This article appears as part of the Food Matters newsletter.

Like so many others who grew up in the tail end of an era where fad diets and size zero reigned supreme, learning to love food with no underlying sense of self-loathing was not an easy journey.

From the infamous red circle of shame features that littered the pages of glossy magazines to the hundreds of blogs dedicated to glamourising eating little more than the occasional rice cake or low-cal jelly, our teenage years were haunted by the tragic mantra of ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’.

Looking back on what seemed so normal at the time, my heart breaks for a younger version of myself who thought logging every last calorie on an app or running miles to counteract a home-cooked meal was not only acceptable behaviour, but an admirable display of discipline.

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It breaks further still for the young people who shared these seemingly healthy habits before going on to develop life-threatening eating disorders.

That’s why the debate over mandatory calorie labelling on menus, as previously proposed by the Scottish Government as part of its obesity strategy, means so much more than just a few numbers printed beside a bowl of chips or summer salad.

Of course, there’s no arguing that calories are ultimately a unit of energy and that listing them in clear sight could help some to better understand exactly what they are consuming on a daily basis.

The Herald:
And yet reducing the menu choices we make to no more than a sad game of mathematics goes against something I’ve thankfully learned to be true during my 20s.

Food is one of life’s simplest, and greatest pleasures.

Sure, this can mean appreciating the positive effects that a balanced diet that prioritises plenty of protein, energy-boosting carbs, fresh fruit and veg can have on your body and mind.

But it’s also the cheese-loaded pizza shared with friends on a Saturday night, pulled apart while swapping stories from a busy week without the added stress of wondering what effect it will have on your waistline.

It’s the tasting menu devised by a chef who has thought only of achieving a perfect balance of flavours to create an unforgettable dining experience instead of holding back on the full-fat cream or butter.

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And yes, sometimes it’s a trashy burger and chips at the pub that even the least clued up on nutrition would not mistake for a 'healthy' meal.

So, what?

It might be difficult to comprehend the dangers of mandatory labelling on menus, but I for one am incredibly thankful to have reached a point in my life where what is served on a plate means so much more than its calorific breakdown.

It's not always a question of what's good for your body, but what's good for your soul.

Let's not risk forgetting that.

For resources on diet and eating disorders, please visit the Beat charity website.