When Ana and I first started hanging out together, I used to go to the bulk food store and buy candy. Specifically, gum drops and red licorice bits. I used to drink diet coke and eat twizzlers licorice from the 7-11 on my way home. I used candy and diet pop as a replacement for proper nutrition. I would bring exactly 5 gum drops to school and I would eat them slowly, while sipping diet coke and pretend it was a meal. Those gums drops and the occasional licorice were some of the only treats allowed into my strict food rituals. I loved that candy.
Then one day, the bulk food store started posting nutritional information on the lids of their bins.
And I never ate those gum drops again. In fact, I stopped eating candy. I mostly stopped shopping at bulk food stores! Something that had been considered “safe” was suddenly off limits and forbidden. The only reason? Because I now knew exactly how many calories were in that licorice piece and 5 gum drops. I was devastated and angry. Why did the store need to post the caloric content of the gum drops? Why?!?
When I was an inpatient receiving treatment for anorexia, I was encouraged not to read food labels, not to look at calories. I was encouraged to eat based on my body’s cues, or even mechanically an appropriate amount to sustain health.
For the most part, I did this for years. When my children were diagnosed with severe and life threatening food allergies, I was forced to confront food labels. I was forced to read all the ingredients and check carefully for potential allergens. I struggled with this, because again my eyes could not avoid seeing the nutritional information, calories and fat in the items I was consuming. But I did it for my kids health and safety.
Recently, the government has decided that it is mandatory to post nutritional information and caloric content right up on the menus of all restaurants.
I was furious! This is so incredibly triggering for many people with eating disorders.
I absolutely did not want to know exactly how many calories were in the Starbucks cookie I was having for a snack. I did not want to know how many calories were in my caramel latte. I just did not want this information. I don’t want it! I will never want it. Because once I know it, I can’t “unknow” it! This information is not useful to my life. It does not make me healthier or happier.
On a good day, the information won’t change the choices I make. But on a bad day, a day when Ana is in the driver’s seat…
Suddenly I’m struggling over deciding what snack to choose at Starbucks. Suddenly I’m ordering a black coffee, rather than that cinnamon latte.
On a bad day, nutritional information and caloric content listed in large ominous letters on the menu in front of me, can put a dark cloud over my enjoyment of that snack or meal.
I understand that nutritional information must be available at restaurants. It should be available for those with food allergies or sensitivities or religious dietary restrictions. It should be there for those with diabetes. It should be there for viewing ON REQUEST! But does the caloric intake of my Starbucks beverage REALLY need to be right in my face as I attempt to order?
I think the answer is no. I go to Starbucks for a break. I go there to relax. I go there to treat myself and rest from the stress of my life. I don’t go there to have an extended and upsetting debate with Ana.
I just want to drink my coffee in peace!