Last week, I was horrified by the Government’s new health campaign. My belief is that the Gov is tackling health from the wrong perspective and I had a lot to say about it in my post ‘The UK Government’s Health Campaign is rooted in fat phobia‘. What I didn’t talk about was their proposal to include calories on menus in all restaurants and their complete lack of consideration for mental health. Here’s why the new health campaign is unlikely to be effective.
Trigger warning: Eating Disorders/Weight Loss/Calorie Counting
Let’s start with mental health
After reading through their policy paper on tackling obesity, mental health was mentioned once. To quote: ‘Obesity can impact on mental health.’
I honestly believe that it is mental health which impacts obesity.
The government said it themselves: “It’s hard to eat healthily, especially if we are busy, or tired, or stressed.” The higher rates of overweight and obese BMIs are among our most vulnerable members of society. People who work multiple jobs. Families who can’t afford home cooked meals. People who are unable to get support for mental health conditions.
Many people look to food for comfort when times get hard. Waiting times for therapy were as high as 61 days and the average number of days between the first and second appointment was 49 days, according to a recent report.
It’s obvious that the Government is not taking mental health as seriously as physical health – but they are both connected. This brings me on to the extremely problematic choice to put calories on menus in all restaurants.
The health campaign and eating disorders
Calorie counting is a known behaviour of individuals with eating disorders. Putting calories on more menus will no doubt be excruciatingly triggering for individuals in recovery or living with an eating disorder.
It’s also possible that encouraging calorie counting and providing apps will increase the prevalence of eating disorders. Young people are highly influenced by diet culture and children are known to show a preference towards thinner bodies.
The problem with the NHS Weight Loss App
Once again, we find ourselves talking about fat phobia. The NHS website specifically states: “This guide is intended for use by healthy adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 and over.”
If the individual is already healthy, why do they need to lose weight? Health is possible at every size. Ever heard the phrases ‘skinny fat’ and ‘fat person in a thin body’? They refer to the internal health of a person. Skinny fat describes a healthy person who happens to have a larger body. Fat person in a thin body is highlighting the unhealthy choices of someone who has a smaller body.
But look at the language: we’re assuming all people with larger bodies are unhealthy and this is just not the case.
Why adding calories to menus is unlikely to be effective
It’s a well known fact that in order to lose weight, a calorie deficit is required. Counting calories is a way to monitor how much energy you’re consuming which you can then compare to how much energy you’re burning. However, calorie counting is time consuming and, to be honest, really inconvenient. So most people look for a quick fix. They reduce their calorie intake as low as possible.
But what happens when they go back to eating without counting? They regain the weight. Because eating such a small amount of calories is unsustainable. Plus, it’s incredibly dangerous.
Including calories on menus will only continue to encourage feelings of shame and guilt when it comes to our foods. This, in turn, will impact our mental health which will only continue to affect the rates of obesity.
I was once told that getting humans to lose weight would surely be the same as how we get dogs to lose weight. Reduce their food and increase their activity. But that comment completely missed the emotional and psychological relationship that we have with food. Yet, in a sense, the government is trying to replicate that message.
So that’s my take on why the new health campaign is unlikely to be effective. With these new changes, I’m increasingly concerned about our nation’s mental state. For now, all I can suggest is to keep looking after yourself. Live intuitively, keep ditching the diet and above all, know that your body does not define your worth.
Always remember to take a paws.