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Julia Bryce: Focusing too much on calories takes the fun out of food

Julia Bryce eating out.
Julia Bryce eating out.

Mexican chilli beef dripped down my chin as I attempted to wipe it off my face with the napkin that was now saturated in the stuff. I’d managed to slaister cream cheese down my front, too, all while some poor passerby enjoying a beach walk caught my eye.

Giggles erupted from my friend and I as we attempted to clean ourselves up. We were now dealing with a quesadilla drip which meant salsa was  running out the bottom of it and it seemed our clothing was where it wanted to vacate to.

Her crisp white jacket was pristine, and I was fearful it would be the next victim in our street food fiesta.

We’d definitely over ordered purchasing a burrito, quesadilla and jalapeno poppers to share and while we struggled to finish the lot, I couldn’t help but bank this experience in my happy food memories.

Relationship with food

I’ve had my ups and downs with food, having become obsessed with numbers – more so calories and my weight – as a teenager and young adult.

Food is something we all need to survive, but I have learned over the years that there is so much joy to be had in it.

Julia, right, with her friend enjoying their Mexican feast.

Many of my funniest and fondest memories have been about, or centred around food.

Be it that time I terrified my mum at age three covered head to toe in flour resembling a ghost or remembering my late granny who I used to bake with all those years ago.

Food isn’t just about numbers, it is about nostalgia, memories, friendship and family.

Calories on menus

Recently the UK government introduced new rules outlining that restaurants in England that employ more than 250 people will have to display calorie data on their menus.

And the Scottish Government is assessing whether it will follow suit, giving the public the chance to share their views on the matter.

Funnily enough, the thought of how many calories were in my lunch didn’t cross my mind at the time. But my fear is had I seen them, I may have slipped back into unhealthy bad habits that would not only affect my physical health, but more so my mental.

McDonald’s shares calorie information on its website and in its venues.

Putting calories on menus isn’t going to stop obesity in Scotland. It isn’t even going to stop people ordering one thing over another.

Some national takeaway chains including Burger King and McDonald’s have had calories on their menus for a while now, but has that stopped us from ordering from them?

If the queues outside the venues and the hoards of delivery drivers entering their premises on Union Street are anything to go by, the answer is no.

This in itself shows that we’re not really any better off by adding calories to menus.

If the government is trying to deter us from ordering takeaways and high-calorie dishes, it hasn’t worked.

A screenshot of Zizzi’s menu online.

Different bodies have different demands

And just because something is in fact higher in calories, doesn’t mean it isn’t nutritional. Without all of the other information including carbs and proteins etc., customers can still make uninformed decisions.

By listing calories alone it might even push people to order the unhealthier food, rather than consuming more calories in the potentially healthier option.

There has always been so much pressure in society to look a certain way. I’m a 90s kid and size zero was, according to some tabloid media, meant to be my hero. I was meant to aspire to eat less, look extremely thin and drink as much diet fizzy drinks as possible to ‘suppress my appetite’.

For those of us who battle, or have battled with eating disorders, numbers can be extremely triggering.

I now know my relationship with numbers – including calories – hugely impacted my physical and mental health.

Julia fixing up a batch of chocolates at Cocoa Ooze’s chocolate making workshop. She has fond memories of baking with her granny.

Just because something has less calories doesn’t mean it is better for you. All of our bodies are different and have different needs. What works for one, doesn’t work for the other, so instead of reading numbers, listen to your body. Let’s stop comparing ourselves and justifying ourselves by numbers.

Creating a healthier relationship with food and giving people of all walks of life access to fresh fruit and veg, and higher quality protein for an affordable price will help way more than slapping numbers on a menu.

The only numbers on the menu most of us are concerned about just now is the price.

I’m not asking for companies not to print this information on menus or hide it from the public, I only ask that they keep these menus on request for individuals who are interested.

Food is meant to be enjoyable, it is escapism and the one thing many people look forward to. Can we not just have that?

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