Open Letter to Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
I am in recovery from an eating disorder called Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) and I have spent two years getting better with the out-patient program under the care of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
When I learned that the Government of Ontario would require businesses over a certain size to post the caloric content of their food on menus I was worried about the effect it might have on my recovery and other’s like mine.
Did you know:
One in 68 adults will develop clinical anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, but at least one in 20 have demonstrated symptoms of these disorders (even if they don’t exhibit symptoms severe enough to qualify for diagnosis)
When I was symptomatic I used to LOVE IT when a restaurant posted the caloric content of food on the menu. I actually wanted this law to be put in place. Why? So I could continue to strictly control what I ate at ALL times. If a menu had caloric content on it, I would not pick something with too many calories on it. Ever. If on the off chance I did allow myself to splurge, I would beat myself up for days about overeating by x calories that day.
So having the calorie content of food on the menu actually made it easier to indulge and feed my eating disorder. I would argue others suffering from an eating disorder or eating disorder symptoms would have a similar experience.
I am no longer symptomatic, but I can tell you it was an exhausting battle tonight, at a large chain restaurant, to choose food without considering the caloric content. It’s like telling someone to not look at the scratch on your brand new car. You have to look, you must look, you must know what it looks like.
I was taught by health professions, paid by the Ontario Government, that it is NOT healthy for me to count the calories in my meals. It is, in fact, a very triggering thing to do.
I am fortunate, the out-patient program taught me a lot of coping skill for situations like these. I was able to use them successfully tonight and was able to enjoy my meal and the company of my daughter.
I am fortunate. I have learned the tools I was taught by those amazing health care professionals and the other people in my therapy groups. I employed them tonight. I ended up choosing something I knew was on the menu after unsuccessfully trying to navigate it without panicking.
I believe that knowing the caloric content of restaurant food is not helpful in anyway for people suffering or recovering from eating disorder symptoms. So this information being required is negatively impacting at least 5% of our population.
Furthermore, I have been working very hard to teach my child that it is ok to occasionally have less healthful foods, that you should stop eating when you are full, and that you should love yourself and your body no matter what size you are.
I am worried about what kind of effect this is going to have on an already hyper-dieting culture. Especially for our children.
Finally, I don’t actually think this helps the people you want it to help.
Do you really think posting the caloric content of menu items will change people's eating habits?
If you are trying to fight obesity (if it must be fought) then don’t you think there are other, more productive and positive ways to do this?
What if we then showed them enjoyable ways to get moving?
What if we educated them on what to include in a balanced diet?
What if we taught people to love and value themselves?
You might argue that we have done the first two already with Participaction and the Canadian Food Guide. I agree, but you forgot to do the most important part. You forgot to teach people how to love and value themselves the way they are.
You have tried to treat the symptoms of someone not loving and valuing themselves. If someone dislikes their body and you tell them to get moving and eat right to change it, you are setting the expectation that we can control where fat collects on our body. You are even suggesting that we can control how much we weigh.
The shocking answer, the one CMHA teaches us, is that we cannot control our weight. Each person has a genetically determined set point, just like we have a genetically determined height. Can you influence it a bit with poor or good nutrition? Yes. Can you control it entirely? No.
Set point is the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Set point theory holds that one’s body will fight to maintain that weight range.
If this is what CMHA teaches, then why are you, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, teaching us to count calories?
Furthermore, we have evidence showing that weight loss to fight the side effects of obesity is less effective than having people improve diet and exercise without the goal of losing weight.
Why is our government choosing to side with the diet industry instead of medical professionals that your government funds and backs?