

Ambassador Christina Taylor from Sprowston, who has battled anorexia for more than two decades, suggested that alternative measures be put in place for calorie information, such as QR codes.

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The 37-year-old mum-of-two said: "Calories on menus is brutal.

"This week, the number of people with eating disorders who have been struggling is really sad to see.

"The calorific value that's attributed to something doesn't necessarily tell you how good for you it is.

"But the bigger question is why is there food with an enormous amount of calories in on menus in the first place if they're deemed to be so dangerous?"

Mrs Taylor fears that calorie information on menus "is going to make life difficult".

"I've spent 20 years being taught not to look at the calories in everything I was eating and not to attribute huge amounts of value to one meal," she said.

"It was a really long road for me to accept that and to make more free choices.

"Part of my therapy was that I was taken out to restaurants by a dietician.

"This is going to place a huge demand on eating disorder services which are already underfunded and overstretched. 

"I worry a lot about children of very young ages talking about their bodies and saying that they're fat.


Dr Louise Smith. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Dr Louise Smith. Picture: Norfolk County Council - Credit: Archant

"We realise there are other people that monitor their calorie intake, but this is going to be really devastating for people with eating disorders.

"It's going to make some people a lot worse and is going to create some new ones."

Norwich mum Christina Taylor, who battles anorexia, says putting calories on restaurant menus is "di

Norwich mum Christina Taylor, who battles anorexia, says putting calories on restaurant menus is "disastrous" for people with eating disorders - Credit: Courtesy of Christina Taylor

"The calorific value that's attributed to something doesn't necessarily tell you how good for you it is.

"But the bigger question is why is there food with an enormous amount of calories in on menus in the first place if they're deemed to be so dangerous?"

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs for Beat, said: "We are extremely disappointed that the government has made calories on menus mandatory in England, despite evidence that it causes anxiety and distress for people affected by eating disorders.

"We know from the people we support that including calories on menus can contribute to harmful eating disorder thoughts and behaviours worsening, for instance it can increase a fixation on restricting calories for those with anorexia or bulimia, or increase feelings of guilt for those with binge eating disorder.

"There is also very limited evidence that the legislation will lead to changed eating habits among the general population."

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs for eating disorder charity Beat

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs for eating disorder charity Beat - Credit: Beat

Mr Quinn added that the pandemic has meant more people than ever are needing support for serious mental illness.

He added: "Beat has continually asked the government to consider the impact on people affected by eating disorders and to take an evidence-based approach when creating health policies. This should involve consulting eating disorder clinicians and experts by experience at every stage of the process."

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk’s director of public health, said: "Unhealthy diets can cause or exacerbate a whole range of health issues from obesity to diabetes, and helping people improve their diets is one of the simplest ways we can help them live healthier, happier lives.

"By making calorie information clearer and more accessible, this change will allow everyone to keep track of what they’re consuming while they’re out and about.

"Adding these figures to menus isn’t a magic bullet for any health issues, however this will let people make informed decisions and is an important first step in helping everyone understand what they’re eating and how it can fit into a balanced diet."

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

Impact of calories on menus for businesses

Fears have been raised that the new food labelling regulations will put added pressure on an already struggling sector. 

Although this will mainly impact national chains, many local, smaller-scale companies will be affected. 

Kate Nicholls, chief executive at UK Hospitality, said that the new regulations comes "at the worst possible time for thousands of businesses struggling to survive". 

She added: "We’ve long called for a delay to the implementation of calorie labelling, and we’d like to see a ‘grace period’ post-April to allow businesses breathing space in which to implement the new rules without the risk of unnecessary enforcement action from day one.

“It’s completely unfair to expect businesses devastated by Covid to all of a sudden introduce complicated and costly new labelling when they’ve much more pressing matters to attend to."