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Should Restaurant Menus Include Calorie Counts? (Thinking Out Loud)

Before I get in to today’s discussion, I’d like to thank Marina over at A Dancer’s Live-It for so kindly having me on her “Warrior Woman Series” yesterday. I’m honored to have been featured alongside so many women who I, myself, look up to with admiration. Marina is doing such a wonderful thing with this series by putting real stories out there. I encourage you to check it out each Wednesday.   

As for today, thank you to Amanda for letting me do some Thinking Out Loud. 

 copy-of-should-restaurant-menus-includecalorie-counts

Do you think restaurant menus should include calorie counts!?!

While I was in Scotland this summer, my family stopped into a random pub/freehouse for dinner one night. I sat down to the (masssivvee) menu and what do I immediately see? Calorie counts. For every. single. thing. on the menu. Right after each title, there were all these numbers. Shooting away at me like darts. 

I tried to ignore them. I tried to cover them up with one hand so I could still read the meal titles. But there was seriously no way of not seeing them. I felt like I was in a dim room with these jolting, blaring lights shooting at me. I couldn’t keep my eyes on the page for more than a moment without flinching and having to physically turn away. I ended up moving over to my Dad – feeling like a 10 year old – sat down beside him looking straight forward and said, “can you just read me out some things?” It was just the most distracting, obnoxious thing I’d seen in a long time. 

      

Now, I’m aware that including calorie counts in restaurants is becoming more and more a norm, especially in fast food restaurants. Places like McDonalds and Subway, for instance, have the calories of each item easily accessable – sometimes on a side panel of their own somewhere else in the restaurant. But – atleast in the ones I’ve been in – they don’t have them right up on the menu boards beside each picture of each item. I’ve been starting to see this happen more now, too. 

That kills me. 

Take Panera Bread, for example. I love Panera Bread’s food but I seriously can’t go in there because I hate having numbers stare at me as I try to decide what to eat. Numbers are not ingredients, people. 

 

calorie counts cupcakes

 

Now. Let’s get the elephant out of the room here. 

I, most probably, have a unique and heightened opinion in this than many people because of my history with disordered eating and calorie restriction. I come from a history of being hyper aware of calories and trying to have the smallest numbers possible. So when someone like me sees these numbers, the awful lure comes straight out from its grave and tries to get you to return to those urges to choose the lowest possible number. No matter how long you feel like you’ve been “recovered,” those numbers blaring at you are very, very hard to ignore. I’m not pretending to ignore this fact. 

But my question is, how does seeing these numbers affect anyone else? 

I mean, the rest of my family was able to keep looking at their own menus and still seemed to order what they felt like eating. So I guess it was just me…

But I’m truly curious. If someone were to go in thinking they really wanted a burger, and then the menu tells them its 1000+ calories – far more than even they expected – would this sway their decision? What if they really just wanted a damn burger? Do “normal eaters” even see these numbers up on the Panera menu board? Do these numbers mean absolutely nothing to them? 

 calorie counts menu-eat-healthy

 

But here’s the real debate. I am a full believer that a calorie is not just a calorie and that calories are not made equal. For instance, if a restaurant has this awesome whole grain sandwich with avocado and good cheese and hummus – all super healthy, whole food ingredients – and the calorie content was suprsingly higher than one might have expected, could this sway someones’ decision? This super good for you, nutritious sandwich could have the same calorie count as the big ass cinnamon bun. Calories are not the definitive means of health. 

calorie counts 100-calories

So whyyyyyy do we have to have them staring at us now everywhere we go?

Why can’t we just know what we are eating by its ingredients, and know that if it is made up of whole, real foods, then it is a healthy choice. And if we do want that double decker burger and large fries, why can’t we just know that “nope, I just ain’t feeling the healthy thing today and want something greasy.” Order it. Accept there may be some sort of high “number” attached to it. Eat it. Move on.

Because that’s okay too. 

