Another day, another unintended consequence of Obamacare

The latest victims of Obamacare are those with eating disorders, whose path to recovery will be hampered by Obamacare's mandate that restaurants post the calorie content of their offerings. Clinical psychologist Pamela Singer, writing at Reason magazine, explains how the calorie count mandate actually reinforces negative behaviors:

A fundamental part of recovery from an eating disorder, then, is avoiding the focus on numbers and learning to provide the body with consistent nutrition. As a clinical psychologist working with eating disorders, I ask my clients to stop weighing, stop counting, and stop eliminating entire foods or food groups. I ask them to go back to restaurants that they have avoided in their efforts to control their bodies and behaviors. I ask them to learn to trust themselves. The FDA is training them not to.

The FDA's mandate to display calories has a devastating effect on the recovery of those who seek to heal from this disease. Put aside the fact that a calorie count is not representative of the nutritional value or nutrient content of the meal. This initiative perpetuates the idea that numbers should be a focal point in managing health. The message that these individuals fight to correct in therapy is reinforced every time they step into a chain restaurant and see long lists of calorie counts. To avoid this message, people with eating disorders would have to avoid a vast number of food establishments, further limiting the lives they are working so hard to expand.

For those who do continue to dine out, another consequence presents itself. Both my underweight and obese clients say they experience increased shame when they see calories posted next to food they may wish to order. For those with anorexia, this tends to reinforce the idea that avoiding the food is noble and strong. For those who binge eat, some say they avoid what it is they truly want as a result of the shame and end up binge eating later. Others make the ordering choice that they would have made without the calories posted, but feel worse about themselves afterward. This may sound like it would deter people from making certain ordering choices, but shame (unfortunately or not) is seldom an effective tool in behavior modification. If it were, eating disorders and many addictive disorders would have ceased to exist long ago.

There is also a subset of individuals with eating disorders who choose to push back against the constant messages they receive, both internally and externally, about what to eat. These clients tell me that they react to the information on the menus by tossing caution to the wind and ordering out of resentment and rebellion, trying to prove a point to an audience they cannot see or name.

The calorie count mandate is thus another example of the law of unintended consequences, where well-intentioned government interference in the marketplace ends up hurting the very people it is designed to help. The law of unintended consequences applies to almost every government action from economic regulations to foreign policy (blowback anyone?).

Campaign for Liberty continues to support replacing all of Obamacare for both its unintended and intended consequences.




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