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A Registered Dietitian's Thoughts on Why Burger King’s “Real Meal” Campaign “Really Messed Up”

For those of you who didn’t know, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Burger King came out with “Real Meals.” To claim that “Its OK to not be OK” and to poke fun at McDonald’s "Happy Meals." In select locations, Burger King is offering “Blue meals, Pissed meals, DGAF meals, Yaaas meals, and Salty meals.”

After doing a little research, I found that the Happy Meal was developed in 1979 as a meal “just for kids” and included colorful packaging and a toy as a part of the meal. Although bribing children to eat with fun packaging and new toys isn’t quite right by my books either, Mcdonald's was going for fun, cheery and let's get the kids on board. This is a completely different motive than what Burger King is implying.

As a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with a large population of clients who have eating disorders, I believe Burger King may be raising awareness about the component of Mental Health which includes normalizing all emotions, but this campaign could also be triggering people who use food to cope with emotions and or have a lot of fear or judgments around eating fast food. The creators of this campaign are forgetting that eating disorders fall under the scope of mental health too. In fact, there are even quite a few DSM -5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) codes for them and they occur just as frequently as many of the most common mental health disorders do.

When I work with a client with disordered eating, one of the first things we do together is create a food fear hierarchy, where they list all their “fear” foods from most triggering to least scary. Fast foods often fall pretty high up on this list. Lucky for places like Burger King, I work hard with many of my clients to make peace with fast food, and “take the charge off of it.” AKA, normalize or habitualize it. I help to make them feel comfortable eating fast food no matter what else they had to eat that day, how “good” or “bad” their days were or even how their mood is.

I do a lot of work helping my clients to disconnect emotions from food. I have various tools and strategies I implement in order to practice coping with emotions without using food. This campaign is now subjecting food to being suitable as a means of coping with “salty” or “blue” or even “pissed” emotions” and that’s just not ok.

In a world where emotions are already so tightly wound to food either in the form of it being used as a coping mechanism or just flat out as judgments coming from diet culture, this campaign is actually counterproductive and insensitive to many people suffering from mental health issues, including but not limited to those diagnosed with eating disorders.

If you are suffering with your relationship with food, please reach out. I would be happy to help you make peace with food and find the freedom around food and your body that you have been looking for!

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