Effects of Calorie Transparency in Menus on Eating Disorders

Girls eating and glad about calorie counts on menus

Contributor: Staff at Montecatini Eating Disorder Treatment Center

Dining out can be a difficult experience for women who have eating disorders. Restaurants can bring about feelings of anxiety and uncertainty due to a wide selection of menu choices, variations in meal preparation, and other external factors. In the past several years, some restaurants have started displaying calorie counts on menus for their meals and beverages to appeal to health-conscious women.

Since this practice has been adopted, researchers have attempted to analyze the impact that calorie transparency has on individuals who have disordered eating behaviors. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that the use of menu labels was associated with binge-eating behaviors in women, along with unhealthy weight control behaviors and weight-related concerns in both women and men.

These results indicate that food-related decisions in restaurants should be addressed by mental health professionals, dietitians, and other healthcare professionals who provide care to individuals who have eating disorders. Through appropriate education, these professionals can impact the behaviors of women who may be negatively using calorie counts to guide their eating habits.


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Another study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders showed that calorie counts on menus caused individuals who have anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa to order significantly fewer calories than when they viewed menus without calorie counts. On the other hand, menus with calorie counts caused individuals who have binge-eating disorder to order significantly more calories than when they viewed menus without calories.

Findings from this research have indicated that, while the impact of calorie transparency on menus varies across different eating disorders, there is a notable influence on those who have disordered eating behaviors. This may cause concern in women who wish to have control of their food choices while remaining on the road to recovery from an eating disorder. Women who wish to manage symptoms of disordered eating successfully should keep the following tips in mind:

Use wellness strategies

One of the most important parts of eating disorder recovery is the formation and use of wellness strategies that keep women on track with treatment while they are living in the community. Techniques to improve wellness can include journaling, the use of social supports, positive affirmations, and more. Women can use these strategies at any time to manage their emotions and remain in the moment during anxiety-provoking situations.

Each woman has a different background and experience, so these techniques will vary from person to person. If women have difficulty developing a wellness plan, a mental health professional can assist in this process.

View calorie counts on menus to plan beforehand

A vast majority of restaurants have menus readily available for people who may want to dine with them. Menus can often be found online or may even be sent in the mail. In the event of a preplanned dinner, early access to menus allows women to view meal options and calorie information in the comfort of their own home and make decisions without time constraints or pressure from people they are with.

This level of accessibility allows women to enjoy their dining experience and time spent with loved ones by eliminating some of the worry associated with mealtime decisions.

Eat before leaving the house

Women coping with food trendThough this recommendation may not be ideal for some women, eating at home before going to a restaurant can assist in alleviating some stress surrounding meal choices and calorie counts. This option allows women to have more control over what they are eating and how their food is prepared.

If women are concerned about dining establishments only having a few suitable options, they can eat a healthy snack beforehand and order a small dish at the restaurant. This will allow them to still partake in mealtime with their loved ones while maintaining a regular diet that they are comfortable with.

Spend mealtime with supportive people

Recovery can be stressful, especially for women who have recently resumed their daily activities after receiving eating disorder treatment. Positive people play an important role in eating disorder recovery, especially during social situations that are new and uncertain.

Supportive and inspiring loved ones can encourage healthy mealtime decisions and allow women to reward their progress. While positive people can play a large part in the recovery process, women should be able to disclose when they are not feeling comfortable dining out so that they can work together to find alternate options.

Women should have the resources that they need to engage in the activities that have always made them happy. While in eating disorder recovery, dining in restaurants may require more thought and energy than it once did. However, with the appropriate tools, women who are recovering from eating disorders can continue their lives in the right direction.


Haynos, A.F. and Roberto, C.A. (2017). The effects of restaurant menu calorie labeling on hypothetical meal choices of females with disordered eating. Int J Eat Disord, 50(3), 275-283. doi:10.1002/eat.22675

Larson, N.; Haynos, A.F.; Roberto, C.A.; Loth, K.A.; and Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2018). Calorie labels on the restaurant menu: Is the use of weight-control behaviors related to ordering decisions? J Acad Nutr Diet, 118(3), 399-408. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2017.11.007

About Our Sponsor:

Montecatini BannerMontecatini provides comprehensive treatment for females age 16 and older who are struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring addiction and mental health concerns. We feature a full continuum of life-changing care, including residential treatment, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), and an intensive outpatient program (IOP). We also offer a wellness center where clients can build healthier relationships with their bodies through joyful movement.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed & Approved on February 20, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC
Published February 20, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.