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Eating Out Without The Count

Last summer, Parliament passed legislation making it compulsory for restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees to print calorie labels on menus. 

We know that many people with eating disorders will find this makes an already challenging situation harder, so we're sharing advice from our Specialist Eating Disorder team (SEDS). 

Dr Rebecca Gordon is a Clinical Psychologist for SEDS, part of our 0-25s Mental Health service, Forward Thinking Birmingham. She said: "For people who are affected by eating disorders, the presence of calorie labelling on menus could be unhelpful and possibly damaging to their wellbeing and recovery. 

“Our work is often about reducing the focus on 'the number' and the vicious cycle that counting or tracking calories can lead to, such as urges to restrict or feelings of guilt and shame if you have eaten more. We try to encourage people to work instead with the nutritional needs for their body, which often cannot be reduced to a single number as many other factors influence this.”

Some restaurants do still have access to calorie free menus, so if you feel comfortable, you could call ahead to find out if they can provide this to you. 

Dr Gordon The SEDS team offer the following tips for managing if no calorie-free menus are available:

  • Be prepared and try to have a plan for how you can approach making choices. You could set a time limit (30 seconds to 1 minute) for how long you allow yourself to make a choice, or you could decide on the type of food you would like before you go. 
  • Order the same as a friend or family member to take the pressure off making the decision for yourself. 
  • Ask someone you trust for help if you feel like you are struggling. They could read the menu items to you if you don't yet feel comfortable looking at the menu yourself. 
  • Remember that eating out is a social activity, so it is important to tune into what is important about this for you, such as helping you to connect with and spend time with friends and family members. 
  • Ring ahead and ask if the restaurant has a calorie free menu option or ask for the calorie free version when you get there - some restaurants provide this.

Our Specialist Eating Disorder Team and service users are aiming to highlight ‘Recovery Friendly Restaurants’ in our city. Take a look at our Eating Out Without The Count webpage for updates.

If you're looking for more support, our partner, Beats, has put together guidance to help with dining out now the new laws have come into effect.

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