Posting Calories In Restaurants Is Now A Federal Law, So What Should We Do Now?

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Will Increasing a Nation-Wide Focus On Calories Improve Our Overall Health? 

The debate on how important counting calories has been around for decades and is not new for those that are pursuing weight loss. The standard nutritional science suggests monitoring calories as a way to lose weight, purporting the “calories in, calories out” model to maintain and lose weight long-term, which is noteworthy in the context of a governmental policy that went into effect last week.

 The FDA implemented an Obama-era policy that requires restaurants and other food outlets with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts for all food and beverages served. This law will apply to everything from amusement parks to grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants and vending machines. It is true that this change could have a profound impact on how we think about food and nutrition, but is it a positive one? Are there negative implications to having the calories displayed on every food and beverage that we decide to consume when dining out? Short answer: YES!

We now know, from years of research, that diets are not sustainable for the majority of the population (95% rate of failure) and are the greatest predictor of weight gain long-term. 

And because there are proponents on both sides of the debate as to whether or not calories are an effective way to influence how we make decisions about the food we eat, it makes eating that much more confusing. Outcome: paralyzed with fear and confusion when dining out, buying groceries and sharing a meal with friends. Simply put, counting calories it is a tool of dieting. Focusing on calories disconnects you from your body’s internal hunger and fullness cues and instead places the emphasis on external guidelines for how you should eat.

We are failing to note that the factors that influence weight are not exclusive to the amount of calories consumed.

Culturally, we expect everyone to be the same size, place the emphasis on weight loss instead of health behaviors, and rarely recognize that genetics, dieting history, hormonal changes, medications, socioeconomic status, race, stress, trauma, food scarcity, stigma, poverty and disordered eating can affect a body's size throughout a lifetime. And because our dieting culture encourages us to continue to pursue weight loss in the name of "health" regardless of what has to be done to achieve it, I encourage you to think twice about the "benefits" of having calories posted on your menu.

So, instead of counting calories, I invite you to try three things that can help you to begin to establish a new relationship with food, trust your body and live a liberated life:

1.     Pay attention to your hunger levels. While this may seem simple, practicing it can be challenging. This is because we have been told (from the media, our parents, peers, the internet, etc.) when we should eat, how we should eat, what quantities of food we should be eating, tricks to ignore hunger, etc. And, over time this causes us to be disconnected from the body’s subtle cues of hunger and we lose touch with ways to  honor our hunger. Start by using the hunger awareness scale and taking small breaks throughout the day to ask yourself: “Do I feel hungry now? How do I know I feel hunger? Does my hunger feel pleasant, unpleasant or neutral?

2.     Seek pleasure in the foods you choose to eat. How many times have you heard, “This is so good, it’s dangerous!” or “It tastes so good I just can’t stop!" ? Culturally, we have a collective fear of pleasureable foods because of our dieting culture. Dieting, counting calories, “healthy eating/healthy lifestyle” and restrictive eating can take away pleasure from food and create the myth that pleasure equals forbidden or bad. And yet, we know that feeling a sense of pleasure from the foods that we eat is essential to listening and respecting fullness levels and can decrease episodes of overeating that stems from deprivation. What would it be like if you decided to include pleasure at your meals? What are your meals missing that you might want to include? Would anything change for you if you prioritized pleasure?

3.    Give yourself permission to eat. Easy, right? Not so much! After years of dieting and restriction, there are often still many food rules that don’t give you full permission to eat all foods. This is essential because restriction can lead to overeating or binging, which many have experienced first hand. How many times have you gone on a diet or a protocol only to find yourself overeating the foods that you have eliminated as soon as you “break the diet”, stop the cleanse, stop counting calories, starting eating carbohydrates, etc.? And then you blame yourself for not having succeeded when really, it's the diet that failed you. Is there any food that is off-limits for you? What would it be like to give yourself permission to eat all foods? 

Bottom line: Counting calories is only a short-term solution and encourages dieting behaviors, which can be damaging long-term and can promote disordered eating.

If you are interested in a living a life free from diet rules, restrictive eating and body hatred, come join me to find the support and guidance that you deserve to live a liberated life! 

Interested in more? Click here to get connected with Bravespace Nutrition. 

Republished on Wellseek