A professional dancer from Manchester who recovered from two different eating disorders has warned about the governments new law of calorie labelling on restaurant menus.
Although its aim is to tackle obesity as part of a wider campaign, Victoria Spence, who was diagnosed with anorexia and orthorexia in her late teens, has described it as dangerous in that it will instead target those with disordered eating.
If someone is obese they probably dont really care to look at the calories on a menu, people who do care to look at calories on a menu are people who have disorded relationships with food and sometimes arent aware they do, the 25-year-old said.
Its going to create this experience where you can't relax if numbers are everywhere.
In recovery, going out for a meal was a huge challenge for me but a win, because I knew that I didn't have a clue what was going into my food. I couldn't track the calories so it helped me step away from that relationship with food.
Obesity has been one of the biggest national health crises for some time - almost two-thirds (63 percent) of adults in England are overweight or obese, while one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese - with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS 6 billion a year.
But it wasnt until new evidence that linked excess weight to an increased risk of serious illness or death from coronavirus that the government tried to remedy the problem once again.
Nearly eight percent of critically ill patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9 percent of the general population.
The Prime Minister, who in July said he wasnt normally one for nannying or bossying, told the country to lose weight after he was admitted to intensive care to fight off the deadly disease.
Acknowledging that he was too fat, Boris Johnson has since lost at least a stone since the trauma by exercising with his dog, and last month hired celebrity PT Harry Jameson.
Public Health England is leading the Better Health campaign, announced at the end of July, to get the nation fit and healthy, protect themselves against Covid-19 and protect the NHS.
Just one tool is the calorie labelling, which the Department of Health and Social Care outlines as: New laws will require large restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to the food they sell.
It continues: However, there is often a lack of information about the calorie content of these items and research suggests people consume around 200 more calories a day if they eat out compared to food prepared at home.
This new measure will help people make healthier, informed choices as part of a balanced diet.
Vic, who believes the new law will have adverse effects, remembers being forced to be aware of her body from the age of 15 at dance school - with teachers asking her which parts of it she didnt like and where she needed to work on.
She said: You were constantly reminded that your body is your CV, and how to get work in the dance industry is a lot of the time with your image.
I was such a perfectionist and Id got to the point where I'd trained so hard, as good as I could be, so the only thing I could do to get better is to think about what I was eating.
Vic, who would train from 8am-6pm, and sometimes to 9pm, started to workout in the gym on top of her dancing. She turned to bikini body competitors on Instagram to learn about what to eat after thinking they had amazing fat-less bodies.
I thought what they must be doing was healthy, she said, If they said don't eat carbs, I wouldn't. If they said eat this many calories, because I was so competitive, I would think okay so Ill eat less than a thousand calories a day.
I took what they said as gospel because I was so uneducated at the time.
Vic started to create an obsessive relationship with the scales. Weighing herself every month dropped to once a week, and then to before and after every single meal.
Her diet was made up of just vegetables and protein, with porridge for breakfast. But Vic admits she tried to live off as little as she could, losing a stone in weight very quickly.
She had compliments from her teachers and classmates at college, but they warned her to not lose any more.
Vic continued: I would think they were jealous; that they didn't have the same dedication as me. When you have a disorder you think everybody is against you.
I was in denial but I got to a point where my whole spine was getting bruised, I was falling asleep, I couldn't take anything in.
I knew something wasn't right but when youre in that place, everything is just so dark. Because you're not eating, the anorexic side of you is winning; youre basically living off adrenaline, thats how you keep going.
Following a panic attack on her way to college one day, Vics mum took her to the doctors where she was diagnosed with both anorexia and orthorexia - the obsession with clean eating. But weighing 49kgs - around 15kgs below what she says is her healthy weight - she wasnt deemed thin enough to be offered treatment and was instead offered antidepressants, which Vic refused.
It spurred her on to lose even more weight, but Vics parents could fortunately pay for her to receive private therapy.
She cites a turning point a year later when she was away on holiday on a cruise with her parents after not being able to attend college due to her illness. There was a chocolate buffet on board and her mum suggested she tried one strawberry dipped in dark chocolate.
Ill have one. I said. "When your body is so deprived it goes into starvation mode, so when you get access to food that youve restricted it can trigger a binge episode. I just couldn't stop and took it to my room.
I probably consumed more calories in 30 minutes than I had in a week. I had a black out, and was very unwell. My dad found me and just broke down.
This episode was a real wake-up call where I thought what am I doing? Id done this to have the perfect body, to be successful, and Id done the opposite. I then started to cooperate more with my therapist who said I have the choice to get better or to die.
It was the hardest thing I've had to do in my life. I had my mind set on getting better.
But it wasnt a simple journey to recovery. Although Vic slowly began to gain weight and was no longer mentally ill, she still restricted what she ate and decided to enter bikini body competitions - something she now calls a 'glorified eating disorder' for the majority of those who compete.
She competed in three titles, coming first in North West championships to fourth in the British title, but still had a problem with her food.
She had a personal trainer for weight training, but still had a regimented way of eating to count her calories and track her macro nutrients. She said she would still binge eat for her refuel day on items she says would now repulse her; one sitting saw her consume half a tub of ice cream with a donut, a cookie, M&S flapjack bites, and peanut butter.
Vic said: I had a realisation that I hadnt healed my unhealthy relationship with food and channeled it into something else.
The competitions are a glorified eating disorder for the majority of women who do it, and I won three trophies because of it.
Im a performer so I thrived being on stage, but on reflection, the concept of dieting to stand there and have a bunch of people youve never met before judge you on your body is shocking.
More than five years from the start of her distorted journey with food, Vic began to feel comfortable in her own skin after working on personal development on herself, instead of her image, swearing by the technique of positive affirmation.
I woke up to life. I learnt that I was more than just my image, she added.
Now a confidence coach with a huge following on Instagram, Vic has criticised the governments new Public Health campaign as a lazy and privileged way of thinking that wont help solve what its set out to do.
If you look at the places in the UK where obesity is at its highest, it's where theres lower socio-economic statuses, she said.
Obesity isn't just calories and exercise; its down to a lot of things. For the most part, people cant afford to eat healthy, organic, nutritious food - people are trying to feed their families on what they have and can afford.
Vic explained how someone could order a plate of fries for 200 calories, which is of low nutritional value, or you could have a salad with avocado for example, which is more calorie dense at around 600 calories but with loads more nutritional value.
She continued: They're saying because something is low in calories its more healthy.
If youre going to place calories on health, youre going to end up with a world of people who are of low weight but of ill health, which in turn will put pressure on the NHS anyway, or do you want people who are mindful and educated on the nutritional value of food?
A bigger body doesnt mean you are less healthy.
At Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday September 16, Wera Hobhouse MP (Bath, Liberal Democrat) said in the week the Prime Minister announced the new strategy for obesity, the eating disorder charity Beat experienced a 165 percent increase in the number of people contacting their support services.
Mr Johnson responded: I am acutely conscious that there are no glib, easy answers in this area of public policy and I happily undertake that the relevant minister should meet the honourable lady as fast as possible to understand her concerns.
Other measures to tackle the nations obesity problem will see a ban on TV junk food adverts before 9pm, the end of deals like buy one get one free on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat, and a new app for the free 12-week NHS Weight Loss Plan.
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