Should The Government Be Teaching Children To Count Calories?

When it comes to the government, they are always coming up with handy suggestions as to how people should live their lives. You know the stuff, “eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day”, “don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week” and “drive on the left hand side of the road” (actually that one might be a rule rather than a suggestion…I wouldn’t know. I failed my driving test and every time I asked my instructor for more driving tips after that, he ran away screaming which really did not help with answering any of my questions…)
Always ready to tell the population what to do then, for 2018, the government in the UK have come up with a new suggestion, complete with its very own catchy advert, where play-dough people morph around the screen and a happy jingle plays advising parents to teach their children to restrict themselves to “100 calorie snacks, two a day max”. Now I am not one to turn down advice from our dear Theresa May who is doing such a wonderful job of running the United Kingdom without any trouble whatsoever (pause for laughter), and even I can admit that it is a catchy slogan with a tune that isn’t bad either, but in my opinion this “handy lifestyle suggestion” is a terrible thing that should cease being taught to children immediately.

Obviously for someone (aka me) who is in hospital trying to recover from anorexia and is following a meal plan where snacks exceed 100 calories and are more frequent than twice a day, this kind of thing is unhelpful and triggering. On one hand I have dieticians and psychiatrists coming out of my ears (I really don’t know how they got in there in the first place), telling me that I need to eat this far higher meal plan than the one Theresa May suggests and on the other hand I have play dough people telling me to restrict my intake, which as I have said is obviously confusing and not particularly useful, but it is not just to people with eating disorders that I think this advert is detrimental, rather it is bad for the entire population (far worse for your health in fact than, dare I say, more than two snacks a day comprised of over 100 calories each).

The problem I think with any lifestyle suggestion or diet tip from any source, is that people hear it and immediately take it as gospel. In the real world however, nutrition isn’t governed by blanket black and white, one size fits all rules like that, and there is no such thing as a “diet expert”, only people who have done a lot of research about food and have opinions about it, a point highlighted to me during my brief stint working in a bookshop.
Unsurprisingly, this job involved various tasks including book shelving, and one day I was in the self help department (insert joke about how I need to spend a lot more of my time in such a section here), which was helpfully next to all the diet books. Therefore whilst shelving, I couldn’t help but get a good look at all the titles and diets being advocated.
Now generally, when it comes to reading about a topic, one would assume the more books you read, the more educated you become. For instance say you read 30 books about penguins, it is then likely that you will be more intelligent on that topic than someone who has only read one and that you would do better on any quiz regarding penguins. Alas, when it comes to nutrition, things are not like that, for as I shelved those diet books (working very hard I might add just incase my former boss is reading this…), I realised something ridiculous. Turned out if I were to read all of the diet books, take all of the information, all the “no carb”, “no protein”, “no fat” nonsense and I were to mush it together to make one overall diet plan (which you would think would be the best and most informed having been the culmination of so many books’ worth of information), I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. All the health advice added up together in the world and the conclusion from it? No food is safe, which I think is fairly unhealthy considering such a thing would lead to death, and, were we all to follow that advice, the extinction of all human life on earth. Marvellous. Therefore when it comes to rules like this “twice daily 100 calorie snacks” thing dolled out by nutritionists, taking them as gospel is never a good idea as they are merely opinions rather than facts.

“But for some people limiting snacks to twice daily amounts of 100 calories might be a good, healthier idea than their current lifestyle choices” I hear you cry and I am not going to disagree with you on that, but another thing I want to point out when it comes to guidelines is that they are not universal and are actually only helpful or beneficial to SOME people, which is why it is not helpful to have them rolled out as rules for the general population. As I have already said, this advert is obviously not applicable to people who are in recovery from eating disorders, but neither is it applicable to a large number of the population who all vary in height, weight, activity levels and nutritional needs. What about athletes for example. Is this rule supposed to apply to them too because I am pretty sure that that Mo Farah and Usain Bolt wouldn’t get very far nor would they get any more gold medals were they to restrict themselves to two 100 calorie snacks a day…
Okay I get it, there does need to be some kind of suggestion out there as to how to live a healthy lifestyle and it is important to teach children about food and nutrition but whatever happened to “general education” and suggestions like “eat your vegetables”, “everything in moderation” and try to have a “balanced diet” as opposed to these rigid rules and guidelines ridden with fixed numbers. Where pray did these numbers come from because last time I checked people don’t eat numbers, they eat food (and for good reason too. I once tried to eat a number nine and it was terrible. Tasted purely of pepper.)

