Our society has, over the past decade or so, become increasingly aware of the food we put into our bodies. While being mindful of what we’re eating is not necessarily a bad thing, a constant bombardment of nutritional information might be. Messages such as “low fat, low carb” and “now made with whole grains,” as well as detailed nutritional calculations are now printed in multiple locations on packaged goods, making it increasingly more difficult to ignore these numbers and statements even if one might want to. Seeing a package of crackers that boasts “reduced calories” can also make you wonder, “Were the original crackers high calorie? Does this make the new crackers better for me?” The addition of these nutritional slogans is part of a marketing strategy that is designed to attract consumers to the company’s newest product. However, these marketing ploys often provoke doubt and fear about the consumer’s current (and past) food choices.
For an individual with an eating disorder, seeing and hearing these nutritional facts can be exceptionally challenging. They are an ever-present reminder of the individual’s caloric, carb, or fat intake – a reminder that often triggers extreme anxiety, fear, guilt, or shame. For someone who struggles daily with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or any other form of disordered eating, these messages may further reinforce an individual’s obsession with food intake.
New regulations regarding nutritional labeling are about to make these messages even more overwhelming. The Food and Drug Administration announced that Nutrition Facts labels will soon place a bigger emphasis on total calories and added sugars.
Take a look at the current Nutrition Facts label format and the FDA proposed format.
The FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, Michael R. Taylor, stated in the FDA news release, “By revamping the Nutrition Facts label, FDA wants to make it easier than ever for consumers to make better informed food choices that will support a healthy diet…To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes.” The bolded images are intended to make it easier for consumers to navigate food choices and help decipher portion sizes, but how effective is this new labeling for someone who already struggles with an eating disorder?
We see and hear about food even at times when we’re not thinking about meals. Companies bombard us with advertisements, we see celebrities endorsing their favorite energy drink in a television commercial and we see sponsor signs of the major food companies at sporting events. Even the vending machine we pass from the copy room to our office is an opportunity for food vendors to provide as many food messages, both positive and negative, to as many consumers as possible. We see and hear about food all day every day.
One thing we strive to do at Veritas Collaborative is help keep the constant bombardment of food messages to a minimum. We provide our patients with a variety of food choices, but keep calorie counts and other nutritional facts out of sight by covering them up or removing unnecessary packaging. This way, patients can focus on eating the foods that they choose without having to struggle with the knowledge of exactly how many calories or grams of sugars they are putting into their bodies. Removing these food messages helps keep the focus on our patients’ recovery.
We can’t keep our patients from seeing and hearing every type of nutritional information they encounter, especially once they leave treatment at Veritas, but we do encourage them to be mindful about their approach in handling this information. And, hopefully, as our patients move towards recovery, they will view food simply as a fuel their bodies need to live.