Last August, Mental Health Experts from our Specialist Eating Disorder Service (SEDS) launched a ground-breaking campaign calling on restaurants and cafes in Birmingham to offer a calorie-free menu option to support young people in recovery.
This month, we mark the ‘Eating Out Without the Calorie Count’ (#EWOCC) campaign's one-year anniversary, celebrating its success and the positive impact it has had on the community.
The campaign was started by Dr Sheryllin McNeil, Consultant Clinical Psychologist in SEDS and championed by the team’s charity-funded Peer Support Workers, who use their lived experience of having an eating disorder to support service users in our community Mental Health Services, Forward Thinking Birmingham.
Thanks to their tireless efforts, the campaign has gained substantial traction and regional TV coverage, garnering support from numerous Birmingham restaurants. Anyone who needs it can now visit our website to access a list of establishments in the city which offer calorie-free menus.
Kirsty Stapledon, a Peer Support Worker for the SEDS team, said: “It was great to take our message to the streets to raise awareness of eating disorders within our local community.
“Thankfully, we had a brilliant reception from restaurants who were very supportive of our campaign, and we are positive that this will make such a difference to the young people we support in our service as well as the general local community.”
Back in August last year, the team called on restaurants to offer the calorie-free option to provide a safe and inclusive dining experience for individuals recovering from eating disorders.
The campaign began following news that Parliament passed legislation making it compulsory for restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees to print calorie labels on menus.
Jessica Sharman (pictured right), Peer Support Worker, said: "As someone who has experienced an eating disorder, I understand how triggering it can be for someone trying to recover to see calories listed on menus.
"Having an option where calories are not listed is so beneficial for people in eating disorder recovery, who are still learning how to eat freely and enjoy eating with their loved ones again."
The team's Peer Support Workers shared their own experiences of the difficulties in seeing calories on menus to raise awareness of the campaign, which led to an appearance on TV.
Kirsty said: "It was such a big moment for me to get the opportunity to be on the BBC, speaking about something I am so passionate about and raising awareness for a campaign I really believe in. It is an experience that I will always be grateful for.
"It would have been huge for me in the early stages of my recovery to be able to eat out and be offered calorie-free menus by restaurants that understand and support the challenges that people with eating disorders experience."
Anjali (pictured right), another Peer Support worker in the SEDS team, said: "Having access to a list of restaurants offering calorie-free menus would have meant a lot for me during recovery. It would have massively decreased my anxiety to go out and eat with family and friends.
“Going out and seeing more restaurants offering calorie-free menus and understanding the importance of it really does provide hope.”