Even if you don’t track or count calories, does food labeling affect your order?

I’ve often said I don’t care about calories. I don’t count them. Instead I focus on healthy eating, getting enough fruits and vegetables, eating enough protein. I also focus on making ethical choices and eating food that I love.  So though I do love tracking food–back at it again today, in fact with my FitBit–it’s not calories that are my usual focus.

But Friday I realized that was wrong. I’m not immune to reacting to calorie counts. I was in line at the university cafeteria for lunch and was struck by the numbers next to the prices. Unable to find anything not in the 600 to 900 calorie range, I shook my head and walked away. It was a long day and I was too busy to leave campus. Instead I snacked on some office snacks and then rifled through my gym bag looking for a leftover cliff bar or something. No luck but I did find a couple of gel blocks. I didn’t pass out from hunger. Phew!

I wondered about the effect. Maybe I’ll get used to it? Maybe I’ll never eat pizza or subs again? Monday, I’m packing lunch.

See Will the new calorie labeling law affect what people eat?

“There’s a new item on the menu at Ontario restaurants in 2017: calorie counts. As of Jan. 1, restaurants and food service providers with more than 20 locations in the province are required to list the calorie content of food items on their menus. Fancy a regular popcorn with butter topping and a medium Sprite with your Star Wars Rogue One ticket? That’s 1,100 calories, a shade more than a Big Mac, medium fries and a medium Coke at McDonald’s (1090 calories.)”

According to this story on the CBC, about a third of consumers make use of the information.

“The calorie counts can hit home for consumers, said David Hammond, a professor in the school of public health at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ont.”On the topic of informing people, it’s very effective and most consumers, about 90 per cent, are interested,” Hammond said. “But it’s really about a third of us that actually use that information to change what we order.””

But is there a downside? When I shared the story on our Facebook page lots of our regular commentators confessed to a dislike of calorie counts. Some people with a history of eating disorders find them triggering.

Here’s some of the responses:

“I really dislike being forced to look at calories. I made a conscious choice to stop counting them. I consciously try to disregard that information when I order, but it does make me feel guilty sometimes.”

“I’ve worked really hard to get over counting calories. I used to allow myself so many calories per hour. Now when I see them, it’s a real set back.”

 “Calorie counting is for eating disorders.”

Others were more neutral in their evaluation.

“Makes no difference to me. I know Big Macs have a high calorie count, but if I want one, that number doesn’t deter me. I’m not going to McDonald’s for healthy choices.”

How about you? What do you think about calorie counts on food labels? Does it affect your food choices?Do you think it’s on balance good or does the danger outweigh the good?

Update: I did eat pizza this weekend, just not Friday lunch. Instead Sarah and I grabbed pizza at Magic Oven on our way home Friday night. Turns out that my memory for calorie counts and the impression they have on me is short. Also, good pizza is different. It’s a treat, not a thing you grab at the cafeteria to make it through the day.

Image result for vegan pizza no cheese

5 thoughts on “Even if you don’t track or count calories, does food labeling affect your order?

  1. I admit to being shocked at some of the calorie counts on things. Like a Starbucks scone is over 500 calories. That’s more than some meals. For me the info helps me think about “snack choices” versus “meal choices.” It’s good info to have even if you aren’t a calorie counter. I have stopped counting calories and I’m pretty happy with my choices. I can be influenced by posted calorie counts but I’m not opposed to knowing.

    1. The one that got me was the Tim Horton’s everything bagel toasted with butter. That clocks in at 450 or so. So yes, as a rowing or cycling snack. No, as a drive thru thing.

  2. I don’t count calories, but I’m finding it useful as an additional way of comparing food options. I’ve definitely been surprised at some of the calorie counts being higher than I would have guessed (especially for sweet stuff), but I’ve also had the experience of realizing that some options I actually desire *more* are significantly fewer calories than other options. I can absolutely appreciate how it could be really challenging for folks with ED backgrounds, but I do really like having that information available to me.

  3. I rarely eat out so they don’t have a huge impact for me. However, a friend who does commented about the calorie counts in the one place I do frequent from time to time, and I was startled at how much was in the breakfast wrap I had blithely assumed was relatively low calorie. My friend is finding the counts useful, and she is now packing more small snacks for when she is traveling around the city on business.

Comments are closed.