Do Calories on Menus Trigger People with Eating Disorders?

Menus are now sporting calorie counts for people who are trying to get healthy and maintain a healthy weight. The act of counting calories is controversial as a weight loss tool and health management tool. Many professionals have argued that there are better ways to manage health without displaying calories as calories can cause an unhealthy obsession. Other professionals have suggested that counting calories is one of the only ways to properly maintain health, especially when someone with a weight problem is unaware in how much they eat. One population that this initiative does not take into consideration is those who are struggling with or recovering from eating disorders. Eating disorders of various kinds include obsessive thinking about food and weight, which can result to mental distress when trying to choose from a menu full of calorie options.

Anorexia nervosa is the mental health disorder with the highest rate of fatalities around the world. Many with anorexia turn to self-destructive behaviors which eventually deplete the body of its energy for living. Organ and heart failure are common after years of malnourishment and excessive exercise. Focused on behaviors of restricting, anorexia often includes methods of starvation, extreme food restriction, binging and purging episodes. Bulimia nervosa does not include the restricting that anorexia does but will include rotating episodes of binging and purging. Abusing exercise, cleanses, diuretics, and self-induced vomiting are harmful forms of purging which can have a long-term effect on those with bulimia.

For people with anorexia, calorie counts can enable a dangerous behavior in which many eat hundreds of calories less per day then they are supposed to. Seeing the calorie amounts is triggering for restrictive behaviors which can quickly lead to a long term relapse. Living with bulimia nervosa means accepting food and eating a healthy amount of it without the need to binge and purge. Calorie counts for those with bulimia nervosa can encourage a binge, to consume more calories than are needed, which will therefore encourage a purge, which can be a dangerous trigger for relapse as well.

Through long term treatment and recovery, those who are struggling with eating disorders can learn to ignore the calorie counts on menus and pay attention to what matters most in their recovery: listening to and honoring the needs of their body.


Smarmore Castle Private Clinic offers residential treatment programmes for men and women in need of healing from eating disorders. Eating disorders are a growing problem in Ireland for both men and women. Utilizing the Castle Craig model, our programme aims to bring each patient to optimum health of mind, body, and spirit. For information, call to speak with one of our caring staff members at +353 41 214 5111.

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