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Tips for Eating Out When Restaurants Put the Calorie Count on Menus

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says “calorie labeling on restaurant menus and vending machines can help you make informed and healthful decisions about meals and snacks.” Informed and healthful… that sounds good, right? Well maybe for some people. Not for me, and maybe not for you.

Going out to eat is a challenge in and of itself when recovering from a restrictive-type eating disorder. When you have an eating disorder, numbers such as “fat concentration,” “calories burned.” “sugar,” “current weight,” etc. are dancing around in your head, attempting to calculate themselves into a meal choice. Someone with an eating disorder certainly does not need to punch in more numbers on this internal calculator. Sometimes it’s scary for people like me to choose a meal off a menu without knowing what’s really in it or how much it will “cost” them so to speak. But for me, what is worse is making that decision based on the numbers listed next to my food choices.

The USDA knew consumers could find calories and other nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts label, but took things a step further. Wait! Stop! That was more than enough for me — too much in fact! I don’t like flipping item after item over in my hands at the grocery store, deciding what can and cannot go in my cart based on a label. When visiting a restaurant, shouldn’t I be allowed more ease? Shouldn’t I be able to relax and enjoy myself, in the kind of way dining out is supposed to be? No good deed goes unpunished. As the United States government attempts to control obesity in America, and give its citizens proper knowledge and the ability to make informed choices, I believe they haven’t considered the well-being of some other citizens who are in a different category.

We the people who have to remind ourselves daily we cannot diet, we who have to black out nutrition labels or un-package food so we can pick items out of our cabinets without going into a frenzy, we who throw our scales out, we who limit time in front of a mirror, we who limit our exercise — all because we aren’t well informed? No way. We are over-informed. For people with eating disorders, numbers can be very, very scary.

So what do we do now that the USDA has already enacted this? Now that my once-favorite restaurant now threatens me with nutritional information, placing icons by items literally telling me what the best choice is after I’ve worked so hard to stop distinguishing between “good” and “bad” choices for myself? Well first off, I breathe. That’s right. Deep breaths.

Here are my options. Keep the menu closed and simply ask my server for suggestions, ask whomever I am with to read me off a few choices or use my fingers to block off those ugly numbers as I read the menu (warning, this frequently doesn’t work out because either I’m too tempted to cheat or simply because the ole finger technique is ineffective at covering certain things in full).

If you are recovering from an eating disorder, you are a warrior. You are brave and strong and have been through hell and back. Do not let a silly rule like this trip you up. Do not let anyone take away the joy of eating out, the newfound freedom you’ve gained or the confidence in yourself and in your body to eat whatever you want. Recovery is a long process with any number of obstacles, and that’s OK. If this is an obstacle for you, just as it is for me, that’s OK. We’ll get through this. Keep that chin up and keep continuing down your path to a brighter, healthier future!

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Jack Hollingsworth.

Originally published: July 6, 2017
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