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Why I Dread Eating Lunch at the Office

In July, I’m going to start my first job, post-graduation. This being the case, there are several questions I often get asked.

“Are you excited?”

“When do you start?”

“Is there anything you’re not looking forward to?”

I have my usual answers.

“Yes, I’m super excited.”

“I start in July.”

“Uum, I don’t really know.”

The latter answer is a lie. I know exactly which aspect of my new job terrifies me most: eating lunch. It’s difficult to explain to someone why the idea of eating lunch at an office each day makes your heart clench and your breath shorten.

The reason for such a reaction: I have an eating disorder. A disorder that manifests itself in many different ways and has gone through many cycles over the last four years. Due to the nature of the work I will be doing, this is now a disorder many of my colleagues in my office are very much aware of. I should say, I did disclose this willingly, and everyone was incredibly supportive. However, rather than feeling as though the weight of my disorder has been lifted somewhat, it now feels heavier than ever, all because of lunch.

Meals for eating disorder sufferers can be ordeals, riddled with anxiety and emotional turmoil. For me, mealtime with someone who knows my disorder feels even worse. There’s no passing off a lack of lunch to the excuse, “I’m just not hungry,” no nibbling at snacks or binning food. A constant battle rages between the lines of “Have I eaten enough to satisfy them?” and “Have I eaten too much?” Sometimes the two lines are close, and there’s a happy medium. Other times the “too much” line is too far away to even see the other.

Suddenly, it feels like I’m not only fighting my own brain, but I’m fighting theirs’ too. Feeling watched with every mouthful, every choice made about food being judged, evaluated. There’s a whole other set of expectations to meet, and I have no idea what each individual deems as acceptable. There’s a constant tug-of-war between pleasing those around me, and pleasing the disorder, and only satisfying one is not an option.

Then there are the days when things don’t feel so bad. When I think I maybe could manage the hummus wrap or pasta salad. Then those days come with new anxieties: Will people suddenly think I’m cured? Does this invalidate all I’ve said before? Am I even really sick? A day that might have seen me enjoy a meal in the comfort of my own home becomes a minefield in the office. I’m back to biting my fingernails in the supermarket and spending 15 minutes deliberating over a sandwich, trying not to cry.

As an eating disorder sufferer, one of my biggest challenges is feeling my disorder is invalid. By not being tiny, I have no justification when I tell people how I feel. By choosing to eat, I am denying the claim I make about my experience. When I don’t simply survive on celery and green tea, every word I say about my disorder is a big fat lie. Having to eat lunch as a group simply exasperates all of this.

Right now, I don’t have any answers. I have no idea how my disorder will be in two months time. I don’t know if I’ll be floating or drowning. I hope maybe this will resonate with someone. I feel so many of us just remain silent. So from one sufferer, to another, you’re not alone in how you feel. I get it.