Browse By

Coping with an eating disorder as restaurant calorie labelling comes into law

As of the 6th of April, new laws are coming into play that make it compulsory for restaurants, cafes, and takeaways in England with over more than 250 staff to include calorie counts on menus. While some may find this information useful, it can also be triggering for those with an eating disorder.

Kayleigh Frost is Head of Clinical Services at Health Assured, the UK and Ireland’s largest EAP provider. She says: “Living with an eating disorder is draining; it’s emotionally and mentally exhausting. With self-doubts and anxieties occupying a permanent residence in the mind, a low mood that lingers like a grey cloud, and a lack of interest in the people you love. It’s a lonely place. And it’s hard to communicate that to those around you.

“Eating disorders can make eating out at a restaurant an anxiety inducing experience. And the introduction of calorie labelling could be the tipping point that reduces social interaction for some people. Having extra calorie information on menus may exasperate fears and worries even further, making it harder for people to overcome this vital step in recovery.”

Here are some coping strategies that Kayleigh has put together to help people who may find this news makes them feel apprehensive about eating out at a restaurant.

Grounding exercises

When floods of panic take over at the thought of the next meal or an upcoming event, grounding exercises can help you to find safety in the moment. You can use the exercise below at any time. Simply focus your attention on:

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
Your senses act as an anchor to the present moment. Try to connect with them when you feel like you aren’t in control. A few deep breaths and a connection to the now can act as a lifeline in times of need.

Pay attention to emotions

It’s tempting to push down, run away from, and bottle up painful emotions. But these emotions weigh heavy on the mind and the body. And over time—they build up. As much as they might feel difficult to bear, try your best to accept them as much as you can.

By slowly starting to accept the way you feel and the situation you’re in, as hard as it might feel right now, it allows you to let go of what was weighing you down and start making changes.

Challenge negative thoughts

Identifying and challenging negative thought patterns is a big part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is often used to help people overcome eating disorders. The process involves paying attention to our thought patterns and looking out for unhelpful thinking habits or harmful beliefs. Here are some common examples below:

All or nothing thinking – viewing situations as black and white or right or wrong rather than allowing room for anything in between.
Should and must – thinking I should do this, or I mustn’t do this adds pressure and sets unrealistic expectations.
Critical self – involves self-judgement and blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not fully our responsibility.
Catastrophising – imagining and assuming the worst possible outcome will happen.
Familiarise yourself with these negative thinking habits and try to catch yourself in a negative cycle. Look for any evidence you can find against those thoughts. Sometimes it helps to write things down so you can take a step back and reflect on your internal critic.

Support is out there, don’t face this alone

If you can, try to talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Opening up is difficult, but it can help you get things off your chest. Your GP can also provide a wealth of information and support on steps to help you get through this.

Counselling is another great tool for eating disorders. Talking confidentially to someone with an outside perspective can help you to really unravel how you feel and begin to make positive changes in your life.