Should Restaurant Menus Include Calorie Counts?! #health #nutrientsovernumbers #thinkingoutloud… Click To Tweet 

I’m interested to know what any registered dietitians out there think of this, as well. Do you think it is good to have calorie counts listed in restaurants? I understand that not everybody is as aware of nutrition and healthy eating as this blog world of ours. So if someone is looking to/needing to lose weight, I can see that there would be reason why someone may agree to having calorie counts listed. Doing so may help one in choosing the “healthier” choice in some situations, when they may have not known how else to otherwise. But then I go back to my debate about what true health is. Even when looking to lose weight, should we not be focusing on the “whats” and not the “how much’s?” 

Because if anyone can tell you, attaching any sort of numbers to things that you eat SUCKS. But if these numbers continue to become “one” with the titles we see on menus, we are going to continue attaching what we eat, and our health, to numbers.

calorie counts real-food

I’m not asking restaurants to fully stop having their calorie counts available. But if they feel the need to include them, why can’t they just have them somewhere OTHER than right infront of us so that we all at least have a CHOICE whether we want to see them or not!? That’s what a separate tab on a website can be for. Not billboard screens and table menus. 

Nutrients over Numbers. Why have we began attaching numbers to everything we eat? #eatrealfood… Click To Tweet

 

Tell me,

What is your opinion on restaurants including calorie contents on their menus?

 

 

 

44 COMMENTS

  1. Kate | 29th Sep 16

    Great post! (This post came through my email and I had to read!)
    Have you ever heard the expression that individuals with eating disorders are like the canaries in the coal mine? They since danger before anyone else does. Even if the danger doesn’t effect others obviously, it could effect them on a deeper level long term. There are people who will absolutely ignore the calories counts and then there are people who will see them and still get what they wanted but feel guilty about it. What good does that do? I think it takes away the ability for many people to eat intuitively. I think it’s fine to have the information online and/or printed somewhere in the store, but not on the menu. It’s helpful for diabetics to be aware of carb counts and people with hypertension to be aware of sodium.
    Nutrients > calories

    • Cora | 29th Sep 16

      I have never heard that saying, Kate! That is really interesting. And from how I see it… I believe it.
      Carb counts and sodium etc, for specific ailments, is extremely important. So it is important for restaurants to have an OPTION to see those numbers somewhere, but otherwise that is the type of monitoring that should be left between the client and their professional dietitians and doctors, I think.

  2. Susie @ SuzLyfe | 29th Sep 16

    Wow. Katie pretty much covered it. I couldn’t have said it better!
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…I Don’t Talk PoliticsMy Profile

  3. Marina @ A Dancer's Live-It | 29th Sep 16

    Thank you so much for promoting my Warrior Woman series, Cora!! <3 This is such an interesting topic. I agree with what Kate said…for some people who are morbidly obese it might be necessary for their HEALTH, but I don't think it should be printed on the physical menu at the restaurant. I feel like no matter who you are or what your food philosophy is, there's something about those stupid numbers that make you think twice about something you REALLY wanted for dinner. I hate that!
    Marina @ A Dancer’s Live-It recently posted…TOL #9: Why I Don’t Support Fitness CompetitionsMy Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Exactly. It is a hard debate. Some people, unfortunately, may need those numbers to help get them to a better place of health, but for those who don’t require it, it turns choosing what we eat into something that it shouldn’t be.

  4. Kat | 29th Sep 16

    THIS POST!! I love you <3
    So my opinion on the calorie thing kind of varies. For me personally, I don't want to see them because like you, I'm obsessive about numbers and now that I'm trying NOT to focus on calories and more on ingredients, that's really what I care about! HOWEVER, I am always shocked to see just how ignorant people are about the amount of calories in our food. My parents for one have absolutely no idea. I remember going someplace with my mom and her seeing the calorie count of the meal she was going to order and she totally freaked out and thought it was wrong. She couldn't understand why her meal was so high in calories, until I gently [sort of] told her about the cheese, butter, cream and white pasta that was being served to her. She assumed because it was an appetizer that it would be less calories. It's things like that that prove to me that most people still have no idea what they are doing when they are ordering – even when they are trying to order "healthier" options.
    Kat recently posted…TOL #104 – 1st Volleyball Tournament & New RecipesMy Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      My family is all the exact same. It can be amazing for those “like us” to realize that not everyone – in fact, the majority of the population – doesn’t have the same knowledge about calories that we do. Its crazy to me that most people really have no clue about the relativity of calories per items…. that being said I wish I could be like them!! So knowing this about the general population, and our problem with obesity, it does make sense to have the numbers there… but still… I just wish there was a better way of educating people.

