Why calorie counts aren't helpful

Earlier this year, Ontario introduced legislation that requires restaurants with more than 20 locations to post caloric content on their menus. But Marci Warhaft, a body image advocate, says that posting calorie counts is reinforcing bad information and can lead to unhealthy relationships with food.
In Ontario, fast food chains now have to list caloric content beside their menu items. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

For years we've been told that calories should be a factor in how we choose our foods.

In Ontario, restaurants and food providers with 20 or more locations are now required to post the caloric content on their menus.

The Minister of Health, Eric Hoskins said, "By requiring restaurants and other food service chains to post calorie information publicly, we are helping people in Ontario make informed, healthy decisions for themselves and their families."

But body image advocate, Marci Warhaft disagrees.

I realize that their intentions are good, but the information is incomplete and misleading and so the people that they think they're going to help aren't going to be helped and then the people that they aren't aiming for are actually going to be hurt.- Marci Warhaft

Warhaft, who has suffered from eating disorders in the past, says that caloric labelling is harmful because it doesn't take into account the different way people relate to food or dining out — people who may be dealing with body image issues or eating disorders. 

"You go in for a meal and you want to enjoy your meal and all you're seeing is almost like judgement...it's putting shame around food."

To Warhaft, the problem is that restaurants are providing only a calorie count, without other nutritional information to make healthy choices.

It creates an unhealthy relationship with food because you're not getting what you want, you're getting what you think is the right thing to get, and the information being incomplete- because its just calories- you're actually not even sometimes choosing the item that is more nutritious.- Marci Warhaft

For example, a salad that includes healthy fats and proteins could have more calories than a plate of fries.

"You have to understand what the calories are made of and that's what we should be teaching people."

Warhaft thinks that forcing restaurants to put the calories on menus is a, "bandaid solution."

"There's such a need for the government to tell people that they're doing something about it [obesity] that I think they'll do anything."

However, Warhaft does think the caloric information should be available to people who want it.

"I think it's great to have it on hand. I remember McDonalds a couple of years ago would put it on the place mats ...but do I think it should be shoved in your face, no."


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