Mind F*ck

So I'm attending my cousin's wedding in NYC, and we get to the hotel early today--early enough that we got lunch in the city as opposed to along the way. We ended up at a national chain restaurant because it was near the hotel, and I sat down and opened my menu, and...

I totally forgot that calorie counts on menus were mandatory within New York City. Totally forgot. At first, I shook my head a little and tried to clear my vision, hoping that it was some mistake or maybe the little numbers just accompanied some of the dishes.

Oh no. Every appetizer, every entree, every sandwich, every dessert, every beverage had a calorie count next to it.

My head started spinning and hasn't stopped, nearly twelve hours later. Numbers swam in front of my face. I didn't look at what the food was- all I could see was calories, calories, everywhere the calories. I don't remember anything on the menu, except what I ordered. Thankfully, I have a meal plan from my dietitian that helped me focus a bit, and I did pick something reasonable.

I struggled the rest of today. All I could think when I ate was "How many calories would be listed on the menu for this? How many calories are in this bite? How about this one?" It's bad enough for the numbers to be buzzing in my head all the time, but to see them in front of my eyes, in black and white, when eating at restaurants is hard to begin with, was a little too much. If my obsession with calories and numbers is supposedly a Bad Thing--and given the effects this obsession has had on my health and my life, I can see how my treatment team might think that--why are there calories on the menu? If calories could turn into a life-threatening obsession for me, couldn't it turn into an obsession for others?

I understand, to some extent, that the purpose of printing calories on menus is intended to be positive, a way to empower people to make better choices. I get that. But all of that empowerment! and knowledge! and health! might not be what goes through people's minds when they order. Even before the ED, I would be self-conscious about ordering something too "high calorie." I would feel guilty. I wouldn't want to call attention to myself. What would the other people think?

Here's the less-than-pretty corollary to the above: I would compare myself to what others ordered. If I ate something "healthy" and they had the cheeseburger and fries, I might very well have felt virtuous that I was "better" than them. I mean if eating a salad is a so-called "good" choice, and eating lots of fries is a "bad" choice, then it would make me "better" because I had the salad. Right?

For the record, I had a sandwich, not a salad. My mom offered to read me the menu choices and/or decide for me, which would have been a good thing had I not already seen the calorie counts by the time my mom figured out that I was silent not out of awe for the spectacular menu choices but that my brain was spinning from all of the calories. By then, the damage was done, and I simply found the first thing where the number didn't totally freak me out, that wasn't on the diet menu, and also fulfilled most of my meal plan requirements. And then I snapped the menu shut and stared off into space.

As I was staring off into space, calorie counts clicking through my head on a frenetic abacus, all I wanted to do was to find the person who first had this bright idea and introduce them to the madness in my head. I want them to understand what it is like to be me. I want them to understand that good intentions can have very bad effects. I want to explain to them that people making "healthier" choices because they feel guilty eating what they want isn't really any better.

Wouldn't someone take about 30 seconds out of their day and think about the "downsides" to this obesity hysteria?


Peregrine said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I have to resist the temptation to stick my nose against the calorie-count menus in places like Subway, or to automatically order the 'macrobiotic' or 'fat-free' or whatever 'virtuous' item is glowingly advertised on the menu. Total mind-fuck territory. It's just the fucked part that's freaking out--remind yourself of that. The real part knows it's all bullshit. And the real part could beat up whoever invented this whole crazy system in the first place.

Would it be helpful to think of what you want (if you're in a decisive frame of mind--I realize those are often pretty rare) and ask the waitress directly? And have her answer, "oh, like the chicken sandwich" or "yeah, we have a mexican salad wrap" or whatever, and just shove the menu out the door? I don't know. I'm sorry you're being confronted with that, especially right now.

You are stronger than Ed can even imagine. Just breathe and don't give up. The panic stuff will pass, remind yourself of that.

MissBlueBird88 said...

I know... I HATE the idea of this information being on menus. If you really want to know, it's online. Find it there.

Michelle said...


Susie said...

I can just imagine the situation & i think sitting staring is as far as i would have got. i know by then it was too late but i'm glad your mum thought of you & attempted to offer some assistance.

i think i agree with missbluebird on this one. make it available but don't stick in your face. if they had to show something then perhaps just give a traffic light system? because i know my ED wouldn't let me have some of the higher calories that they put as green in the traffic light guidelines in the UK. so if all i knew was it was green (healthier) then it might still be above what my ED would allow. Although i would hope that if there was something i wanted that i could ignore the information, but i think thats easier said than done, right?

hope you managed to enjoy your sandwich in the end.


Eating Alone said...

Great, I never even thought of that, "no weights no numbers" that's the manta. Then walk in and have it shoved in your face. Wow that would freak me out. Heck went to McD's with a friend - doesn't know about my ED - and went into menu shock. I just orders what he ordered cause they were looking at me like I was nuts. Took me 8 hours before I gave in and looked up the numbers online. I'm going to have to add that to my "How you know you have an ED" list.

J Jordan said...

