Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

Boris Johnson is calling for the country to lose weight together, suggesting that this would help combat a possible second wave of COVID-19. A large part of his plan to ‘tackle obesity’ is to display the calorific content of alcoholic drinks, take-away food and restaurant meals. Whilst it is true that obesity has been on the rise in recent years, the government’s plan is incredibly narrow-minded and does not take into account how damaging and problematic this could be. 

Mental health issues and eating disorders (EDs) have seen exponential growth in the last few years. The charity, Beat, estimate that around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. EDs can manifest in a person of any age; the stereotype of a slight young girl throwing her sandwich away in the playground is simply no longer relevant. Of the 1.25 million people estimated, 25% of those are believed to be men. Many older people who struggle with an ED are improperly diagnosed due to a lack of awareness of symptoms in this age group. There are also many more types of EDs than people may be aware of, Beat state that 47% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder suffer from an Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).

Suffering with an eating disorder can affect every aspect of ones’ life. It is all encompassing, affecting relations with your mind, your body, and the people around you. Even during recovery people are still vulnerable as triggers can be anywhere, triggers such as calorie labels for example. A large part of the ED recovery process is re-teaching yourself everything you know about food; it is something to be enjoyed and not just a collection of numbers. Displaying the calorific content of food will be incredibly damaging to the nation. It will not only trigger those who may already be struggling or in recovery but will also create a generation of people obsessed with calories. It will allow people to become obsessed with what they put in their mouths, rather than feeling the positive emotions and joy that food and drink can bring.

In addition to aiding ED culture, calorie counting as a means of losing weight is far too simplistic, our body needs more than simply calories. We need a balanced diet that encompasses all of the micro and macro-nutrients needed for cognitive function and physical activity. Calories in versus calories out is far too one-size fits all. It does not consider an individuals’ body type, age, activity level, hydration levels or stress levels – all of which impact how people gain or lose weight. 

Seeing food as solely numbers to be counted, rather than fuel to be enjoyed is not what millions of people in ED recovery want to be told by their government.  It is dangerous for young people to not be properly educated about nutrition. This, combined with poor mental health services and a struggling NHS, is a recipe for disaster and an injustice to those struggling.