  5. Jessie @ The Acquired Sass | 29th Sep 16

    I like this new trend for a few reasons. Though – I am also the person who will seek the information out on my own, from a curiosity standpoint – even if it isn’t on the menu in front of me.

    I like this info because so many people are just UNAWARE – in a bad way, of the calories in their food. They eat whatever they want, and then wonder why they gain weight, or don’t feel well. So, like a commentor above. Interesting to be with someone as they see & notice these things & how they may affect them.

    I also like this info because I work carefully to fuel myself in a way that I know will make me feel my best. Do I eat the damn burger and fries? Yeah I do. And I do so guilt free – even if I stare the calorie count in the face. BUT, what the information does for me is stop me to think about the ingredients. Is the sandwich at Panera high in calories because of avocado and a higher fat content meat? Okay. Avocado doesn’t bother me. Is it high in calories because it’s smothered in cheese and mayonnaise. Not okay. I know those foods don’t make me feel great. And this gives me pause while I think about those things.

    Stopping by from Thinking out Loud.
    Jessie @ The Acquired Sass recently posted…Personal Training Pittsburgh GiveawayMy Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      You are displaying probably the most ideal mindset someone, in my opinion, could have in regards to food and numbers. I admire how you are curious and want to know so that you can do what feels best in your body, but don’t let that override your cravings. I totally agree that counting calories, in some circumstances is helpful and necessary. Even with me, for instance, when on a meal plan to gain weight I need to know the general numbers to know I’m getting enough. And yes – the unfortunate issue IS that the majority of the popular is far more unaware of “health” and calorie contents than we find easy to believe. So with that, and our problem with obesity, I do see the positives behind this increasing trend. Its a tough one!! Thank you so much for your input!

  6. Emily Swanson | 29th Sep 16

    This is something I’m passionate about, because I always tend to focus on the calories on the menu more than anything. It often gets body focus off of the nutrition and more on the ‘numbers’ going into my body; I even find myself ordering things that are lower calorie for that reason. It’s really something that I don’t like personally, but I Would love if we could find another way to really emphasize the nutrition, the benefits of different foods over the actual calories in each. 🙂

    I’m thankful you covered this Cora; the way you covered it was so kind, sensitive, and thoughtful.
    Emily Swanson recently posted…Strawberries n’ Cream Smoothies and More Summer Smoothies!My Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      I hear you, and I’m with you Em. I hate when I get into those phases where I choose the numbers over anything else. Heck even if it is one of those awful, artificially sweetened products. I’m glad – or at least I hope – I’m in a place where these phases do not last very long at all and I’m able to snap myself out of it. Let’s stick to our healthy, whole food peanut butters and homemade baking ya? Good, whole foods.

  7. Alaina @ The Simple Peach | 29th Sep 16

    I think people struggle with looking beyond calories. Quality always trumps calories but people are so uneducated when it comes to nutrition. They can’t understand how calories are assigned and what is truly a good choice. I think the numbers do help in that way. While I think our society is fixated on numbers, I like that they are included. Sometimes if I have my heart set on something I eat it, but other times I realize I don’t want all the extra fat, sugar, etc. that is causing the calories to be so high. Restaurants are good about making items sounds healthy when they aren’t and I think them having to print the number forces them to offer better choices
    Alaina @ The Simple Peach recently posted…What to Expect From the Chicago MarathonMy Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Its interesting – people are uneducated in two different ways. Those who have zero sense of calorie numbers at all, and then those who do know calories but don’t grasp how different calories are treated in our bodies. So for that first crowd, then yes, I definitely see how this new trend is there in hopes to guide us to better health. And YES to your last point. That is another really good reason why I do agree with restaurants posting their calorie counts – its amazing how a restaurant version of something which, even to those like us appears totally healthy, can somehow find a way to jack up the calories – unnecessarily – to a surprising amount.

