Did you start your disordered eating recovery during quarantine and now you’re heading back into the office? It is likely causing a mix of emotions from excited to be back in a routine. To scared that it will bring back old disordered habits. Here are my top tips for preparing to re-enter the workforce after recovering from disordered eating.
If you’re like me, the last time you were in a 9-5 office setting, you were deep into dieting and disordered eating. The structure of the workday likely even aided in your ability to maintain your strict diet and eating regimen. I know that preparing macro-friendly meals to take to work with me. As well as being limited to the snacks in my desk drawer. Kept me “on track” with intermittent fasting and my intense carb cycling meal plan.
During the past 18+ months at home though, I have learned to prioritize my mental health and become an intuitive eater. I even started helping other chronic dieters heal from years of dieting too. But these critical parts of my recovery have occurred during quarantine. So I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that wonders if my at-home circumstance created a safer microcosm that allowed me to heal.
Thinking about returning to the office after my disordered eating recovery during quarantine is conjuring up a lot of thoughts and feelings. Will I be able to maintain my food freedom in an office setting? Or will old habits creep back as I fall back into my old routine?
If you’re struggling with these intrusive thoughts too, I want to assure you that it’s totally normal. Even those who didn’t recover from an eating disorder, disordered eating or chronic dieting during quarantine are feeling apprehensive about returning to the office.
I know quarantine didn’t hit until March 13, 2020 for most of us. But I have another life event that mentally sets me back even further to when I was last in an office routine. See, after working for the same advertising agency for almost 4 years, I made the mistake of accepting a position at another agency in January 2020. Starting just 5 weeks before quarantine hit. Which means, I didn’t have the routine, comfort level, promised training or established relationships. In other words, I got the crappy COVID version of this company. On top of that, I soon realized my new boss was the most toxic colleague I’ve ever come across in my career. And the HR department lacked important resources and awareness of what was actually happening within the company.
After the summer from hell. And prioritizing my job over my family and mental health. I was unceremoniously let go. Fired. Don’t feel bad for me though! It was such a relief. A clean ending to the worst experience of my 16-year career.
I share this story because, in my mind, the last time I had a comfortable in-office routine was in December 2019. And that’s around the same time I hit the rock bottom of dieting and realized I needed help. My comfortable workday routine made it easy to maintain my eating disorder. And so now that I’m returning back to an office full-time, there’s a part of me that worries I’ll go back to that. Because honestly? I’ve never been in an office setting without an eating disorder.
And yet. I still feel confident the strong foundation of my recovery will support me through this transition. Because I have learned to prioritize my mental health, heal my body image issues, and practice intuitive eating consistently.
Here are my top tips for preparing your mindset to return to the office. Even if your disordered eating recovery occurred during quarantine.
Top Tips for Returning to the Office After Disordered Eating Recovery During Quarantine
1. Rebuild your closet with clothes that fit comfortably.
Sometimes I wonder how I got through the day in a real bra and pants that button and zip. Because they seem like medieval torture devices now! My body has become so accustomed to the softness of Athleta tights and the comfort of low-support sports bras. In fact, this past spring I did a major purge of my closet and got rid of everything that no longer fit. Or that I never wore. Yes, there were even some declarations of “I’m never going to an office again!” as I tossed articles into a donation bin.
I don’t regret getting rid of any of those clothes. But now, I’m having to build back with clothes that are my current size. As well as comfortable AND stylish! I realize that “real bras” will need to make a comeback. But that doesn’t mean I have to suffer in ill-fitting pants. Or freak out if I have to purchase something in a larger size.
In fact, my biggest plan of attack has been to purchase dresses. So then I don’t have to worry about something digging into my waist all day. These can be dressed up or down. And can also be worn plain in the warmer months, and layered in the colder months. I am excited to dress cute again. And even wear makeup everyday. I think the world as a whole is rejecting uncomfortable styles. So I’ve been pleasantly surprised with stretchy waistbands and even jeans with softer fabric around the waist.
The process of buying new clothes. Plus realizing how inconsistent sizing is. (My closet now ranges from S-XXL. And it all fits. Seriously!) Has made me realize how far I’ve come in healing my relationship with my body image. If you’re struggling in this area still, please reach out for help with a HAES-informed therapist and/or a body image coach.
