I am incredibly fortunate that I’ve never had to tackle disordered eating behaviours. Yet seat me in a Wetherspoon’s and I still get sweaty palms and palpitations taking one look at its calorie-counting menu. I had to walk out of a Wetherspoon’s once purely because trying to order something from a menu that displays so starkly the cold tracking of numbers completely took the enjoyment out of having a meal out, instead surfacing nothing but anxiety. You can forget sparkly, unicorn glitter pitchers and a cheap and cheerful evening out when calories are staring you in the face, mocking. And for an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK living with an eating disorder, this anxiety is unfathomably stronger – and incredibly dangerous.
What’s equally dangerous is the UK Government’s new announcement on how to tackle ‘obesity’ across the country. From its complete disregard for mental wellbeing, its fat-shaming undertones, its laugh-or-you’d-literally-cry poorly-timed coinciding with the new ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme and its troubling, subtle blame culture on how obesity is apparently to blame for the Covid-19 death rate, thus absolving the Government from most responsibility when it comes to coronavirus fatalities, this is one, great big massive PR failure. But it’s one that’s threatening to have a detrimental impact on well-being. So, it’s time we unpick the absolute ridiculousness of this entire debacle, before we throw ourselves down a self-hating hole for the rest of 2020.
Firstly, where is the care for well-being in this strategy? I certainly can’t find it. As stated, Beat, the leading eating disorder charity in the UK, has reported it is believed there are 1.25 million people across this country suffering with an eating disorder. However, the NHS have reported that there were 11,117 hospital admissions attributable to obesity in the period 2018/19. It is a completely ignorant oversight by the UK Government that calorie-counting its way to lowering obesity won’t severely impact the lives of millions of people in the UK that already have their notion of body positivity hanging by a loose thread thanks to toxic messaging already existing in the media and online on social profiles about body image. Offer calorie information online, for those to seek out if they wish to – don’t ignorantly plaster it over menus for all to see. And that’s before we mention that throwing calorific numbers in consumers’ faces when they’re just trying to enjoy a meal out at a restaurant is actively fat-shaming and attacking our choice to enjoy our down-time.
Your body shape and size does not perfectly correlate with your health. The blatant accusation that it always does is fat-shaming. You can be a size 16 and healthy. With more than a third of women in Britain now officially ‘classified’ as obese, often to a level at which the average person would be absolutely shocked to find out that’s the case, a toxic culture is growing surrounding correlating natural body type with ‘obesity’. To believe our bodies can be contained by printing some numbers on a menu is not only toxic, but the policing of the spaces we inhabit in this world. And so the vicious cycle continues: individuals are fat-shamed for living in the skin they were born in, we struggle with re-entering a society we’ve all had to hide away from for months in a global pandemic because we’re now terrified of being shamed for wanting a burger in a restaurant, and what little confidence and well-being we had will plummet.
These shocking sentiments are almost unbelievable if we weren’t in 2020 – the year where we’ve had to predict that the unbelievable will, sadly, continue to happen. This poorly-timed execution of menu calorie-counting announcements with a nationwide campaign to incentivise people to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ to get the economy back on track echoes the ironic, hypocritical statements of earlier catchy slogans in the handling of the pandemic. We were told to ‘stay alert’ and ‘look out’ for an invisible killer we literally cannot see, we were told to ‘stay at home’ yet ‘get back to work and visit shops and restaurants to get the economy back on track’, we were told to avoid seeing family members but could pop to the beach for an indulgent day out – and now we’re being told to shed pounds and berate ourselves for our bodies whilst eating out every week in August to protect the economy. What matters more, UK Government – is it our health or the economy? I don’t think that’s a question they’d be able to answer with any kind of favourable response.
But what’s perhaps arguably sinister to the Government’s announcement is just how this ‘obesity strategy’ is perfectly timed to strike accusation and pinpoint blame on the individuals that make up this country, and not the political governance, for the handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has stated that the coronavirus outbreak has been a ‘wake-up call’ when it comes to obesity within the UK. Obesity has been linked to greater fatality rate when it comes to coronavirus, yes, but so have an almost endless list of underlying health conditions. Obesity is not the reason we are in this mess. A poorly-timed and poorly-executed lockdown and an ‘acceptance’ of coronavirus fatalities on the Government’s behalf is the reason for this mess. Not us.
In a year where, in the UK, well-being has arguably never mattered more, where we have been ostracised from our loved ones, been cooped up inside, hiding ourselves and our bodies away from the world, realising the importance of being kind to ourselves and being kind to others, realising the very fact that life is just too short to beat ourselves up about our insecurities, the Government goes and delivers a massive blow to the collective well-being of millions. If you’ve felt shaken up by the news, please, please know you are enough. Please try not to be triggered by a poorly-executed campaign aiming to absolve any blame from our political leaders in a year of a pandemic and global health crises. You can contact Beat, you can sign petitions, you can lobby for the Government to u-turn their ridiculous agenda. And bloody well eat out because you want to eat out.