The longer L is ill, the more apparent it becomes that Ed’s control manifests itself particularly in counting calories. It is almost as if she is allowed to eat as long as each calorie is counted. Because counting calories and writing them down means control. Every unit of energy is noticed, measured and recorded. This control means L is in charge. Or Ed is in charge as I see it.
Everywhere we look there are new ways to count. It is the thing to do now, ensure all food packaging is labelled, require every restaurant or cafe to show calories against each item, helpfully adding red, amber or green colours to indicate degrees of ‘badness’. Even when I covered labels with stickers or cut them out, the Internet steps in. Nutritional information is only ever a short click away.
And so it was that we found ourselves yesterday in a coffee shop with L, in the luxury of a few hours out, watching her frown and hover over choosing a snack. I had said we should return home for her snack and when she asked to stay in town I had tried to say I should choose. But this coffee shop had no calorie counts displayed and this threw L into panic. She looked through all the prepacked foods. Examining labels, she selected popcorn and fruit salad. Together they come to less than half the recommended amount and I refuse, telling her I would order her a caramel latte. Which I did, but she ran to the toilets. K and I sit, with the latte placed at the empty place. I tell K how I saw her furiously typing into her phone, no doubt looking at calories. We sighed, but started eating our cake, swapping lemon cheesecake for flourless chocolate cake. When finished, L is taken straight back to the unit where she is placed on bed rest.
Every time I hear a politician proclaim the need for food labelling, I despair. If food labelling was the answer, why is obesity rising? Counting calories sucks the joy from every act of eating, nothing is savoured, instead it is measured; treated like grains of sand through a timer, leaving fewer and fewer left. Meals should be about the time we share with loved ones, the memories of a roast dinner with family, cake for a broken heart or the first taste of food in a new country. For L, and anyone with an eating disorder, calories are not a guide to healthy eating. They are loyalty points on the Anorexia Reward Card, ensuring a lifetime membership of their special club.