I was sitting by myself, finishing my evening snack, which I often struggle with, watching some crappy TV show to take my mind off of the overthinking as I threw the wrapper of my protein bar in the bin. I’m not great at watching TV; I tend to half listen in while I check my messages and get lost in pictures of porridge and coffee. The words ‘100 calories’ stimulate an immediate focus from me, primarily a focus from my anorexic mind – whether it’s displayed in a supermarket, spoken by a barista – the word ‘calorie’ is a word that means more to me than is healthy. It felt odd, seeing the word that both terrifies and comforts me suddenly projected from my screen, for that moment not simply a figment of my mind. I didn’t expect to see an advert throwing it in the air, branding it as their slogan. I especially didn’t expect it to be so triggering.
The moment the ad finished, I was totally overwhelmed with memories of my 7 year old self, the little girl with braided hair and a huge smile, desperate to be loved and accepted. I remembered how her vulnerable mind was so easily influenced by anything she saw in a newspaper, magazine. I remembered how she started to stand and stare at mirrors, pinching her legs and grabbing the backs of her calves so they jiggled. I remember how she sat in assemblies and silent compared her legs and arms to everybody else’s. I remember how she used to get scared at lunch, and didn’t understand why. I remember how she hated PE because she had to look at her legs and she wanted to hide them. I remember that smile fading, and the war starting. I was 7 years old. I was 7 years old when I sat by the kitchen cupboards with a notepad and scribbled down the calorie numbers that each packet or jar showed because that might be fun. I was 7 fucking years old when I started hating my body.
I felt sick. I felt disgusting because I have to eat 300-400 calorie snacks three times a day. I felt nostalgia for the girl who didn’t know what a calorie was and didn’t give a flying fuck either. But far more prominent than all of this I felt fear. Actual fear for any child, sitting with a bowl of ice cream, the 100 calorie logo reflecting in their bright and undamaged eyes. Fear for their sanity, for their health. Fear for their families as they start to realise, in years time, that Yes. I think she might have a problem. I think so. Yes. She needs help. Fear that I’ll overhear children in the supermarket asking ever so sweetly if they ‘may be able to check the calorie number, I’m just trying to be healthier’.
Yes, there is an obesity epidemic and I hate using that word but it’s the medical term. Yes, there are people who need educated, help in making healthier choices. I’m not denying that, and I’m perfectly aware. I’m aware that there are people who need help and assistance in terms of eating healthier.
But over 70,000,000 people worldwide suffer with an eating disorder, and that number is steadily rising. Every 62 minutes somebody dies as a direct cause of an eating disorder. Cases of anorexia are recorded from the age of 6 years old.
Calorie counting kills people and it very nearly killed me.
Why not teach children to love and respect their bodies? Why not teach children that every single body is different and unique and needs to be cared for in different ways and requires different amounts of energy. Why not teach children to accept and embrace their natural bodies and nourish them healthily, so they can grow and thrive and experience life. We shouldn’t be teaching children to look for these sinister numbers that will never leave their mind. Like vocabulary the calories will always be in their head. We should be showing them ways to develop their minds and strengthen their bodies. We should be teaching them how to look after their health both physical and mental. We should be making sure they’re not making the same mistakes so many of us have.
Calorie counting is addictive and deadly. Something as innocent as glancing at a number can leave you in a hospital bed fighting for your life.
Calorie counting kills.