I'm so sorry you had that experience. Numbers can be so haunting. Its so hard for us who struggle with ED to look at food normally when the rest of our culture is a little skewed.

Carrie Arnold said...

I'm not looking at any more menus in NYC, that's for sure! I'm going to have my mom read me the options she thinks I would like (we like the same things, so it's pretty easy, LOL), and then just pick from three things. Peregrine, I like your idea about asking the waitress. I will file that in the back of my mind.

I was just so gobsmacked by the numbers that I was rattled for the rest of the day.

Sarah said...

Carrie, I'm really sorry to hear that this happened. I think your coping solution is great. It doesn't take away from what you experienced though. I'm sorry :( If it makes you feel better, I usually find that these overwhelming experiences fade with time, so hopefully in a few days you will not feel absolutely gobsmacked anymore.

Amy said...

That is brutal. )=

formally sad now hopeful mom said...

It's ridiculous. Most chains have WW-friendly options or portions or something called "Lighter Side". That's all anyone needs to know. The debate is still on at the local Ivy about numbers in the cafeterias. I can't think of a worse place to post them.

You are stronger than this. I will take the lesson from your Mom and check the menus before my boy opens his from now on.

'neice said...

Where I live in CA, the chains now hand out a separate list of the calorie counts. My friends right away take it and out it away when we go out to such a place. I am so thankful for that!!!

I'm sorry you had to deal with it, Carrie. I know how much it stinks!

CeCe said...

I like the calorie counts on menus. It makes me feel more in control if I know exactly what the count is as opposed to trying to guesstimate. My calorie obsession is such that I want to know...although sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Kim said...

I can't even imagine! I totally forgot they were doing that in NY too. What an interruption to a possibly-enjoyable meal! I think the focus on food (even when it's framed as "encouraging health") just encourages unhealthy obsession. Sorry you had to deal with that!

wellroundedtype2 said...

Just because the information is helpful to some, doesn't mean it's helpful (or useful) for all.
Maybe the law could be changed so that the calorie-count menus could be available upon request, not the default that everyone receives.
I work in public health, where nearly everyone thinks this is a good idea, and I've been on the fence about calorie counts on menus and displays for this reason. I'm fat -- have just about always been -- and eating in public is such a minefield anyhow.
By the way, I love your blog, and for someone who has at times has had disordered eating but not the specific challenges of an ED, I find myself more and more sensitive to EDs when I read it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is also true in King County, Washington (Seattle). Worrisome. Calorie counts are posted on fast food menus in a font as large as the price. Very concerning when I am sending my newly-recovered anorexic daughter to the University of Washington in the fall. Will this drive her crazy? It's on all the food service menus. Yikes.


Carrie Arnold said...


The entrees in my workplace cafeteria also had all the nutrition info posted. I did learn that the menus were online without any calorie counts, so I would decide what I wanted at my desk and then just avert my eyes. The lunch ladies probably thought they had broccoli in their teeth or something because of how I would stare at something off in the distance, but it worked.

It makes me want to shake people- why is it that anything done in the name of "obesity prevention" has a carte blanche for doing no harm?

Anonymous said...

I think plenty of people tried to let the "powers that be" know of the potential dangers of posting the calories, but fighting the "obesity crisis" is far more important. (even in NYC, which recently was found to be the thinnest city in the US if my memory serves correctly).

For future, though, that requirement is only in chain restaurants and larger commmercial establishments, which I guess includes hotels. The little bistro on the corner is not going to have to list calories, so when in NY, try to avoid chains and go to small neighborhood joints.

I find the results interesting, though, in terms of what you feel (and maybe most people would feel) about ordering a lower calorie item and feeling good about it, because if anything, I think I'd be embarassed if I ordered the lowest calorie item and if I cared at all about it, would opt for something "normal" like a hamburger and fries. I wonder if it has that effect on many other diners, or if I'm just a bit strange.

Carrie Arnold said...


I love that you have those thoughts when you order something lower calorie. That's a wonderful way to look at it. But there is so much that can be concealed in the name of "health," that no one would dare question.

And you're right- it's just chain restaurants. I ate lunch on Saturday at a local Italian restaurant and survived just fine. I ordered a yummy salad with lots of toppings and felt neither virtuous nor guilty.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. This makes me angry. Luckily, I do not live in NYC.


Carrie Arnold said...

LOL- not that I've had much of a desire to live in NYC, but this adds yet one more check in the "con" category.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea states were starting to do this to their menus. I can understand why considering the obesity rate in America, but calories are not the way to evaluate health. You coped very well. I know what has helped me is learning to listen to my body and what it needs (which is my balanced meal thanks to my meal plan) vs. what my mind wants (which is a salad with no dressing).

I can relate to the comparing of food choices. Learning to break that habit I had had for years and years was very hard and I realized what I was doing was hurtful to the people I was with (even if they didn't realize it). Gosh, they are worth just as much as I am.

I just discovered your blog through "muchfruit". I, if you don't mind, may just keep reading your stuff. I can relate.

Carrie Arnold said...


Welcome! Absolutely- feel free to keep on reading!

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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.

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