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

Mental Health New Year’s Resolutions

Quick everyone! Get your noses out…Do you smell that? Just there?
That whiff of hope, new goals, exciting plans and new calendar pages all waiting for you like fresh, crisp bed sheets from the washing machine with just a slight undertone of possible regret for your behaviour last night and the sharp tang of cheap gin? That my friend is the smell of New Year’s Day, aka a day that is only a few hours later in time than the previous one, but a day in which we are supposed to be reborn and regenerated like Doctor Who (yes I am also thrilled that the next Doctor Who is going to be a woman but I have to admit that I’m still disappointed that the BBC didn’t go with casting a penguin in the role…Admittedly it would be hard for a penguin to hold a sonic screwdriver or operate a Tardis with flippy flappy wings but the waddling away from Daleks chase scenes would have been unbeatable).

As lovely as this whole “New year new me” idea is however, like I said in last year’s “new year” post (Oh my goodness, look a handy link to that very post:Why Baby Steps Are More Important Than New Year’s Resolutions In Mental Health Recovery), it does put rather a weight of pressure onto one’s back to make sudden drastic changes, which is why I said last year about the fact that I am very much in favour of setting smalls goals and making small gradual changes over a long period, especially when it comes to goals relating to recovery from mental health problems.
Indeed, last year I made a big point of talking about making small mental health New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I realised that as helpful as that is as a piece of advice, I did not provide any examples or suggestions to help figure out what these goals could be…Shame on you Born Without Marbles of 2017!
Thankfully though, it is, as of today, 2018 and therefore, now being a completely new and different person since midnight (please note the use of extreme sarcasm), I am here to solve that mistake from last year with this post where I am going to try and sprinkle a few ideas out there for you on the internet as to mental health New Year’s resolutions should you so wish to make any this January.

I think that coming up with mental health goals is often a tricky one because mental health is such a broad spectrum that cannot be pinned down or confined (much like a cloud, a wave upon the sand or a certain curtain sewing, puppet operating, singing nun called Maria) so to help make this whole thing a bit easier, I have divided my set of suggestions into four main categories of ways that you can make small and manageable changes over the course of 2018. Let’s go!

1. Goals about treatment – This is probably the easiest category to make mental health goals for because these are basically just goals relating to whatever mental health treatment plan you have going on. Say for example you take medication but struggle to do so, one idea could be to set yourself the goal of taking your medication every time a dose is required, with a calendar or chart to help you keep track and aid as an extra reminder or motivator. Maybe you have an eating disorder and have a meal plan set by a dietician or are working towards building a meal plan up, maybe make a goal to follow what that dietician has said or to gradually keep up with increases in your meal plan until you reach the amount that is right for you and is going to help you best in your recovery. Hate turning up to appointments with your therapist either because you find them awkward or because your local psychologist’s waiting room smells like cauliflower cheese? Make a resolution to attend all appointments or at least increase attendance over a period of time (and maybe invest in an air freshener for your nearby surgery…I recommend something with a hint of lemon if like me you are partial to a citrus tang).
If you already turn up to appointments regularly, then there are still loads of appointment related goals that are possible like doing any therapy homework on time (I think I might need to make that one of my resolutions for 2018…the ”my penguin ate my homework” excuse has not been going down well for some time now), making more use of therapy sessions by being more honest or maybe taking notes of important things that are said to take away so that they don’t get lost in the “post appointment mental blank abyss”.
Even if you have a mental health problem and are not in specific mental health treatment you can still make goals in this category especially if for example pursuing professional support is something you are interested in. Booking yourself an appointment at your local GP surgery to discuss possible treatment options, filling a form in to get your name down on one of those pesky waiting lists, making a phone call about a first appointment or setting up an assessment or perhaps doing some research into nearby therapy groups you could attend, are all awesome mental health treatment related New Year’s resolutions to get 2018 started off with a bang (and by bang I mean therapeutically supportive environment…ahem…Kapow!)

2. Goals about physical self care –  In any toothpaste or shower gel advert they always make acts of self care like brushing your teeth or showering, look like such an easy, pleasant task (to be honest some toothpaste adverts I have seen go way past pleasant to the point where someone will look so eager and thrilled about brushing their teeth in the morning that they have the deranged look of a serial killer in a horror film with minty fresh breath), but in real life those things aren’t as simple as they seem. Sometimes when you have mental health problems just getting out of bed is a task to be proud of, let alone things like brushing your hair, showering, cleaning your teeth, eating or putting something on that isn’t pyjamas…However, as hard as all of those things are to do, they are important and taking care of your physical health and physical needs, though exhausting, often helps take care of the mental side of things too. Trust me I know, I have the days where I stay under a duvet and refuse to move but as hard as it is to drag myself out of my cocoon and into the shower, I have to admit I always feel a bit better when it is done.