2. Store a wide variety of snacks in your office drawer.
The diet mentality taught us that we can’t be near food or else we’ll eat it all day. Thankfully we have food freedom now! Which means, you can pack your office drawers with your favorite snacks. Because you have self-trust. You know you’re not just going to sit there and eat. You’re going to listen to your own body’s cues and eat when you’re hungry.
I really recommend a wide variety of foods too because you’ll want to have choices. I remember back when I would only keep “clean” foods in my desk. How limiting that felt. Or I’d end up eating a bunch because it wasn’t satisfying me. And oooh won’t it be nice to have a slice of someone’s birthday cake because you actually want it? Or turn it down because you genuinely don’t? With no side of guilt either way!
3. Have an honest talk about what previously served you. And what didn’t.
There are parts of my old in-office routine that truly served me well. For example, I drank a lot more water throughout the day when I was at work. I also packed well-balanced lunches that ensured I ate versus losing track of time (like I sometimes do working from home.) Additionally, I would get antsy and go for a walk. Even if it was just around the building or parking lot. My social health was in a much better place too because sometimes I’d ask friends/colleagues to join me. And finally, I had a good routine with getting to bed early, waking up to workout and being on a consistent schedule.
The things that didn’t serve me was obsessing over my macros the night before to ensure I packed the “perfect” breakfast, lunch and snacks. As well as forcing myself to workout in the morning instead of listening to my body. I did myself no favors by ignoring my hunger in the name of intermittent fasting. Including doing close to a 24-hour fast just because it was easier than letting colleagues know I was starving during travel days.
And, of course, the top thing that did NOT serve me last summer was suffering through a toxic work environment and letting financial fears paralyze me from choosing my mental health. Which leads me to…
4. Evaluate your office space. Environmental health matters!
I know you may be heading back to the office of the same company you’ve been with all along. But consider: what has your experience been like? Has it been supportive? Or is it causing extreme stress? Is HR forcing you to return? Or do they seem to be empathetic and flexible in the transition? Do they offer mental health and wellness benefits that you can utilize?
Some clients have shared that quarantine actually stopped the office BS once no one was physically in the office to create a fuss. Others have shared that Zoom exposed the lack of support and encouragement. And many are simply choosing to quit their job and find a new one that will guarantee they will always remain a remote employee. What do you need to be productive and feel good about what you do?
Because ultimately, your environmental health matters A LOT. What you’re exposed to visually and audibly. As well as others’ energy and moods, impacts your mental health. This transition back into office life will require patience, grace, support and flexibility from everyone.
Thankfully I’ve completely switched gears and am heading to a new company that provides mental health and wellness benefits. So I feel very confident I will not repeat the nightmare experience of my past company!
5. Meal plan for convenience—not weight loss.
There are some great benefits to meal planning. It’s unfortunate that diet culture stole this concept and ruined it. But we can take back the positive parts and be intentional! I’ve made a list of all the various lunches I can bring to the office to enjoy. Including leftovers and getting back to batch cooking. Such as grilling an extra chicken breast at dinner to have for lunch the following day. Instead of falling back to a diet plan of “chicken, broccoli and rice” everyday. You can instead make sure you have the ingredients on hand for 5 different lunches. And then, each weekday, choose one meal that sounds good.
6. Practice your coping tools, self-care and mindset work to maintain recovery.
And finally, your coping tools, self-care and mindset work should be a daily practice. While you may find yourself in new scenarios where you have to put these tools to the test. I think there will also be a lot more situations where you’ll realize how much easier life is now that you’ve recovered. From easily going out to lunch with colleagues. To not having to pick around a soggy salad while everyone else in the lunch meeting enjoys a delicious deli sandwich. You will have full food freedom around office parties and treats. And not go home at night to binge because you underate all day.
You will feel so much more in control of your choices than the last time you were working in an office.
Wishing you were recovered more?
If you read through these 6 tips and felt panicked that you’re not further along in recovery, take a deep breath in. Hold for 4. Exhale.
We all are returning to the office at various levels of recovery and feelings of preparedness. While we all endured a helluva 18 months, we’ve all had unique experiences. So the greatest advice I can give is to keep prioritizing your mental health ABOVE ALL ELSE! Keep going (or start going) to therapy. Stay in touch with your intuitive eating coach and/or your group. Have a support system. If you can, confide in a friend at work what you’re going through. Even if they can’t relate to disordered eating recovery during quarantine, they will certainly be able to relate to the culture shock of working-from-home to being back in the office.
We can do this!
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