Over the weekend, I had my first experience with Panera’s new calorie-labelled menus. Honestly, I order the same couple of things every time, so the menus may have been there for a couple of weeks and I just haven’t noticed. Regardless, I was a little shocked to see them.
I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that bothers me about having them there. I’ve looked up the nutrition facts a hundred times, so it’s not like I’m seeing the calorie count for the first time. Plus, I still ordered the same thing (hey, I’m a creature of habit). Still, I didn’t like the calories being there. I have a couple of theories as to why…
- Out of sight, out of mind – I know how many calories are in an asiago cheese bagel. I know how many exchanges it counts for toward my meal plan. However, I’m not really thinking about it when I order, because I order it all the time. It’s a “safe” food for me. The calorie reminder is not helpful — it makes me re-examine my choice. I stop thinking “I’ve eaten this a dozen times and have been fine, therefore it’s still fine” and start thinking, “hmmm, you know, that is kind of a lot of calories for a bagel.”
- Comparisons — When you put all the items in a list, I can’t help but compare the calories. Somehow strawberry cream cheese doesn’t seem like such a good idea when I’m comparing it to the lower-cal plain cream cheese. I start looking for the “best” choice. There’s just something about lining them all up that enables me to do that. It’s harder to choose the strawberry cream cheese when I have the calories of all the different kinds in front of me.
- Ignorance is bliss — Okay, so I don’t know the calorie content of all the items on Panera’s menu–just the ones that I usually get. I really had no idea what was in a Sierra Turkey Sandwich (I’m a vegetarian). Let’s say that pigs flew and that I did order it one day, though. I’d know that foccacia bread was higher-calorie than whole wheat bread, sure. However, I wouldn’t know exactly how much of a difference it made. If I did, there’s no way that I would ever get it. I understand that this is probably the whole point of the new menus — to make consumers aware of what they’re ordering so that they can make educated decisions about sandwiches. Well, educated / disordered.
- Obsessing – I don’t really need any help (or encouragement) obsessing over food, calories, etc. Seeing the calories while I’m ordering just puts me in the wrong mindset. I’m thinking about calories instead of exchanges, for one. And once that’s happened, it’s hard for me to figure out what I want.
- Calories aren’t the end-all, be-all – It’s actually kind of interesting to me that Panera chose to just display calories. Granted, that’s probably the most universal measure of food okayness, but these days the diet industry seems to be all about carbs and/or sugar. So yeah, a blueberry bagel may have fewer calories than the power breakfast sandwich, but it doesn’t have nearly as much protein as fiber. And sometimes, I actually consider those other factors.
As someone recovering from anorexia, I know I’m in the minority of Panera customers. I don’t expect them to cater to individuals with eating disorders. Do I think non-ED people will change their orders based on the new menus? Probably for some, but I really don’t know. I’d be curious to see how many people order the Sierra Turkey Foccacia Sandwich now. Maybe having calories in menus isn’t that different from having nutrition labels on packaged foods.