Navigating The Workplace When You Have an Eating Disorder


Balance is a hard thing for a lot of us. For those of us with eating disorders it’s the thorn in our sides that sticks us in the most inopportune times. At work we either give it our all or don’t give it a glance. At the Victorian, we once had a client who got a recovery job working on the peninsula. Her boss asked her to clean an old pop corn machine. When he returned he found that rusty, gritty, grimy old popcorn machine was sparkling like it had just been taken out of the box. When her boss told her how impressed he was she responded, “Well, I’m an addict either it was going to look brand new or I wasn’t even going to touch it.”

 This is funny, but so true for many of us with eating disorders; we either give it our all or give it nothing. A key element to this is finding out our motives behind what were doing. Let's explore:

Bosses –  The awesome thing about life is it gives us opportunities to share what we have learned; how to be honest and kind while communicating our needs to others. Often times it is with bosses. Some of us have bosses who load us with work and keep us late and don’t compensate us for our time. Businesses are big, time is limited so it happens, but just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s right. The trick here is to first assess the situation, asking ourselves “Is this moral? Is this right?” If it isn’t then we need to use our voice and ask our boss if we can sit down with them. Then we can say, “I love working for you and I love the challenging work, however I need to stick to the hours that I was hired under. I also need to be compensated for the hours I have worked and have not been paid for. I love this job, but I can not work for free. How do you feel about this?” This statement doesn’t attack anyone it simply states the facts and gives room for the employer to respond. It sounds a lot scarier than it is. This statement is also creating a boundary. It lets the employer know that you have self respect and it lets your employer respect you and your time also.

Co-workers – Some co-workers can become your best friends, some can smell like B.O. and spit when they talk. The world is like a spice rack…lots of flavor. It’s easy to get into a  clique in a work environment. Some people grow closer than others which is natural, but gossiping about others is not. Gossiping taints an office environment for everyone. Even if you think you’re really sly at it, it does something to you. If you find yourself being invited into gossip you can:

a.)   Say, “I hear you.” And change the subject.

b.)   Say, “I hear you, but I don’t agree I think Shelly just has a lot going on at home right now."

c.)   Say nothing. This gets the message across very well. When someone sees that you are unwilling to engage with them they won’t come to you to gossip about others and voila you’re off the hook.

When you say and do the above things you are setting a clear boundary with your co-workers that you are your own person. You won’t agree for the sake of being liked because you like yourself enough not to say/do something that would hurt yourself or others.

Lunches – It can get busy in a work environment. People tend to skip lunches and breaks to keep up with their work. However, this is dangerous territory for someone with an eating disorder. In recovery we often say that the most important thing in our lives is “our recovery.” Meaning that when making little or big decisions in our day we ask ourselves, “what is the best choice to protect my recovery?” Sometimes we don’t like the answer we get. It can make us uncomfortable, but most things worth fighting for are uncomfortable. Therefore, when everyone in the office ignores the lunch hour and just keeps working it’s important to tell ourselves, “Going to lunch alone may be uncomfortable, but the discomfort of a returning eating disorder is much worse. Yes, people might judge me for going to lunch while they are staying in, but I know what I need to do to take care of myself. No one else will take care of me if I don’t.” Sometimes the healthiest thing to do for ourselves is to stay in check with the thoughts we create. If we don’t like the ones we are creating, make new and healthy ones and of course…eat lunch!

These are just a few ideas on how to set boundaries in the workplace when  you have an eating disorder. Check back next week for more boundary tips from The Victorian of Newport Beach, California.

Happy Recovery,



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