  8. Patricia @Sweet and Strong | 29th Sep 16

    This is such a good topic because I honestly see both sides.. I’m with you that I personally hate seeing it, I would much rather see an ingredients list as I really don’t pay attention to calories, but rather ingredients. However I consider myself a lot more knowledgeable when it comes to food and nutrition. So I can see how if someone is just trying to lose weight by cutting calories would make a different choice if they saw them listed, not having the knowledge of what good quality ingredients. I like the restaurants that have the pamphlets of ingredients, calories, fat, sodium, etc. That way you can look up what you want to see.
    Patricia @Sweet and Strong recently posted…Broccoli Slaw with Apples and Greek Yogurt DressingMy Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Precisely. I’m on the exact page. We – in this blog world – are far more knowledgeable of “health” and calories than the majority of the population. In continues to flabbergast me when I realize most people around me really have no clue. So in that case there is definite reason why restaurants are trying to do a “healthy” thing by posting their calories. I like the idea of posting certain symbols (eg. salt shaker for low sodium etc) instead of the numbers.

  9. Leah M | love me, feed me | 29th Sep 16

    Thiiiiiiis!!! I seriously can’t stand when restaurants have it super visible especially just straight up on their menu. Even though 95% of the time calories have no effect on me because I have been able to teach myself to not care, it’s still hard for me not to sway towards the lower calorie meals when it’s right there in front of me. It also causes a struggle for me when I can’t decide between a few things and end up choosing a lower cal one because I start questioning whether I’m choosing which I want to eat or the one I think I should, yknow??
    I really think they should have a separate thing with calories for those who do want to see it. Siiiiigh.

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      I’m with you, Leah. Precisely. I hate that it automatically brings back unhealthy thinking… especially when we’ve worked so hard to get out of those mindsets. Of course its our challenge and job to still choose based on what WE know and what WE want, but my god it makes it a tough battle. I think its important to have that info for some people, but as an option.

  10. Stephanie Leduc | 29th Sep 16

    We had this dicussion in class yesterday!!! Omg, there is nothing I hate more then seeing calories on the menu!!! If I am going to a restaurant to have a fried chicken burger with fries and mayo, then I am fully aware that my decision is not the “healthiest”, I so do not need a 1000 calorie side note staring up at me. I have never had any issues with food restriction, but I don’t need to know how many calories are in that cookie I am about to order.
    I feel worried that our society is going to become orthorexic with all these changes, I 100% agree with everything you say in this post, thank you!!!
    Stephanie Leduc recently posted…How to Make the Most of Quinoa: 4 Recipes You Need To Try!My Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Preach girl, preach. I love hearing this, from someone who hasn’t – thankfully – struggled with food restriction. It shows that NO one wants those numbers blaring at them. I guess I wish that the rest of the population could just be as aware and accept when they are making the healthy choice vs the not healthy choice.

  11. Dani @ Dani California Cooks | 29th Sep 16

    I agree!! Although sometimes I do appreciate nutrition breakdown in restaurants because they can often claim something is healthy even though it is so not.

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      YES. That is very, very true. I don’t know how but restaurants seem to have a way of making something much higher in calories then it would be is just made at home. I’ve been shocked by a few things that did not seem to match up with what the ingredients said. For that reason, it is good that restaurants are being pushed to “expose the truth.” And maybe that will push them to lower those numbers. Still….. ugh.

  12. Miss Polkadot | 29th Sep 16

    Honestly? This sounds very messed up to me. Way to take the joy out of eating. While I haven’t consulted them on this I’m pretty sure my family of rigid non-calorie counters would be annoyed by seeing them listed right next to each item, too. Having nutritional information available online or maybe separately in restaurants? Fine, to each their own. But like you said if people are looking to make ‘healthy ‘ choices numbers don’t say much and shouldn’t determine our decisions. I guess you’d enjoy eating out in Germany as I’ve yet to see any restaurant list their nutritional information anywhere – aside from a handful of places not even online.

