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The Problem With Calorie Counts on Menus

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

I haven’t been to the movies in a while, so I was excited when my friend suggested we head to a nearby theater last weekend. We left the house intending to watch either “Hidden Figures” or “La La Land” and of course, with our luck, we ended up in “Split.” To my pleasant surprise, it was a pretty good movie, disturbing as it may have been at times.

It had been a while since lunch, and I was getting hungry. I’ve been getting severe stomach pains lately if I don’t eat within a few hours and wanted to make sure I avoided that feeling at all costs, especially while I was away from home.

I don’t know who pointed it out first, but my friend and I both ended up noting the theater’s snack menu had calories listed next to each item. She left to use the restroom and I just kind of stood there, unmoving, staring at the menu for a while. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, calorie counts still throw me off and cause me to second guess my choices. As soon as I started reading through the options, I felt my mind involuntarily trying to convince itself I could wait another two and a half hours before eating. Turns out, I’ve gotten really quick at mental math.

Deep down, I knew I couldn’t wait. So, I took the plunge and ordered. I have spent the past few days trying to be proud of myself for defying my eating disorder in this way, even if it was uncomfortable and frustrating.

The problem with calorie counts on menus is it can only go wrong. I feel really, there are two outcomes. Either a person is deterred from eating what they want and what their body may have needed at that time, or they eat it and feel guilt soon after — maybe even as soon as the first bite.

It’s not fair for me to generalize, and for those who have never or no longer struggle with food issues, menu calories allow quick access to that information. However, it’s important to keep in mind the number of calories does not give any information regarding nutrition. My breakfast could have a low number of calories, but very little protein to keep me full longer into the day. I could have a high calorie breakfast packed with the nutrients that my body needs to stay healthy and energized.

Low calorie does not guarantee nutrition. Low calorie does not guarantee health. Low calorie most certainly does not guarantee happiness.

Long story short, I got the nachos.

This post originally appeared on Ease and Honor.

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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Originally published: May 10, 2017
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