‘We Need Empathy, Compassion And A Focus On Mental Health – Not Calorie Counts On Menus’ Says Daisy Buchanan

'Boris's approach is entirely lacking in empathy and compassion.'

calorie restaurant menu

by Daisy Buchanan |

You and I both know cake is delicious. But perhaps you weren’t aware that it isn’t an especially healthy choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The same goes for crisps. They are really tasty. But I’m assuming you have no idea that it’s better for your body if you chop some carrots into sticks and snack on those – because you’re probably too stupid to know about nutrients and too lazy to lay your hands on some carrot carrying Tupperware.

Here’s an idea for you! Why not ride a bike, instead of travelling to places by car? You see, when you ride a bike you burn calories – those are the energy units that food contains – and if you use more than you consume, you’ll lose weight! Then you’ll be less of a drain on the NHS, which is for people who deserve help. Not fat, lazy idiot cake eaters, I’m afraid!

As I see it, this is a broad summary of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s health plan for the country, which has seen calories be added to large cafe and restaurant menus from today.

In 2018, 36% of the adult population were overweight and 28% were obese. But we should question the maths: The measurement method most commonly used is the Body Mass Index, a number generated by taking someone’s weight in kilograms divided by their height in metres squared. If the resulting figure – if your resulting figure – comes in at 25 or over, it means you’re overweight. Over 30 is obese. But this takes no account of the infinite ways that a body can be composed, or of the fact that muscle weighs more than fat. (Plenty of personal trainers are technically obese.) And very few people mention that the WHO shifted the numbers, and the goalposts in 1998. Before that, the cut off number for being overweight was 27.

The government’s Better Health strategy has several prongs – calorie counts on menus, for anyone who truly didn’t know that there are more calories in a cheeseburger than in an undressed green salad. There are also plans to ban the advertising of certain foods before 9pm from 2023.

'Boris's approach is entirely lacking in empathy and compassion. It’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with food and our bodies without those two ingredients'

I have been obese, and I have lived with eating disorders that made me severely underweight. I’m a Western woman, and I think I knew the calorific value of all foods invented before I was fully confident with my 12 times table. I believe that our health isn’t a simple matter of maths and science. It’s not the case that millions of us are at an increased risk of becoming a Covid-19 fatality because we’re unaware of the attendant dangers of eating a whole packet of biscuits at once.

My troubled relationship with food is a result of growing up in a world which has told me that my body is a problem to be solved – which is what the government is telling us all, right now. I have dieted, and dieted, and dieted – and then collapsed and binged, filled with shame, regret and self-loathing. I have abused food because it has offered me short term relief from anxiety and depression. I’m not remotely surprised that obesity is increasing among children at a rate that roughly correlates with the [rise in mental illness among children](https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html#:~:text=For%20children%20aged%203%2D17,also%20have%20depression%20(32.3%25)).

Of course, being overweight doesn’t mean you’re unhappy. But I’m certain that being unhappy puts a great strain on our relationship with food. At the moment, our mental health is under an enormous amount of strain. We are still learning about the effects of the lockdown, but many of us have been lonely, isolated and overwhelmed with worries about money, jobs and the future. Vulnerable people living in deprived areas are at the greatest practical and emotional risk.

Boris bothers me because his approach is entirely lacking in empathy and compassion. It’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with food and our bodies without those two ingredients. When I was at my heaviest, all I thought about was what I shouldn’t be eating. I lost weight when I finally figured out that I deserved to be happy, and that my body wasn’t something to be ashamed of. If we put our mental health at the top of the agenda, our physical health will follow. But if we spread the message that our bodies are a problem, we’re only going to get heavier, and unhappier.

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