A South London woman recovering from anorexia has hit out at new Government policy requiring restaurants to put calories on menus. Rachel Egan, 30, who has suffered on an off with the eating disorder since the age of 15, said the policy was a disaster for sufferers.
The new rule requires restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 staff to print how many calories are in meals on their menus, websites, and delivery platforms. However, the move, which is part of government’s drive to tackle obesity by helping people to make healthier choices, has been criticised with eating disorder charities saying it could contribute to harmful thoughts and behaviours.
Rachel who works in communications and is a mental health campaigner, believes the move will also prolong the recovery of people living with eating disorders and says it has left her “fraught with anxiety.” Speaking to The Mirror, and recalling a recent visit to a restaurant with her boyfriend she said: “I already had an idea of what I wanted to eat because I’ve been [to that restaurant] before. The last time was about three months ago, but they didn’t have the calories on the menu then.”
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(Image: Rachel Egan)
Rachel says she tries to eat new things when she visits restaurants as part of her ongoing recovery. But the changes have made her begin evaluating calories once again when she went to a restaurant with her boyfriend.
Her battle with an eating disorder dates back to when she was 15 and Although there were other factors which Rachel believes contributed to her anorexia including a family bereavement, and family history of eating disorders she says she became more and more obsessed with calorie counting.
“I first kind of noticed there was an issue shortly after the mandatory calorie labelling and traffic light system came into effect in supermarkets,” she said. She developed anorexia as a young teenager and her body quickly became malnourished.
“I did become very unwell and I ended up in A&E. There were concerns over the blood flow to my heart and brain. It also affected her joints: “It made walking painful. When I was at school and we would write everything by hand, that was difficult. I was very unwell and very malnourished.”
As well as the effect on her physical health Rachel’s mental health suffered. She was depressed and felt isolated from her friends. “I always say an eating disorder sucks the life out of you. It’s like the colour had drained out of my life,” she said.
(Image: Rachel Egan)
“I was super anxious all the time, thinking about what to eat and when to eat. Those thoughts just circulate around your head.”
Rachel says a trip to A&E made her realise she didn’t want to die from this illness and started her long journey to recovery. She began psychotherapy and was given a dietician to help her with things like meal planning.
“It’s been 15 years and I’m still working on it,” she explained. “I’ve definitely had some ups and there have been times when physically and mentally I’ve been really well. But anorexia is an illness that can come back unfortunately, and it did for me.” speaking of her ongoing battle with the disease.”
Rachel said that lists for people who need support with eating disorder recovery are incredibly oversubscribed and noted that demand has also gone up since the beginning of the pandemic. She believes the government’s initiative to force restaurants to put calories on their menu will hinder their recovery.
“It should be withdrawn immediately. The government has already been warned about this. It’s going to be super damaging,” she said. “Part of eating disorder treatment is going out to eat and not knowing exactly what’s in your meal.”
“It’s going to be even harder to eat out than it is already. It’s going to make those challenges in treatment even worse and it can lead to anxiety.”
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You don’t have to suffer in silence if you’re struggling with your mental health. Here are some groups you can contact when you need help.
Samaritans: Phone 116 123, 24 hours a day, or email [email protected], in confidence
Childline: Phone 0800 1111. Calls are free and won’t show up on your bill
PAPYRUS: A voluntary organisation supporting suicidal teens and young adults. Phone 0800 068 4141
Depression Alliance: A charity for people with depression. No helpline but offers useful resources and links to other information
Students Against Depression: A website for students who are depressed, have low mood, or are suicidal. Click here to visit
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): For young men who are feeling unhappy. Has a website and a helpline: 0800 58 58 58
For information on your local NHS urgent mental health helpline, visit here