National Eating Disorders Association

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Disclosing in the workplace

I'm looking for some advice for talking about my eating disorder history at work. I'm a 35-year-old woman and have been in recovery for eight years. I supervise a small group of people (about 15), and we all work very closely together. The work setting is an adult group home, a unique situation in that we are actually working in someone's house, and the job includes preparing and eating meals together. I rarely sit down and eat with everyone just because my schedule doesn't usually coincide with mealtimes, so that is not the issue for me. The issue is, because we're around food all the time, there is constant talk about it. Some of the younger staff get into discussions what is "healthy," which turns into debates about what is "bad" for you, and the other day it even spiraled into one of those statements about (I'll try not to be too specific) such-and-such turning right into body fat. No one involved in these conversations has any dietetics training so it's mostly coming from popular opinion or what they've read online or in magazines, you know what I mean. I understand that everyone has different needs and experiences regarding food. One person who is often part of these conversations underwent weight loss surgery last year. Another is a young woman who is trying to lose weight partly because her doctor told her she should. They have every right to have conversations with each other about food and/or weight loss, but sometimes their comments are triggering to me and I don't know whether it's appropriate to say anything. That's where I'm stuck. As a supervisor, I try to have an "open door" policy so I don't want to just close the office door whenever these discussions start. It doesn't help much anyway because I can still hear almost everything. But how much does a person say in this situation? I don't want to tell people what they can and can't talk about, but when things are being said that are triggering for me, I feel like I need to say something in order to take care of myself. Then again, I go back to what I said at the beginning about how we work very closely together--it's hard to reveal any personal information or bring up uncomfortable topics when you are working side-by-side every day.

I do think I'm going to say something next time these conversations come up, but any advice on how I could approach the topic and what to say would really be appreciated!

I can relate

I am not in a supervisory position, but there are constantly discussions at my work about this. I've always thought about why is this type of discussion ok, but other topics ( race, gender, various disabilities) are not ok. It tough to know what to say or do. I typically just opt out and don't engage in the discussion or try to shift the discussion. But I can see how that could be different in your role

re: Disclosing in the workplace

Hey BuffaloAlice—really good question and I struggle with this all the time too. No matter what the environment is, I feel like office diet chatter is a constant source of potential triggers for those of us trying to maintain recovery. Just yesterday someone asked me how old I am and then responded, “You may think you're just going to stay that size forever, but you have three years before the weight starts packing on!” And this woman definitely knows about my ED history—I've done fundraising for NEDA at work and I'm always really open about talking about my experiences because I believe it's important to raise awareness.

Usually I try to say something to gently correct the idea that gaining weight is evil, but I just didn't have the energy last night so I just looked away and changed the subject. I always feel guilty afterwards when I don't speak up, because I do feel like it's my responsibility to educate people on this topic—it's just such a given for women to resort to diet talk because we're socialized to obsess over our bodies, so oftentimes, people aren't even realizing they're doing it. I've found it can usually be diffused by any little comment that makes them realize what they're saying is problematic at best and making someone uncomfortable at worst: “I say eat what you want!” “We should all worry less about what we weigh.” “Do you know anything about set point theory?” “Actually I don't diet at all because I'm in recovery from eating disorders.” etc.

Granted, I'm not a supervisor, so I'm not sure any of these approaches are applicable to your situation. But I wanted to let you know you're definitely not alone, and that I do think it's appropriate—especially in small teams like mine and yours—to mention your ED history without it being deemed “unprofessional” or something. Consider that you know about your co-worker's weight loss surgery. Why should it be any less appropriate to discuss your ED in a way that explains something about your current emotional and mental state? Down with stigma!

Of course, feel free to ignore that if you're not comfortable disclosing about your ED—that's a totally different story! Either way, I hope you think of a professional but firm way to negotiate those triggering conversations. Keep us posted on how it goes!

Your point that I know

Your point that I know something about a coworker's health situation is the one that's sticking with me. You're right, if I know that, why wouldn't it be ok for someone to know a bit about my health? Thanks for the response!