Healthy Menu Choices Act Misses the Mark

I knew the Healthy Menu Choices Act was being implemented as of January 1, 2017.  However, I was caught off guard when I stood in line, waiting to order a burrito and saw the calorie count beside menu items glaring back at me. I was acutely aware of the sick part of my brain, reminding me that even after all these years, I am not immune to the triggers that wreak havoc on many who have, had or will develop an eating disorder. 

I’ve heard the argument that people who struggle with the display of calories should ‘just not look’. It’s not that easy. It’s like trying to read a paragraph and having to stop part way through, not knowing if you received all the necessary information, yet don’t want to risk over reading. Or, driving past an accident while continuing to only look forward. Let’s also not forget that eating disorders are a mental illness. Those who struggle aren’t thinking about food in the same way you may be. It’s not easy for them to simply order what they want. It’s real, it’s a struggle. Mental gymnastics occur, contemplating every angle of each menu item. Is it pro-recovery or will it keep me sick? If I order ‘A’, will people think I don’t have an eating disorder any more and think everything is back to ‘normal’ when it’s not?  Throw people with eating disorders or in recovery into a society that is largely distorted around food, weight, body-image, exercise and so on, and the battle becomes that much harder. It’s just one more thing to face, making it that much more difficult for them to maintain a healthy relationship with food. 

Even if you don’t or haven’t had an eating disorder, the calorie display is not helpful. When we look at ‘health’, we need to move past the idea that it is simply physical. We must learn to also have a heathy relationship with food mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially.  Decisions solely based off of numbers take away from our ability to eat what we want instead of what society says we ‘should’ have. We need to learn the skills necessary to help cope and tolerate our emotions, instead of using food as a method to numb, stuff or comfort. We need to learn how to eat mindfully. We need to start trusting that our bodies will fall within a weight range that it likes to be in (aka set point), rather than choosing a range we think is right based on what society tells us is ‘best’. We need to understand how our bodies work when we eat higher or lower amounts of calories in a day.

I’m all up for people being aware of what and how they are eating, if they are seeking to become educated and self-aware. I understand that some people have to make very conscientious menu choices due to medical or specific dietary needs. I would suggest that the information be made available, but in its entirety. This would involve showing all nutrients, as opposed to just calories, and have them listed somewhere more discrete. Simply putting the calorie count on the menu does not paint the whole picture. It’s a poor attempt to teach people about healthy choices, and I would argue it’s more harmful than helpful. 

Andrea LaMarre, who sits on various committee to promote healthy relationships with food, weight and body-image, started a petition to repeal the Healthy Menu Choices Act. Let the Ontario Government know your thoughts on this matter.