8 April 2016
One Label at a Time...
Numbers, colours, percentages; nutritional information labels on food packaging are the fundamental reason behind my distress when making decisions about food. Due to the nature of the App that I had previously downloaded, and my concerns about sugar stemming from my dental braces, label checking has been a consistent behaviour for the past few years of my life. Avoiding products with a red section on the nutritional banner, or with anything over a certain percentage, my choices around the foods I was ‘allowed’ to eat was dwindling rapidly.
With very limited knowledge about what these labels actually mean, my eating disorder manipulated the situation, and made me develop my own ideas. During my therapy, and even to this day, I still find it very hard to comprehend what professionals are telling me about the reasoning behind these sources of information, because I have spent so long convincing myself that my theories are true. Minimal; that was the aim. To find products that were the lowest possible percentage, and if anything were highlighted as red or amber, it was an absolute no. Of course, this limited my diet dramatically, and my behaviours became very extreme, to the point where I was checking the sugar levels of fruit.
Control was an absolute necessity. I attended every food shopping trip, even if it did cause me an incredible amount of distress and for my Mum as well. I cooked every meal, obliging to the exact proportions of the recommended serving sizes, weighing products when dry, and then weighing them when they were cooked. What I failed to recognise, was that as much as I was demanding the control over a situation, I see now that my eating disorder was having all the control over me. I was fighting a losing battle, but all the time I was trying to satisfy the expectations of my anorexia- even at the expense of my health, and life.
Eating out became a distant memory, unless I conducted thorough research into the exact nutritional content of a meal. It sounds ludicrous, I know, because every meal in every restaurant will be prepared differently dependent on the chef, so it will never meet the exact criteria specified on the website. But did I think of that? No, of course not. If I did attend a meal out, or my parents had cooked a meal, and I was unsure about what I had consumed, this brought on other extreme behaviours.
Over exercising. In the early stages of my eating disorder I would go on the treadmill or exercise bike for considerable lengths of time to burn off the calories that I presumed I had ingested, or what my App told me I had. This was exhausting. I remember one time, after eating a favourite pudding of mine; I got back from the eatery at 9:30pm and didn’t come off the treadmill until 11:30pm. Mum continually questioned what I was doing throughout that time, but I told her I was watching a film, so I wanted to watch it all. I could tell that she was concerned, but I convinced her that everything was ok, which I thought it was. This type of behaviour became less extreme as I became weaker, but I was still trying to do exercise discretely, regardless of the incapability’s of my body.
So how do I feel about the government’s proposal of introducing even more labels onto food packaging, detailing how much exercise an individual needs to do in order to ‘burn off’ the calories from the product they are about to consume? To say I was absolutely furious would be a complete understatement. After several months of therapy and re-education about the foods I need to be consuming, and how to maintain normal eating, I was livid when I heard the news. If numbers, colours and percentages didn’t cause me enough frustration, to find out that there may be additional labels that will feed into the negative thoughts in my head, I do not know how I will cope with this. At home I still have to remove packaging on certain products to make my decision making process easier, otherwise I can be stood staring at the products in a cupboard for a considerable amount of time. This was a similar scenario when in a supermarket, but I have found foods that I repeatedly select now, based on my knowledge from hospital and Evolve. However, I now worry that the introduction of the new information, may throw me into turmoil about the foods I have worked tirelessly to build a healthy relationship with. I also fear that I will now resent selecting new foods to try, as this is already an up hill battle with the current displayed information.
I understand that there are individuals in this country that will benefit dramatically from the amount of exercise needed information on packaging; and I do not want anybody to think that I am being selfish. I am aware of the trends in obesity and health concerns associated with the condition, but I am also aware of the trends regarding disordered eating. The current statistics show that the number of eating disorder cases, and support needed for those suffering, are consistently increasing. Surely, instead of spending government time and money on introducing these new labels, do we not think it would be better used in the education and awareness of healthy eating?
Personally, I know that this is going to add to the already distressing situation I find myself in every single day, and I worry that it is going to cause more and more people to fall into the trap that I found myself in.