Trainer who overcame anorexia 'shocked' by menu calorie count law

Emma focusses on gentle exercise, with an emphasis on the relationship between mental and physical wellbeing

Emma Carpenter set up her very own body-positive personal training business, Muscle Mind Wellness, after recovering from an eating disorder - Credit: Charlotte Bond

An Ipswich-based personal trainer who overcame anorexia has spoken of her fear that new laws forcing restaurants to put calories on menus could cause people with eating disorders to relapse.

At the beginning of this month, new rules making eateries with more than 250 staff put calorie information on menus were brought in as part of a government drive to tackle obesity in the UK. 

But Emma Carpenter, who runs personal training business Muscle Mind Wellness in Ipswich, said: "Ten years ago, when I was about 12, I had anorexia nervosa.

Emma Carpenter battled an eating disorder for over a decade - and has now set up her own personal training business

Emma believes early intervention and education would get far better results than calorie counting in restaurants - Credit: Charlotte Bond

"I was hospitalised, I was really quite poorly. 

"Going out for a meal is a big step for someone with an eating disorder, it's a step closer to recovering, and those numbers will scream out at them all the time. 

"The rule doesn't take into consideration how detrimental this could be to someone with an eating disorder. 

"I consider myself fully recovered, but I don't step on the scales because the obsession can come back. You just don't know if something like that could trigger a relapse. 

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"One of the things that made me so, so cross is that they have calories on children's menus now. 

"It's shocked me. Even someone without an eating disorder might notice the calories and start to doubt themselves." 

At the very least Emma thinks there should be a way to opt out of using a menu with calories on it – but her belief is that education and early intervention would make a much bigger difference than the calorie awareness menus. 

Emma is training to be a nutritionist as part of her work and added that calories are not the best way to determine what people should and shouldn't be eating. 

She said: "Avocado is really high in calories but it's made up of really good fats.  

"And something that's very low in calories doesn't mean it's nutritionally good for you. 

"Healthy eating education in schools and working with parents is the right way. Numbers on a menu are not going to make a difference."

Debbie Watson is launching Wednesday’s Child to help those struggling with mental health. Photo: War

Debbie Watson is launching Wednesdays Child to help those struggling with mental health. Photo: Warren Page. - Credit: Archant

Commenting on the legislation, Debbie Watson, founder of Suffolk-based eating disorder charity Wednesday's Child, added: "It seems somewhat ignorant of the perspective experienced by the many thousands of families and individuals impacted by this devastating illness in some way. 

"A great number of those contending with an eating disorder will now feel exposed to a further potential trigger, at a time when they might just be determined to seek recovery and to begin to eat out socially. 

"What we know is that those who perhaps are the target of this intention, are likely to disregard the note of calorie counts, and thus research suggests this is not, in the end, an effective tactic in weight loss motivation. 

"Meanwhile, those who should pay no heed to the numbers may be compelled to now make a choice based on the lowest number. 

"Wednesday's Child continues to see a high level of referrals from across this region. The stories of distress, delayed treatment and lack of support paint an alarming picture of how much worse the issues of eating disorders have become since the pandemic. 

"We continue to urge families and individuals to get in touch about befriending or one-to-one therapy, and ask all school leaders and healthcare professionals to talk to us about training." 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "Obesity is one of the biggest health issues we face as a country and clear food labelling plays an important role in helping people make healthier choices for themselves and their families. 

"We are all used to seeing nutritional information on products sold in supermarkets, and displaying calorie information on menus can help us consume fewer calories when eating out or getting a takeaway. 

"The regulations will also allow businesses to provide menus without calorie information at the request of the customer."