Struggling With Eating Healthy at Work

Holly Slater by kate.sade on Unsplash

People love their treats at my office. An innocent little doughnut can help most anyone get through the hassle of the workday. But not everyone has an inner struggle for hours and then breaks down and eats 8 within a half hour, like I sometimes do.

My office is often a dumping ground for treats. Sometimes co-workers bring stuff in to share. Sometimes we have leftovers from catered events we hosted the evening before. It’s a bad recipe for bingers who write copy all day at a nearby desk (i.e., me).

Recently I did something I rarely do — I spiraled into a binge episode at work. It’s usually something I do in secret — at night when the rest of the house is asleep and there are no witnesses to my self-destruction.

But on this day, for whatever reason, I binged at the office. Part of it was because I could do so without anyone noticing. I walked back and forth from my cube multiple times with one or more and just ate up the treats laid out in the kitchen. No one saw, no one noticed, no one cared. Everyone was quiet at the time, noses to the grindstone in a collective burst of productivity. (Except for me, obviously.)

And after I ate so much that I felt sick to my stomach, there were STILL plenty of leftovers.

Today, there happened to be brownies on the table about three steps away from my cube. I’ll paraphrase the email that went around. Something like: There are TONS of fresh-baked brownies on the table to brighten your day! Take some outside and enjoy a treat in this gorgeous spring weather!!!

For the remainder of the day, people walked past my cube, enjoyed a treat, and described their experience. I heard all about the flavor, the texture, the gooeyness factor. Those damn brownies were better than sex, apparently. People praised my co-worker’s baking skills, of which I have none. I’m pretty sure if one of us had to be let go, it would be me — not because I do poor work, but because I have limited culinary skills.

I’m ashamed to talk about it.

I’ve made comments at work in a joking tone about the constant sugar temptations around the office. Most of my team looks at me like I’m batshit.

When I once mentioned my large weight gain to a colleague and how I was trying to lose it, she looked me up and down and made a snap judgment based on my current appearance: “Well, you probably needed to gain it!”

Some personal topics are safe to discuss at my office: family, kids, weekend plans, dating, grieving, some (but not all) physical ailments, workout routine, the weather — the weather’s a big one.

When talking about why I try to avoid the treats and want to bring healthy snacks to team meetings, I defend myself by noting that my cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure are on the higher side according to my last check-up (which is true).

But I could never say, “Guys, I struggle with binge eating disorder. It’s a mental battle I’ve been struggling with every day for the past 13 years or so, and sometimes it’s hard to be around all the triggers and still be able to focus on work.”

Why is there a stigma still attached to eating disorders — or any psychiatric illness, for that matter?

I don’t tell people that I started binging at 20 years old when I was trapped in a disastrous marriage. That I often purged after binging. That when I finally managed to get a handle on the purging, I gained 70 pounds in a year and a half because I kept binging.

I don’t tell even my closest friends that I feel shame. I feel anger toward myself for taking my health and body for granted. That I hate myself for it.

I binge on food AND alcohol.

Today I only managed to resist the homemade brownies because I’m still recovering from the bad binge I had last night.

It started the same way it often does. I have an innocent beer or a glass of wine or a cocktail after I’ve given my dinner time to digest. Then I have a not-so-innocent second glass. Then maybe a third (or fourth depending on the night). After that, my inhibitions are down and I start to stuff my face with whatever is available to me in the house. I eat until my stomach hurts. After my stomach hurts, I’ll still eat a little more. Then I sleep fitfully.

Even if I’m not drinking, I’ll often binge. I turn to food when I’m stressed, bored, happy, or simply craving the cereal in my kitchen (even though I’m not physically hungry). by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

I struggle with calling it an “eating disorder.”

I have this (probably incorrect) way of thinking that my bad eating habits are not quite bad enough to deserve “disorder” status. A part of me still sees it as a lack of willpower.

Now, I never apply this thinking to others who struggle. I don’t judge. If Joe Shmoe on the street has binge eating disorder (BED) and tells me all about it, I offer sympathy, support, and suggest professional help.

I’ve always been harder on myself than those around me — and that is some major B.S.

Maybe this is why I connected so fiercely to “Body Image and Self-Punishment” by Raine D.

Some people don’t have their basic health, and in some twisted form of self-punishment and mental sadism, I actively hurt myself with binging again and again. I don’t tell anyone, and I don’t even seek help for fear of admitting what I see as a weakness in myself.

I research ways to heal — and try to put them into practice.

I’m not a doctor or psychologist and am in no way qualified to give medical advice — this is nothing more than a personal account of my experience. Having said that, in my journey, I have picked up a few things that help me.

In Psychology Today, Dr. Jennifer Kromberg writes:

As with anorexia and bulimia, overcoming binge eating disorder is not about learning more discipline or self control. (You would never tell an anorexic to control him or herself.) Instead, healing is about understanding how the person has come to use food (or lack of food) as a mechanism of emotional survival.

Emotional survival — yes! DING DING DING!

And in “Using Mindfulness to Break Sugar Addiction,” a breakdown of Dr. Judson Brewer’s Ted Talk, Marc Pickren shares:

“Mindfulness requires us to embrace our cravings, rather than trying to ignore them. Simply paying attention in this way makes habits that we typically crave mindlessly become less automatic.”

It’s vital that those with BED embrace this way of thinking. We can’t always be shouting “No!” in our heads and trying to ignore every craving — we are bound to give in at some point. We have to recognize the craving, give credit to its existence, get curious about it, and learn to cope with it in a productive way.

One thing those with BED can do is to prepare ahead of time. Get a good night’s sleep, stay hydrated, have a meal plan for the day. Don’t go too long between meals. Whether I’m packing, going to the cafeteria, or going out for lunch, I need to make sure I have meal and snack options with whole foods and fiber. It’s surprising how good a simple apple tastes when your body is hungry and ready for a snack.

Another helpful method is finding a healthy distraction. Going for a walk, having sex or masturbating (this always seems to be one of my solutions to any given problem), diving into work, having a spontaneous creative writing session — anything that is good for me and makes me love life.

If distraction doesn’t seem possible in the moment, then we have to tackle it another way. In some cases, there is nothing between me and my disorder. It’s the two of us, face to face. All one can do at that point is practice mindfulness.

In this instance, it helps if I have a conversation in my head. Do I want to trust myself to eat one or two tempting cookies and stop? Do I feel I’m too unstable and should avoid the sugar altogether? All I can do is gauge how I feel and listen to my body.

When I feel the urge to binge and can’t escape it, I try to remind myself with a very LOUD inner voice about the consequences of eating way too much too often: weight gain, sluggishness, low libido, feeling like shit all day with no energy, oh, and the multitude of deadly diseases linked to way too much sugar…The downsides to binging are endless.

Achieving a state of mindfulness when faced with temptation allows us to recognize our urge to binge and weigh the consequences of feeding the addiction.

I have the capability to do this, though I’m not successful every time. I’m often too hard on myself, but I have to allow that hitting a snag is OK. No one is perfect, but even when we slip, we have to continue to strive to improve our health — for ourselves, and for those who love us and want to see us stick around.

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