Health and Shame

I've blogged about New York City posting calories on restaurant menus before (here), and yesterday it happened: all chain restaurants in NYC had to post the calories on the menus. In large type. By the price. Where everyone could see before they ordered.

Utterly craptacular.

It's supposed to combat the rising levels of obesity and how we're all going to some fat-laden hell because of it. That people can't make natural decisions about what they want to eat. But dieting basically wrecks havoc upon normal appetite regulating mechanisms. So this can't be helping with large portions at restaurants. You might want to rebel against the diet police. Or be so out of touch with hunger and fullness signals that you eat everything.

But what's interesting are some of the other implications of this.

1) Only chain restaurants are required to post calories. So you'll never know how many calories are in the 18 oz porterhouse with beurre blanc sauce at Delmonico's. Who are the primary target audience of fast food restaurants? The working poor. Those who need cheap food, fast. Those with moms who are working all day and want to bring home a treat to their families. Mickey D's is it. Who goes to Delmonico's? The wealthy. Those who can sip on mineral water all day and shop at Sak's.* Who can afford to work out and hire personal trainers. So who does this bill affect the most? The poor. Who might not have a whole lot of other options.

2) Mostly I see this requirement as an effort in stigma and shame. No one wants to be seen ordering something "unhealthy" or "fattening." It's seen as bad taste. As something taboo. Everyone knows the point of this bill is to "combat obesity"** and get everyone to eat healthier. It's pretty obvious.

No one wants to be fat, or be seen as fat, or be seen as unhealthy. Ordering a Big Mac is now a faux pas in many circles. Dieting and health have become our generation's chastity belts. We need something to keep us in line, prevent us from being derailed by temptation. All in the name of health.

But is it really? The NYC Health Department might very well have intended to "promote health," however misguided. But when you're posting calories in a very public place, there's more that goes into it than just "health." When people order a Big Mac, there's the nagging fear that those around them are tsk-tsking. Look at how unhealthy he is. I can't believe she's ordering that. And that's just the people in line with you! Now if you ever visit McDonald's and you don't fit our society's standards for thin (which is, like, basically everyone) shame on you- you know how bad it is! It's ALL YOUR FAULT that you are fat.

It seems like the bill was intended to "empower people" to make better choices about food. Which I'm all in favor of. But it really creates tremendous shame and stigma around food. And that's not something I want to supersize.

*I know I'm greatly oversimplifying and using every stereotype available. Bear with me.

**We're already involved in two very pointless wars. Do we really need to battle with a group of people who really aren't harming anyone?

posted under , , |


fighting_forever said...

I think one of the worst things about this is that it encourages the view that calories are the only judge of a food's worth. People don't know whether it's from fat, sugar or protein. They don't know whether the meal is full of every vitamin under the sun.

Making everyone so acutely aware of what everyone else is eating is only going to make health problems worse.

carrie said...

You're right- food should be judged by how it tastes, etc, rather than by calories. A calorie is just a unit of energy.

I'm just shaking my head at the ridiculousness of it all.

Jessica said...

How annoying this is, pretty soon it will stoop to "eat this glop that we won't tell you what it is because we control your body!" Can I have my body back, and not have to worry about crazy people wanting to control it? Please?

Posting calories like this will only serve to humiliate people, and instead of going to the local shop to get their fast food fix, they'll go to another place and probably buy something worse, or go into further debt by driving out of the area to buy something.

It really opens the door for even more of the rampant "ZOMG I cannut beleevs you eat that" superiority complex that is becoming more and more prevalent. I'd really like some a shirt that says something along the lines of "It's mine, keep off!"

disordered girl said...

Good point Carrie. I admit my instinct is to only think of how I would react to this and that I think I would prefer to know that information when ordering. But for someone whose relationship with food is not screwed up (yet) and really just wants a Big Mac, now they might think twice because of the stigma, not because the really want to be healthy.

Sheesh, our society has a really effed up approach to food and bodies.

Katy said...

Someday, when I've gotten rid of my eating disorder, I'd like to be able to go into McDonalds and order fries and not have the government take over my ED's old role of telling me how "bad" I am.


Now I'm just waiting for the article about how New Yorkers' failure to lose weight after this initiative must mean that it should be expanded to include ALL restaurants, because clearly people have just shifted to stuffing themselves full of gigantonormous amounts of calories in non-chain restaurants.


carrie said...

Thanks for all of your input.

All I know is that now I'm even *more* paranoid to go into a McDonald's or other fast food restaurant. What will people think of me going in there? Should I wear a sign that says, "Seriously, folks, I'm just using the bathroom."? And then what will they think about what I order?

The thing is that we've brought judgement about food into such a public sphere. What I eat is none of your damn business, and a part of me knows that. Another part of me knows that people are going to *make* it their business, and that's scary.

Anonymous said...

I think the only way to fight this sort of stupidity is NOT to let it influence how we eat. We don't want it to look successful, do we? Because next, you know it's true, there will be a move to get Delmonico's to post their info.
And I don't know about you - but I do not care what anyone who I DON'T EVEN KNOW AND PROBABLY NEVER WILL thinks about what I eat. Is this "stigma" thing really going to work? I surely hope not. I hope we Amurricans are a tougher lot than that.

I think that , in "honor" of this bill, I will go and have a Big Mac today. Unfortunately I don't live in NY but it's the thought that counts.

IrishUp said...

How appropos is this! I just got an email with this study (abstract to follow), and here I see this post by Carrie. Haven't quite finished the whole paper yet, but it's very interesting thus far:

It is commonly believed that the pathophysiology of obesity arises from adiposity. In this
paper, I forward a complementary explanation; this pathophysiology arises not from
adiposity alone, but also from the psychological stress induced by the social stigma
associated with being obese.
In this study, I pursue novel lines of evidence to explore the possibility that obesityassociated
stigma produces obesity-associated medical conditions. I also entertain
alternative hypotheses that might explain the observed relationships.
I forward four lines of evidence supporting the hypothesis that psychological stress
plays a role in the adiposity-health association. First, body mass index (BMI) is a strong
predictor of serological biomarkers of stress. Second, obesity and stress are linked to
the same diseases. Third, body norms appear to be strong determinants of morbidity
and mortality among obese persons; obese whites and women--the two groups most
affected by weight-related stigma in surveys--disproportionately suffer from excess
mortality. Finally, statistical models suggest that the desire to lose weight is an
important driver of weight-related morbidity when BMI is held constant.
Obese persons experience a high degree of stress, and this stress plausibly explains a
portion of the BMI-health association. Thus, the obesity epidemic may, in part, be driven
by social constructs surrounding body image norms.

It may well turn out this kind of misguided legislation makes matters WORSE for everyone

Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home

ED Bites on Facebook!

ED Bites is on Twitter!

Search ED Bites

About Me

My photo
I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

Drop me a line!

Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at

nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


Popular Posts


Recent Comments