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Its interesting. I wonder whether those I know who absolutely do not count calories would be more annoyed by it, or simply not even notice. But yes – I agree precisely. Just have it on the side as an option for those who, for whatever reason, need to know the numbers. We live in a world where people do need to be educated and have a better understanding of health and – even – calories….I just wish we could get them educated some other way.

  13. Danielle | 29th Sep 16

    I definitely wish places would not show calories, but if they must show some sort of data in an effort to appear remotely health conscious then show the damn ingredients! I wanna know what the crap is in this crap. If it has 463 ingredients but 100 calories yet the other has 5 ingredients and 590 calories I’m going to choose less ingredients. Please let me know if you agree??? This world is puzzling.

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Lol. Preach girl!! This is how I wish we could all be.

  14. Ellie Pell | 29th Sep 16

    I can honestly say I have not eaten in a restaurant with calorie counts on their menus. Benefit of being vegan I guess, I try to go to new vegan restaurants rather than chains. I think I would be aware if it was there and honestly, if I wasn’t feeling too hot about myself and two items equally as tasty looked appealing yet one had fewer calories, I’ll admit, I might pick the lesser one. However, if I was feeling tired and knew I needed more calories, I would pick the higher one. That is something I’ve learned by being an athlete. When I feel weak, I need more fuel.
    Ellie Pell recently posted…Your Best WeightMy Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Well I don’t know how you’ve managed it but wherever you are going to eat, stick with it!! There is definitely a difference between chains and smaller/individual restaurants. Thank you for your honesty. I think you have a remarkable relationship with food – one which I very much envy and aspire to. I know that athletes sometimes need to track calories, at least a bit more than the average person, just to ensure they are getting ENOUGH.

  15. Lyss | 30th Sep 16

    such a good topic you touched on here! I think that the focus needs to be switched from calories to real food as well. Ir really cannot believe how many restaurants are adding calorie counts to their menus.. I do think it is getting a bit out of control!
    Lyss recently posted…Take Care of your Temple Tuesday #7My Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Its just everywhere now it seems. I see how it is good in terms of forcing the restaurant to – hopefully – provide healthier options. But it just feels like numbers are taking over.

  16. Kristy from Southern In Law | 30th Sep 16

    Restaurants in Australia tend not to have nutritional info on their menus (unless it’s something like McDonalds – I think they do) but I don’t really have an opinion for/against. What I DO think restaurants should have is allergy warnings – but that’s only because I have allergies myself!
    Kristy from Southern In Law recently posted…Recent Things: Pranks, Tears and Lots of LaughsMy Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Yesssss well I think that needs to be a given!!!

  17. chasetheredgrape | 30th Sep 16

    This totally used to affect me during my ED and also in recovery, but now, through study and research I have realised they aren’t worth the paper they are written on. First of all they are such a generalisation, each portion will be made with so many small tweaks they simply cannot be accurate. Also a calorie really isn’t a calorie when it comes to how your body processes food so it really doesn’t mean much. In a laboratory, these are x calories but in our bodies? So different.
    Also I have seen many low calorie foods be some of the worst foods out there – even if someone is overweight or struggling with food do I really want them to pick a processed snack bar over a banana because of lower calories?
    I think we all need to take a bit of self responsibility rather than passing the buck on to restaurants to inform us of making ‘the right choice’. Sorry if this has come off as a bit of a rant! Haha! I’m just passionate about the topic!

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Yes!! This is a whole OTHER notion behind the debate. We see those numbers and we believe them!! Right down to the single digit. How did we get so believing… of something so un-tangable and, in a sense, made up!? Because really, a “calorie” is such an abstract idea in of itself. Yet we see these menus and pamphlets and take them as the bible. And let them dictate our choices. Ugh.
      Your last point is spot on. I wish we could all just take it upon ourselves to be educated about true health, so that we didn’t have to have restaurants try and tell us what is better for us.