Similarly getting fresh air is important for your physical health as is eating which, even if you don’t have an eating disorder, can be difficult when you can barely muster the motivation to blow your nose. That said, it is bad enough being mentally ill without your body becoming physically ill and deprived of care, which will only make you feel more hopeless, so goals around self care physically are also important. Again they don’t have to be big and can start out as small as you like from “get out of bed for at least X amount of time every day” or every other day if that is too big a step. Setting yourself a goal to shower a certain number of times a week, brush your teeth every day, spend five minutes outside for a short walk and fresh air, or maybe make goals regarding eating enough proper food meals to take care of yourself properly. Whatever it is, in this category just make goals that are about taking care of your outer physical needs and hopefully they will have some effect on making your internal mental health nonsense a little better too.

3. Goals about socialising scientific Studies show that humans are social animals and that we feel better when we aren’t lonely. My brain studies however, show that socialising with humans is nevertheless very difficult sometimes, often terrifying and mentally exhausting. Again though, like showering and all that fresh air our lungs crave, it is important so some New Year’s resolutions for your mental health could be to do with your social life and, dare I say it, talking to other people and actually going out to make friends and have “fun” (Oh God I shudder at the thought!). I know that a lot of years my goals in this category include things like “Text a friend at least once a day”, or “meet up with so and so (trusty friend so and so, she really is good to me), X times a month.” When you are getting ready to actually carry out the action part to those goals and are getting ready to see good old so and so, you might be so anxious that the meeting doesn’t feel like it will be of any benefit to your mental health, but at the same time, doing what I usually want to do and isolating myself doesn’t benefit much either. Of course alone time is important but a bit of conversation can be a nice distraction and it can be a great motivator to see and hang around with the people you care about and who care about you. Who knows, despite all the anxieties, maybe you will end up having a bit of a laugh by accident and what a happy accident that would be!

4. Goals about interests I think this category is the hardest category to make goals up for as in this one to help your mental health it is about investing time in things that are nothing to do with mental health. That may sound like trying to improve your swimming without going anywhere near water, but mental health problems tend to be all consuming and it is important to make goals to try and get a bit of space away. I know that for me, days when I have multiple therapy appointments and spend the entire time talking about all the madness in my brain are exhausting and as important as it is to pay attention to the mental health things, it is also important to take space away from them too. Again this is incredibly difficult because i know that for me it can feel like you can’t take space away from your mental health problems because they are not a separate thing to you, they simply are you, glued into your internal brain make up but the key thing to remember is that though you might have mental health problems, you are not entirely your mental health problems (even if they try to convince you that you are). Whether you see it or not, you are a person too and a person who deserves to be treated like one. You would never tell someone with a broken leg that they were their broken leg so don’t let anxiety convince you that you are just one bundle of neuroses either. The best way to make goals here is to think about your interests which once again is difficult because when you are consumed by mental health problems, you don’t really have interests and might not get pleasure or enjoyment from doing anything. In that case I set goals to do things like “try a new hobby” or “try something that I used to enjoy” to at least make an attempt at getting in contact with even the tiniest bit of you that isn’t broken. Like I said you may not feel it, but trust me it is there and making goals that pay that little part attention might make it stronger in the long run.

So there you have it! Four categories in which you can make possible mental health New Year’s resolutions and goals to try and improve your mental health and wellbeing in 2018! Maybe you will love this idea and pick several goals for each category, maybe you will just make one tiny goal in one category or maybe you just want me to shut up so that you can go and put the kettle on to make a coffee (if that third one is the case please make me a tea whilst you are at it). Either way I hope this post has been of some use or benefit to you on this fresh, January New Year’s day or has at least given you something to ponder over whilst you enjoy that coffee you are going to make now (AND A TEA DON’T FORGET THE TEA.)
Maybe if you do make mental health goals, write them down to serve as a daily reminder/keep yourself accountable but unless you know tick boxes are helpful for you to see progress, try to avoid them in the interests of the days when you don’t manage to tick any of the boxes and feel like you have failed. Mental health New Year’s resolutions are NOT something you can fail at, they are just casual things you are trying to do as best you can when you can and any progress is so flipping awesome that if you achieve so much as part of one of your goals once this year I highly encourage you to run to the nearest person and insist they reward you with a well earned pat on the back (unless that nearest person is that serial killer like actor in the toothpaste advert…avoid her at all costs).

Overall, do whatever you can to try and maybe end 2018 in a slightly better place than you were at the end of 2017, even if that slightly better place is only a little to the left or just around the corner from where you were. Any mental health progress is progress and whatever happens, I will be forever proud of you (yes even you person who isn’t making goals and just wants coffee. You just read a whole blog! That is very pride worthy…now go and make that tea!).

Take care everyone x

New Year Marbles