AN emotional plea against calories on menus has been made by a 17-year-old woman who is recovering from an eating disorder.

Now regaining her health after a dramatic weight loss through anorexia, Katya Eardley is so scared that calorie counts on menus will threaten her life – and the lives of others – that she has started a petition against the government move.

Restaurants with more than 250 staff in England are legally required to display the calorie counts of meals on their menus and the Scottish Government is consulting on whether to also make this a legal requirement.

Although the consultation is not yet complete, some UK-wide restaurant chains – including Nando’s and Wagamama – are already displaying calorie counts on their menus in Scottish outlets.

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Eardley believes that, rather than encouraging healthy eating choices, this will have the opposite effect – and will lead to a “catastrophic rise” in eating disorders.

“I could have died simply because of counting calories and that’s why I feel so strongly about it,” said Eardley, who lives near Duns in the Scottish Borders.

“A lot of my struggles have been based around counting calories and an insane obsession with them. I lost a lot of weight in a short time and my body was in an awful way. I know how impressionable young people are, and if this is promoted by the government, it’s going to harm so many people.”

While Eardley is not yet at a healthy weight, she says she is getting there with the support of her family.

Like many people with an eating disorder, she found one way of challenging it was by going out for a meal where she didn’t know how the food was prepared or what the calorie count was.

“It’s a way to really challenge yourself, but as soon as the calorie count is on the menu, it just changes that completely,” she said. “I ‘ve heard some people argue that you can just avoid looking at the number, but it’s impossible to do that because your mind is completely absorbed by these numbers.”

HER problem with food began when she was a young teenager and she pointed out that many of the restaurant chains affected by the new rules are frequented by young people.

“I was 14 when I learned how my calorific intake affected my body and by 15 my body was in critical condition due to malnutrition,” Eardley

said. “Introducing the concept of

calories to adolescents, who are

already more susceptible to addiction, will result in a catastrophic rise in eating disorders.”

Rather than putting calorie counts on menus, Katya believes the Government should spend more money on educating people about healthy eating.

“Calories are not an accurate depiction of a healthy diet so just putting these numbers on to the menu is not actually educating people,” she said. “It’s not allowing the general public to make a more informed choice because it’s not giving the information about what these numbers mean. It would be more beneficial if the Government put money into ways of educating people about healthy eating.

“It’s all about education and balance is key. It’s really easy to demonise food when you start putting calorie counts on menus. Food is not something with a moral value but it’s very easy to see it like that when it has a number attached to it.”

Perhaps surprisingly, given her troubled history with food, Eardley is now working full-time as a baker at her mother’s Riverside Bakehouse in Abbey St Bathans.

“It does seem a bit ironic but it has helped me,” she said. “I see the joy that other people get when they see my pastries or my cakes and it really shows me that food is not all about dieting and control. You can get pure joy from food and it’s very important for me to see that.”

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The 12-week Scottish Government consultation seeks views on the types of businesses, food and drink that would be covered by any changes.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “No decisions have yet been taken. This consultation provides an opportunity to identify potential unintended consequences, and any necessary mitigation measures, should mandatory calorie labelling be introduced.

“We take eating disorders seriously and will take consultation responses in relation to them fully into account.”

Anyone wanting to sign Eardley’s petition can use this link: