On Jan. 1, chain restaurants with more than 20 locations in Ontario were required to begin displaying calorie counts on their menus. This policy is referred to as the Healthy Menu Choices Act.
In addition to these new numbers, the new menus are also intended to provide information to help educate customers on their daily caloric requirements.
But not all experts and consumers agree that the approach is helpful in the intended ways.
Calorie counting isn’t always the healthiest method of mindful eating, according to Dr. Anne Dranitsaris, a leadership coach and behavioural change expert at Caliber Leadership Systems in Toronto, who works with individuals with eating disorders.
“It supports the idea that an eating disorder is about food,” she said. “It also leads to feelings of guilt and shame for being ‘bad.’”
While calories on a menu might trigger anxiety, Dranitsaris said it’s the underlying issues and emotions that must be addressed.
Moreover, she said counting calories can act as a distraction and may not be the true answer to individuals seeking a healthier diet.
“If information was all we needed to stop people from eating beyond what they actually needed, this would have happened long ago,” she said. “This is not going to deter anyone from eating what they feel like and will only cause more guilt and shame in people who are not able to manage their impulses.”
Chloé Rose, an administrator of the popular Facebook group Bunz Mental Health Zone, says the new legislation actually derailed her eating behaviour.
Rose, whose group is an online safe space for those struggling with mental health issues, found herself triggered after eating at a chain restaurant. She says she stopped eating adequately to compensate.
“It then caused me to decide that I’d never visit a chain restaurant again unless someone else could order for me,” she said, “which is also a disordered way of navigating the world. So, I cannot win.”
To Rose, the Healthy Menu Choices Act just further supports a dieting industry already worth tens of billions of dollars: “Those dollars are generated through the creation of misery and fear in individuals.”
Others, however, including professionals in the field of nutrition, see progress in the new rules.
“Menu labelling is meant to make it easier to make healthier choices. Showing calories on menus simply provides information about the food,” said Lucia Weiler, president of Weiler Nutrition Communications Inc.
Weiler was a speaker at Humber College’s Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals event on Jan. 19. The event, which included dietitians, food service experts and Restaurant Canada representatives, was focused specifically on the new provincial act.
“If nutrition information is not readily available people may think their food is much lower in calories than it really is,” she said. “Research shows that when calorie information becomes visible consumers have an increased awareness of nutrient content.”
Eating anywhere, she said, should be a safe and enjoyable experience for all Canadians — even ones who struggle with disordered eating. Healthy eating is difficult when dining out, she added, and the act is supposed to help diners make healthier choices with more ease.
More information on the Healthy Menu Choices Act can be found at: https://www.ontario.ca/document/guide-menu-labelling-requirements.
If you or someone you know is suffering from disordered eating, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health can be reached at: 416-535-8501, press 2.