Uber Eats will be adding calories to takeaway menus

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Uber Eats has announced its customers will now be able to see how many calories are in each meal, as it’s piloting a new in-app feature that will display calorie information for takeaway favourites like Pizza Hut, Leon and Burger King.

The change comes ahead of government legislation set to come into force from April 2022, which will make it mandatory for large businesses to display calorie information on menus and food labels.

Both Uber Eats and the government say the move is all about helping people to make informed choices as we come out of a world in lockdown.

“It is more important than ever to focus on our own health in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. We want to empower our customers to make healthier choices. This is why we’re giving them the information they need to compare different meals and make an informed decision about what they order,” said Sunjiv Shah, General Manager for Uber Eats in the UK and Ireland.

Of course, for some this will be a welcomed step – it’s a measure that saves them the hassle of Googling calorie information and gives them peace of mind that the food they’re ordering is in sync with the healthy eating goals they’ve set for themselves.

“I’ve been a die-hard calorie counter, and I was the unhealthiest I’ve ever been.”

But my worry is that measuring healthy eating with the main focus on calories is really missing the big picture, and risks triggering those of us who’ve experienced disordered eating.

In my teen years, going into my early 20s, I suffered due to a difficult relationship with food and a cycle of food restriction, bingeing and purging. At that time, numbers were everything to me – the number on the bathroom scale, the number of calories in everything I ate, the number of calories I burned during exercise. I kept a count of these numbers on a daily basis in a meticulous way – a habit I found hard to shake.

My point is, I’ve been a die-hard calorie counter, and I was the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in my life. It’s why now, I’m an advocate of the government and NHS taking a Health at Every Size approach, rather than focusing on metrics like calories and endlessly encouraging weight loss.

weight scale on bathroom floor, elevated view

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This Health at Every Size approach is one that’s championed by body positivity advocates, as well as those in power at Westminster. Earlier this year, a Parliamentary report by the Women and Equalities Committee called for the use of BMI to be scrapped and instead, encouraged the approach which “prioritises healthy lifestyle choices over correcting weight.”

At the time Dr Natasha Larmie, a weight-inclusive GP, told me how she’s already doing this with her patients, focusing on general wellness including diet, exercise, stress management and good sleep, rather than just weight.

“I won’t hold my breath,” said Natasha, “but I hope that the government will listen… and will do a 180 degree turn when it comes to their anti-obesity policies, because once we adopt a Health at Every Size approach, that’s not just going to improve the lives of fat folk like me, that’s going to improve everybody’s life.”

It seems, as the government powers on with its focus on calorie counting, that Dr Larmie was right not to expect a U-Turn on this one. And I’m getting increasingly concerned about the effect this policy could have.

“I can only hope that the new rules are genuinely helpful to some.”

According to the UK’s leading eating disorder charity Beat, only 46{bd1a3fb8a267bf65dee3fa7bd5bef83d11dd7659b283768a0375222e95be74bd} of anorexia patients fully recover, while that number is lower at 45{bd1a3fb8a267bf65dee3fa7bd5bef83d11dd7659b283768a0375222e95be74bd} for bulimia patients. Beat estimates that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, and reported a 73{bd1a3fb8a267bf65dee3fa7bd5bef83d11dd7659b283768a0375222e95be74bd} surge in people accessing its services a few months into the first lockdown in 2020.

These figures highlight that there are lots of people either living with, or recovering from, extremely difficult relationships with food and I worry that an increased focus on calories is going to be triggering for many of us.

Uber Eats says it recognises “wider concerns” about calories on menus and through this pilot scheme, it will be “sharing feedback with the government to support implementation ahead of the April 2022 deadline.”

    For now, it’s Uber Eats putting calories front and centre, but as we creep towards the government’s deadline for mandatory calorie information being displayed, this issue is only going to become more prevalent.

    I can only hope that the new rules are genuinely helpful to some, and that people like me, who are protective of maintaining a healthy relationship with food through avoiding too much control and restriction, will find ways to keep well when eating out or ordering a takeaway.

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