How to manage your eating disorder in the workplace

I’ve heard it said that living with an eating disorder is a full-time job in itself. So how on earth are we supposed to find the time and energy to balance work around our difficulties with food?

Firstly, I believe we should all congratulate ourselves for getting up and going to work despite being affected by daily challenges with food and eating. It’s not easy creating the headspace needed to maintain a career whilst battling debilitating thoughts and rituals around food every day.

Sometimes I think I can either manage my job or my eating disorder successfully because trying to give my best efforts to both is not physically possible. I end up either pleasing my productivity levels in the office or the voice in my head controlling my food intake.

The truth is, for me at least, that work is a distraction from my daily battle with food and gives me a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t involve my eating.

I also really value my job and the efforts it’s taken me to secure it so want to be well-nourished and physically able enough to perform to the best of my ability there.

I’ll be honest, it doesn’t always work out and I end up letting things slip, but for the most part I’m doing well.

Here are some of the common challenges I face while juggling full-time employment with an eating disorder…

Eating with colleagues

One of the ways my difficulties have manifested themselves is in a strong dislike of eating around other people. I’ve never been comfortable having meals in the company of others - even family and friends, so my colleagues are no different.

Group lunches, team away days and staff Christmas meals are my idea of a nightmare but unavoidable in the workplace so at least provide regular opportunities to face my fears.

I try to make sure I only eat what I am comfortable with and remember that the majority of people around me are far more interested in themselves and what they’re eating rather than anything I’m doing. I also prefer to engage in the conversations and activities that are happening during these times and take the focus away from the food element.  

Fuelling myself enough to get through the day

Whilst my job is mostly office based, there are also times when I’m in charge of coordinating events which can be a very manual task.  

I have to arrange exhibition materials, move heavy fixtures and furniture and stand on my feet for long periods of time. None of which is possible on an empty stomach!

I didn’t prepare myself properly for an event recently and felt very faint, dizzy and weak which was neither good for my health or professionalism at all. I may have been pleasing that all too common ED voice in my head but the fear of what my colleagues were thinking mattered to me more – I felt awful.

I definitely learnt the hard way but I now realise how important it is to plan for the day ahead, ensuring I have enough energy to keep going.

Extra food in the staff kitchen

It feels like barely a week goes by without someone bringing in food to share in the office. Whether it’s somebody’s birthday, return from holiday or Christmas/Easter, there’s always something in the staff kitchen to make us feel uncomfortable in one way or another.

I struggle with this for a couple of reasons but mostly because I’m not very spontaneous with my eating and prefer to stick to my rigid plan rather than adding in anything extra. This makes it really hard when everyone around me is enjoying treats that I won’t allow myself.

A few weeks ago a girl in my office left to work elsewhere and brought in tubs of bakery goods for us to share. I would normally avoid them like the plague but on this day I felt like it would be manageable to challenge myself to have one.

Now, I’m not going to pretend it didn’t play on my mind afterwards but more than that it felt so great to see something I like and allow myself to have it. I’ve had a few similar things since and been OK with it so feel like I’ve really made some progress by starting small and building on my success. Well done me!

Being static

Lack of exercise can be a huge problem in the workplace and it can pray on the minds of those with eating disorders greatly.

I often struggle with the thought of being inactive for so long each day at my desk so try to get up and move as much as I can.

I do this by walking around the nearby park or shops on my lunch breaks, physically getting up to speak to colleagues rather than via phone calls or emails and trying to move away from my desk and do a circuit of the building twice a day.

This helps my mind because I feel less restricted and also benefits digestion by being more active and mobile.

Attending appointments

Trying to attend health related appointments when you work full-time is not easy and it can be stressful arranging everything to fit.

My main care provider can only offer appointments and group sessions between the hours of 9am and 5pm which means I have to miss work to attend each time.  I always worry about the meetings I have to rearrange as a result and whether my colleagues are noticing me disappear without explanation.   

It wasn’t easy trying to work everything out but once I’d confided in my manager my company were more than accommodating.

I didn’t have to come clean about my ED, I just said I had to attend regular ‘medical appointments’ and would make the time back by staying late or starting early. No more questions asked, nothing was remotely awkward and all left on good terms for both parties – I felt so much better.

I hope these little tips and suggestions will help you if you’re feeling the strain of keeping your job on track alongside your recovery.

Keep going if you can – the benefits of maintaining your work will do so much for your confidence and self-esteem and prove you can succeed at something that your eating difficulties can’t overrule!

Good luck 😊