It is just somewhat ironic that the whole focus of this campaign is to encourage health but encouraging children to see food in terms of calories and numbers really is a disordered habit struggled with by many people with eating disorders. If healthy snacking is the priority then advising healthy snack foods and providing possible examples would be a far better way to go about it because this focus on calories isn’t healthy at all. When numbers are brought up things start to get obsessive and this is where I think the problem lies. By specifying 100 calorie snacks they are labelling a strict limit to adhere to, but how ridiculously close are people supposed to stick to it? Is a 101 calorie snack ok? What if it is a really healthy snack that is slightly over? Should an “unhealthier” food be chosen instead simply because it fits the amount? Should we weigh already healthy fruit to check that they are “safe” in this new government scheme? Should children be taught how to count calories from the moment they exit the womb? Is that a normal healthy attitude to food? Seriously, think about it, does all of this sound healthy and worth advocating or more akin to rigid disordered behaviour seen in people with eating disorders aka a mental health condition needing treatment?

Overall then, if I had any say or control in any of this government malarky, I would say the whole “100 calorie snacks” with “two a day max” idea needs to be binned and for calculating numbers to be kept in children’s maths lessons in schools rather than in their lunch boxes or at the dining table at home. If you want to educate and give healthy food guidelines from the government then fine, go ahead, but when this advice is given it should be just that, GUIDELINES like the old “eat more fruit and veg” rather than strict, prescribed, rigid calorie counted rules that must be followed exactly and are carved in stone and sung over the breakfast table like some terrible national anthem.

If you have or even if you don’t have an eating disorder but are finding these adverts unhelpful, as hard as it is, my advice would be to do your very best to ignore them. Remember, just because it is prescribed by the government it doesn’t mean it is automatically healthy and it doesn’t mean that its obsession with numbers is not disordered. Nobody is the authority on rules regarding food and diet, it is all opinion, and strict rules, hell even general guidelines, are not applicable to everyone.

Take care everyone x

GovernmentFood

Are People With Mental Health Problems “Really Disabled”?

If you live in the UK and follow the news when it comes to anything mental health related, you will probably be aware of a certain Tory MP named George Freeman (not the guy who made grills. That was George Forman. He was so proud of his grills that he put his name on them don’t you know). Anyway, this Freeman bloke has been in the news a lot this past week, due to his recent comments regarding the rights of people with mental health problems claiming benefits.

Initially I wasn’t going to make a post about this, as thankfully a lot of people were angered by what he said on the issue, and therefore there have been many posts on the internet addressing why his opinions are so misguided. Having read a few of these posts I couldn’t help but think “well I don’t need to say anything about it because at least one other person has said it for me”, but then I realised that when a crowd of voices chant the same thing, it is a hell of a lot louder than any noise made by a single individual (unless that individual is armed with a giant and extremely powerful microphone…Alas, such things are often reserved for people with power who have no idea what they are talking about…ahem…)
I also wasn’t going to post about it because since his damaging comment, our old buddy George (again, not the one with the grills), has retracted all of the nonsense he has been spouting. Maybe then I should forgive the poor chap, as clearly he regrets his statements (or just realised that everybody hated him for being such an idiot and thus backed down on opinions he was so passionate about, to avoid being glared at in the streets…I guess we will never know…).
However the damaging comments made by Mr Freeman are unfortunately not anything new, nor any revelatory belief shared by nobody else before him. They are comments that a lot of the public have probably felt and said in private themselves, it’s just those people  didn’t have the microphones allowing everyone to hear. So I am writing this as much for them as it is for my buddy George (starting to wish I was referring to the other George as my buddy now…I could use a free grill.)

So what are these comments that have outraged so many and that are damaging to society’s view of those who suffer from mental health problems? Well, they are about people who are unable to work due to mental health problems claiming benefits, and how their payments should be stopped in order to save the money for the “really disabled”.
It is funny actually that this has come up at this time as it was just last week before this controversy started, that I filled out a form applying for benefits myself. For years therapists have encouraged me to fill out these forms and claim what they thought I was entitled to, yet I have always refused because even though I knew they were right, the thought of officially asking for support for being disabled made me feel incredibly guilty. I think over the years you cannot help but internalise some of the stigma lying around these days, just as if you tell someone enough times that they have a big nose they will eventually start to believe you even if their nose is the tiniest nose of all time.

