"What sounds nourishing to you today?"
This question might sound too simple to be the primary basis on which we make our decisions around food, but here at Circles of Change, we are living, breathing proof that this question makes eating a whole lot more enjoyable.
A new federal law will soon require chain restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, gas stations, and even movie theatres to post calorie counts in prominent positions. Here’s the takeaway: Order a meal or snack at a place that sells food and has more than 20 locations, and you’ll come face-to-face with the calories you’re about to ingest. Whether or not you want to see them. Whether or not you care.
The lawmakers claim that the reason for this new legislation, which took effect the last week of May, is to help Americans eat “healthier” and “make better food choices.” I’m putting these two concepts in quotations because I’m just not buying what they’re selling. This law is unnecessary at best and damaging at worst. Here’s why.
It’s too simple.
Imagine this: You’re on a first date, and you’re really excited to get to know this potential partner. But all they’re allowed to tell you is, “Sometimes, I wear blue socks.” That’s all you get. Ready to walk down the aisle? No way! It’s a random, boring, and irrelevant factoid — what are you supposed to do with that information? Making a decision about what to eat based off of a calorie count alone is a lot like that. It’s a fact about that dish, but it’s just one fact… and not a very helpful one, at that.
Counting calories is becoming an increasingly antiquated approach to measuring health, but that doesn’t mean that the new methods are necessarily better. These days, there’s less talk about calories and more buzzy phrases like, “superfoods,” “healthy fats” “whole foods,” and of course, the word “clean.” These labels don’t tell us much more than Mr. Blue Socks. It’s kind of like learning that he also has a brown belt, loves polo shirts, and can rock a mean fedora. So now we know how to find him in a crowd on Saturday night, but what about the stuff we really want to know: What makes him smile bigger than anything else in the world? What is the sound of his laugh like? What does it feel like to lock eyes with him?
Ordering lunch may be a less important decision than choosing a romantic partner, but there are some real similarities: Both should be heart-forward decisions, and both require intuition — not calculated, mathematical approaches.
It’s a fear and shame-based prompt.
Ultimately, even if (and that’s a big if) posting calorie counts did help people nourish themselves (and sock colors helped us find that special someone) I can’t jive with the reason why. If a customer chooses to order a dish that meets society’s “healthy” standards, but he or she really wanted one that wore a Scarlet C for calories, is that really a “win”? Shouldn’t we be empowering people to make their own choices, not scaring them into it?
One of our team members here at Circles of Change and Ophelia’s Place, Holly Lowery, shared a great insight on her Instagram story recently: ALL foods can be nourishing and “healthy.” Sometimes, just feeding ourselves — just fueling our bodies with food — is enough. If we make the choice to nourish ourselves, that’s a real win. Full stop. No arguments!
What if we trusted ourselves to make decisions that served us well by using our inner guidance, rather than our heads? That’s the idea behind intuitive eating. It’s trusting that if we listen to our cravings and desires, they’re telling us what we really need. Trusting that we won’t fall “off the deep end” and buy two dozen pairs of blue socks from the internet. Knowing that if we do, it’s okay, and things will even out, because soon we’ll get sick of blue socks and feel ready for some green ones.
So here’s another idea:
I may be dreaming big, but when was change ever affected from thinking small? What if, instead of posting calorie counts, every restaurant was required to post this message at the top of their menu?: What sounds nourishing to you today?
This might sound like a pipe dream, but it’s actually not. There ARE people and establishments living and functioning in this way.
At Café 407, the restaurant and coffee shop that fuels Ophelia’s Place, we take a different approach. We never discuss calorie counts, chew over fat content, or calculate macros. Instead, we support our local community by buying from area farms when possible. We cook with love always. We serve a wide variety of foods, from gooey, cheesy paninis to colorful grain bowls. We embrace vegetarians and meat-eaters. Our pastry chef bakes up delicious treats fresh every day, and we brew lots and lots of coffee.
WARRIOR FOR CHANGE
We just don’t talk about calories because there are so many other, more exciting things to discuss on our menu. (Ask anyone who’s tried a cheesecake cookie.) We encourage our customers and community to order what they want, and to enjoy every bite.
With our society’s definition of health changing like the wind, it seems silly to chase standards that shift just as quickly. What if we chucked the calorie counts? What if we asked ourselves, “What do I want to eat?” And then what if we allowed ourselves to eat it? Wouldn’t life — and lunch — be more enjoyable?