One of my colleagues and The Looking Glass Foundation, Nicole Keay, recently wrote a really awesome blog on how, as women especially, we often get caught up in engaging in “water cooler” talk about our bodies, weight and the latest diet trends. She hits on some really key points about how these conversations often leave us stuck in our eating disorder and also the importance of learning to step into healthier conversations in order for us to step into our healthy selves. The start of the article is below, along with a link to read the whole thing. If you are looking to follow a healthy and recovery focused organization, connect with the Looking Glass over on their site or on social media.
ven if we don’t work in an office that has a water cooler, we can be sure that “water cooler conversations” are still taking place. These are the conversations you and your colleagues engage in when you’re taking a break from your work-related tasks. They take place in the lunchroom, your cubicles, at the printer, in meeting rooms, and on your afternoon trip to grab your caffeinated pick-me-up. They’re everywhere and they’re hard to avoid.
It’s natural to want to fit in and be liked in your workplace. It’s the place and the people we end up spending most of our week with. For that reason, we make friends with our colleagues; eat in the lunchroom when we’d rather sit at our desk; and take part in office potlucks and parties.
How to lose that last 10 lbs, summer bodies, the latest exercise and diet trends, juice cleanses … the list of “water cooler” topics goes on. As women, we seem to bond over body talk. We reach a certain age and, like it’s some right of passage, we start hating and obsessing over our bodies. We’re automatically conditioned to do so by our culture and the media. Our conversations jump between dating, hobbies, career goals, and so on … but body talk always seems to sneak its way in. For most of us, that conversation is inherently negative.
I can’t speak to the male experience, but as a female who was suffering from an eating disorder, this environment was toxic. At first, these conversations seemed harmless, but for me, it quickly spiraled into something that not only made me feel like a farce, but also made me sicker.
My restrictive eating soon became a topic of conversation itself. Not about it being restrictive and unhealthy, but because it was envied. “You’re so good”, “I wish I had your discipline”, “You’re always so healthy” are what I heard on a regular basis. It was hard for me to hear praise around something that was a constant battle. My eating disorder, on the other hand, thrived on this newfound support. It used these comments as justification that what I was doing was not only healthy and accepted, but also downright desired.
I hid my excessive exercise behind marathon training. I had been injured from running excessively and not doing enough strength training. So I explained my frequent trips to the gym and yoga by proclaiming they were necessary to my training and to keeping me from further injury. All of which might have been totally normal if it weren’t for my eating disorder. There are people that run and train just the way I did; I ran with them. The difference is they fuelled their bodies properly and rested when they needed to. They didn’t obsessively fixate on calories in versus calories out to lose weight or compensate for bingeing and purging. Of course, I made sure that no one saw that side, so to them, my “dedication” was inspiring.
The more praise that I received from colleagues, the more pressure I felt to maintain this identity. That pressure was two-fold:
- I had to keep up the jig. This was who I was at work, and how could I step out of that? How could I break that health-conscious, green smoothie drinking, marathon running picture of perfection that I created and everyone applauded? I felt like I would let people down if I did.
- Secondly, it kept me from feeling sick enough. If everyone saw my behaviour as healthy, if they wanted and wished they could emulate it, why was I struggling? Clearly I wasn’t that sick. If I wasn’t that sick, I certainly didn’t deserve help.
I eventually did speak up and get help. I took a month off of work for inpatient treatment. When I returned, it was hard to adjust back without falling into old ways. I no longer felt like I belonged, I no longer knew my place. I had been that person in every workplace I had been in. It was my identity and my downfall because I didn’t know how to be that person in a healthy, positive way.
If this scenario seems all too familiar or you are just ready to move past the body-bashing, diet-focused BS and focus your time and thoughts elsewhere, click here for a few suggestions to try.