Though I have always been aware of my inability to work, I have still felt an internal judgement and feel that maybe I am just being silly and that I am not “really disabled”.
A wheelchair user may not be able to open a door that is at the top of a flight of stairs because they are physically unable to walk. I however am physically able to walk up those stairs, yet still I am also unable to open that door. Physically I could, yet still, mentally, the fear is so strong that I can’t. Really the brain shouldn’t be viewed as any less “real” than your average limb as technically the organ of the brain is a physical part of the body as much as a leg is. Still I suppose it is a lot harder to remember that when it is hidden behind a thick skull and an “I am OK” mask, unlike a broken leg which is far more visible. If you can see a giant green face claiming to be the Wizard of Oz, it is infinitely easier to believe in that reality over the invisible little man controlling the illusion behind it (if your name is Dorothy at least. I saw through that Wizard all along. Dorothy was silly…and her little dog was too!).

This being the case then, my brain often being the cause of my inability to perform basic actions like feeding myself or opening doors, how is that not disabled? I don’t claim to be an expert in the English Language (although I did study english literature and I read Moby Dick which is a HUGE book with a lot of long words), but when you look at the definition of the term “disabled”, I think that it makes clear that George and those agreeing with his views do not really understand what the word means, hence their belief that someone with mental health problems is not “really disabled”. When you look it up, the dictionary states that to be disabled means to be a person who has a “physical or mental condition that limits their movements, senses or activities. So lets examine this:

1. Do I have a mental condition – Yes

2. Do these conditions limit my movements – Yes. I cannot open doors or move around in public without an aid supporting me through the anxiety, much like a wheelchair user may struggle to be mobile without their aid, aka the chair.

3. Do these conditions limit my activities – Considering I am often able to leave the house/partake in normal life, yes.

Yet according to certain MPs, I am not “really disabled”? I am sorry George, are you arguing with the dictionary? I totally support your right to free speech but are you sure you want to do that? It is a really big book (even bigger than Moby Dick), and if you start arguing with a dictionary then all the words in your argument technically lose all meaning and thus you will be making no sense…are you sure you want to do that George? Gibbering nonsense to a book would look awfully weird…people may start to think you were mentally ill!
If people without mental health problems are not “really disabled” then what are we? Just playing some sick game of dress up like I pretended to be a vet with my very own stethoscope when I was younger and made it my business to treat all of my teddy bears (rest assured, I may have been pretending then but I was very skilled and all my patients made full recoveries).

Tell me then, if I am unable to leave the house or touch things in public and spend most of my time fighting demons, a pastime that leaves me utterly exhausted and often a bit soggy with tears, what job would you recommend I try? What job would I be able to do effectively on the days that I am so depressed and suicidal that I cannot leave my house let alone contribute to society? Any ideas? The only job I could think of would be that of performer in a freak show, where people could come to my house and pay to see the hysterical sobbing mess in the corner who is so deluded they fear eating with a knife or fork. Is that what you want? (Even if that is the plan I would still need benefits anyway…If I have to be in a freak show I at least need a sequinned leotard. THOSE THINGS DON’T COME CHEAP FREEMAN.)

In a way, I suppose George being so vocal with his misguided opinions could turn out to be a good thing. Like I said, I am sure that he is by no means the only person who feels this way about people with mental health problems receiving benefits, and by speaking out about it, it has given us crazy folk an opportunity to respond publicly and tackle the stigma that before now has existed only in people’s homes behind closed doors. People make these statements all the time and are never challenged, yet now the words are out in the open, we have a public platform on which we can talk back and educate those who may not understand how debilitating mental health problems can be. Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to do good.

So here I am, standing on my public internet platform speaking into my megaphone as someone with mental health problems and for others with mental health problems. To Mr Freeman and all of his supporters, I have one thing to say.

*STEPS UP TO MEGAPHONE*

“As sufferers of mental health problems, I will admit that our disabilities may be invisible, but our struggles are real. The pain in our heads is real. Nobody is pretending, nobody is playing games and we honestly are, “really disabled”.

*DROPS MEGAPHONE AND STORMS OFF PUBLIC PLATFORM LIKE A BOSS*

Take care everyone x

georgefreeman