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

How To Tackle Suicidal Thoughts And The Fear That Things Will Never Get Better

So, I will be honest, I am currently in a very dark place (my parents haven’t paid the electricity bill and I ate our entire supply of candles because they smelled like Jaffa cakes…Alas they did not taste like Jaffa cakes and I am still picking wax out of my teeth. Life lesson: do not eat scented candles).
Seriously though, mentally, things with me are pretty terrible and I am on the brink of giving up entirely. I am losing hope in the idea that one day things will be better, and recently I have noticed a lot of friends or people online with mental health problems feeling the same.

I think that there have been times in my life where I have just assumed that I am going to get better, just as you grow up assuming you will naturally fall into the stereotypical life of getting married and having a few kids. When I was younger I was always watching Disney films, and when it comes to Cinderella or Snow White, there is never any doubt as to how things are going to end. When you watch Cinderella you don’t sit around worrying that she will be stuck sweeping floorboards for the rest of her life, you know straight away that the girl is going to go to the ball in a big ole pumpkin and that her poor choice of ill fitting footwear is going to result in her marrying the man of her dreams. Naturally then, I assumed that one day I would lose a shoe and automatically fall in love with and marry some Prince Charming, without realising that my mother would never allow me to buy footwear I hadn’t tried on to ensure a perfect fit, or that I was a queer little thing who wasn’t interested in princes no matter how “charming” they may be.
Similarly with mental health problems, I guess I have always assumed that somehow, no matter what happens, one day there will be a fairy godmother with a magic wand and things will get better. I do not know how or when, but I simply couldn’t get my head round the idea that this could be it, that recovery isn’t as automatic and as assumed as I imagined princes to be, that sometimes, people spend their lives as tortured mentally ill souls with no happy ending.

Thinking like this, if I am going be in this state forever, it is easy to ask myself why not just end it now? Why draw it out? Why not rip the plaster off quickly as it were. It sounds incredibly bleak, but mental health problems are incredibly bleak and I am not going to sugar coat them to insinuate otherwise. Recently I have been having suicidal thoughts every minute of everyday, and when you don’t think you are ever going to get better, it is hard to come up with a good argument to fight them.

Like I said, I am not alone in feeling this, and I have had many conversations with fellow mental health warriors who have lost hope, who don’t think there is any chance of them getting better so why carry on? Maybe you yourself reading this have resigned yourself to the fact that you are a terminal case, perhaps because a professional has given you the label of “chronic” or simply because the weight of your struggles is so heavy that trying to imagine life without them is akin to trying to imagine a penguin without the adorablessness which, as we all know, is impossible (if anyone wants to debate this issue feel free to contact my solicitor and I will happily see you in court).
There is however one thing that I do find comforting, even when I fully believe that I will be like this forever, one argument against the suicidal screaming in my head telling me to jump into oblivion and end the debates/suffering once and for all, an argument that funnily enough, comes in the form of basic mathematics (don’t panic, I hate maths too but this is cool maths I promise and you don’t even need a protractor or a calculator to join in).

If you hark back to your maths lessons at school, you may remember the point where you started learning about things like probability. The lessons get more complex as each year passes, but in the early days of primary school education, the grand complexities of probability and chance are usually explained via some kind of analogy involving a bag filled with balls, for as we all know, in later life it is an incredibly common experience to be confronted with a bag of balls and the need to calculate your chances of picking out a specific kind of ball.
In the lesson, it is likely that the teacher produced a bag to explain things, and would say something like “there are ten balls in the bag, five green, five purple” before waffling on a bit about how if you put your hand in the bag there is an equal chance that the ball you pull out will be purple as there is for it to be green. Then the teacher usually complicated matters (don’t they always), and added say ten more purple balls to the bag. This would then make the chances of picking out a green ball less than they had been previously, and you will spend the next twenty minutes of that lesson calculating chance and ratios surrounding various combinations of coloured balls in a bag.

Now for the purpose of this discussion lets scrap the balls and replace it with a bag of Smarties because let’s be honest, we are not in some official school right now, we can do what we want in this maths lesson and if we want Smarties instead of balls we will damn well have them (I told you this maths would be fun…THERE ARE SMARTIES INVOLVED).

So, picture life as a bag filled with millions upon millions of Smarties (it is a really really big bag and these are really small Smarties).
All the Smarties in this bag are pink. Except for one. One of the Smarties hidden somewhere in that bag is blue. That blue Smartie is the chance of you getting better in a world of pink Smarties telling you that that isn’t going to happen. If you put your hand in the bag you may very well be right, you may get a pink Smartie and be mentally ill and miserable forever. In your mind the chances of you getting better are as rare as that blue Smartie, but the key thing is, as long as you are alive, that blue Smartie is still there, and the only way to guarantee 100% your belief or the professionals’ belief that you will never recover and are going to be miserable forever, is for you to end it all now.

When I have days that are plagued by suicidal thoughts so loud I can barely breathe because I don’t think things will ever be better, I always remind myself that the only way to make sure they don’t get better, is to listen to those thoughts. Killing yourself is basically like pouring all of your Smarties into the ocean so that the colour washes off and they all become white Smarties with that blue Smartie existing only in the realms of myths and legend. If you hang in there, aka you keep plunging your hand into that massive bag, there are no guarantees of you getting better, but by keeping yourself alive, at least you are keeping that chance alive too, however small and insignificant that chance may be.

Now like I said, I am going to be honest in this blog, because if you are someone who reads this blog, then I consider you as a friend and friends tell the truth so I refuse to sugar coat any of this (the only sugar coated contents of this blog are the Smarties).
If you are in a dark place like me right now, and have spent the day contemplating your demise, I am not here to tell you that if you keep fighting through this rubbish it will all work out in the end. I am not a fortune teller, I do not have a crystal ball, and the only conclusion I have ever gleaned from reading tea leaves is that I seem to have run out of tea. If you keep yourself alive and keep fighting maybe you are right, maybe things will stay rubbish and maybe you will keep plunging your hand into that bag and pulling out the pink Smarties. However, no matter how hopeless you feel, if you keep yourself alive, the chance that the blue Smartie will crop up is there. I cannot tell you the probability/ratio of how likely you are to get better, but you must always remember that if you are trying, there is at least a chance. Don’t allow the fear of being mentally ill forever, convince you to do the one thing that ironically does nothing but solidify that conclusion.
Fight back, keep trying, keep safe, and even in the darkest days, no matter what, you have to believe in that blue Smartie.

Take care everyone x

SuicideSmartie