  18. Heather @ Po | 30th Sep 16

    This is a really great topic! (how did i miss this post yesterday?!) I can see why restaurants do it because they want people to be aware and be able to make choices. For the majority of people, they arent as educated in nutrition and health and will be totally ignorant of the amount of calories in say a huge burger.
    That being said, I don’t think they should be directly on the menu. Perhaps have all of the caloric info at the ready in case someone asks for it? If I’m in the mood for a treat I don’t need to see that I’m about to consume 24893892 calories….I just want to enjoy it!
    Heather @ Po recently posted…Foodie Friday: Sweet & Savory Apple SlawMy Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Exaccttlllyyy. I agree with every word. Its such a debate, to which I can see both sides. I just wish our society could be more educated in general about “true health”… and that they kept the numbers as an option for those who – for whatever reason – want them.

  19. Sarah @ BucketListTummy | 30th Sep 16

    Definitely a great debate and I see both sides of the story. As a health professional, I feel that there needs to be information that can help people with their choices, because like many people have said, a lot of people are just uneducated or don’t think twice about their orders (and then wonder why their health numbers are not ideal). However, from the other side, I totally see how numbers can totally take away from the whole experience of what one would order, and cause unnecessary fixation and obsession. I think it makes the most sense to have a separate menu or sheet with the calories, sugar, sodium, etc. And I’d love to see more restaurants using symbols on their menu (sans numbers). Like a salt shaker, to help those with high blood pressure pick a lower sodium choice, or a controlled carbohydrate choice for someone with diabetes. I think there can be a middle ground, where information is available for those who want or need it, but doesn’t need to be starting everyone in the eye.
    Sarah @ BucketListTummy recently posted…A Quick Trip and Friday Favorites #7My Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      I love this idea!! Having little symbols up on the menu is even a much healthier way of thinking about your choices, and enables anyone with specific needs to still feel safe in their choices. I think the option to have those numbers somewhere is totally okay… people may need them for different reasons, especially for those who are trying to get a better sense of health from not being very educated at all. I can see how, as a dietician, those “numbers” could be used a tool when trying to put someone on some sort of plan…. but then the hope is that they no longer need to go to those numbers. You’ve nailed the debate on the head.

  20. Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets | 30th Sep 16

    I’ve got mixed opinions on this one. Weight related illness is the leading cause of death in the US so we could use some help when it comes to identifying unhealthy foods. I think though we need to start by changing the food supply and listing out things like ingredients as opposed to numbers. Seeing the numbers can be helpful for some, although I can understand how it would be detrimental to those with disordered habits.
    Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets recently posted…Currently: September 2016My Profile

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      Exactly. You’ve nailed the debate on the head. I do see how it is a positive thing in our world where we do need more education when it comes to health, and how many people – more than we in this blog world may realize – really have very little idea about calories/ingredients/health. For those reasons, we need something, and this is a way restaurants can be held accountable for what they offer (and hopefully push them to provide healthier options). I just wish we could find some other way that wasn’t all powered by numbers and could compare ingredients over digits.

  21. Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar | 1st Oct 16

    Oh my goodness Cora you’ve hit on something that makes me so anxious, upset and angry! Last time I saw it was at Noodles and Company, and I couldn’t get that number out of my head! I’m obviously pretty biased, but I really think no one needs to be counting calories. Intuitive eating is the way to go recovering from disordered eating of all types. I’m so sick of this calorie crap! Congrats being featured on WWW. I’ll have to check it out! So behind on my blog reading.

    • Cora | 1st Oct 16

      I hear you girl. It can be really detrimental, especially when caught by surprise by the number itself, or weren’t expecting to see any number at all. It becomes the worst battle to fight for anyone with food sensitivities or in recovery. I do see some good in it all, but I also worry it is going to cause more harm than good. We are just going to have to get REAL good at putting on a blind eye.

  22. What I've Been Eating + Favorite Recovery, Faith, & Body Image Links | 1st Oct 16

    […] Should Restaurants Have a Calorie Count? […]

  23. Sarah | 1st Oct 16

    This is a tricky one. For me personally, calories on the actual menu are super triggering. But, I think having access to calorie/ macro information could be helpful for a lot of the population. Perhaps having a separate posting of the nutritional information in the restaurant, and providing the information online is a better option. That way if someone is interested they can go have a look for themselves.

    • Cora | 6th Oct 16

      I agree exactly. There needs to be a time and a place.

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