For some people their place of work can be their biggest obstacle when it comes to eating and emotions. For those who love what they do, food is not likely to feature heavily in their day. But if you dislike your job in any way, if it makes you stressed, unhappy, bored or anxious, then food is always on hand any time of the day to help get you through it. This eating can carry on into the evening as we take our work and the emotion it causes us home.
There are several aspects to our working life that affect our happiness and emotions. It’s important to recognise them all as individual rather than just general work issues so that you can recognise where to apply your focus.
Every work environment has a culture of its own. The culture of a workplace is how it encourages or discourages personal time like taking breaks and time for lunch, whether you are expected to work late, be available at all hours, take work home and taking time off. The general culture of a place is provided by the management, they create stress or relaxation, and they do it to make the environment fit them first. Take some time to think about the culture of where you work and how it makes you feel. Can you recognise who it comes from and do you put expectation on yourself to go along with it. What would happen if you took a full lunch to eat slowly, took time for yourself instead of working late.
Millions of people work every day in jobs they don’t like because they need money, as simple as that. Any job that gives you no pleasure or fulfilment is going to create emotion within you that you will want to get rid of quickly. Food distracts from the boredom, and gives us some fun for a few minutes during the long days. We all know those people who ‘graze’ all day at work. This is just another form of overeating, even if they do it with carrots and pumpkin seeds. The constant supply of food distracts and keeps them feeling better. Offices are full of ‘treats’ brought in by those who recognise that only food is going to help them get through the day. Finding fulfilling work is possible, but not usually overnight. Developing ways to create fulfilment elsewhere can stop the emptiness growing.
If you work full time, then you spend more time with your work colleagues than you do your own family. This requires bonding, a way to fit in, to connect and be alike so that the relationships and therefore the days go easier. After all it’s far easier to spend every day with people you can connect with than with some you don’t. Food can provide that connection as a shared experience. Bonding can happen when we share food, talking about it, comparing diets and weight and bodies. Like any form of group eating it has a reason and within a bonding group it provides permission to eat. Eating together removes the stress that you may feel from eating alone. Refusal of food in a work group can often damage relationships and can even cause problems in teams.
My work as an accountant has always been my weak spot with eating because has never given me any pleasure. It was wrong for me from day one but for 20 years I was too lost to change it. To get the relief and escape I needed, I grazed, I ate alone, I overate shared food and then I would buy more food on the way home to get me through the evening when all I would think about was going back to work the next day. It was never about the people, the people I worked with were always great; it was purely my lack of fulfilment. Controlling how you think when you are at work is hard because you are not in control of what you think about. You have to think about your job, which can cause the boredom, but you have no choice, after all that’s why they are paying you. To change it needs vigilance and persistence but it is possible to do a job you dislike and not overeat.
Notice why you are choosing to eat
Once you are aware of your true motivation to eat you can choose what to do next. Notice what you are reaching for and be fully aware when you are choosing to eat to feel better. Sometimes we just have to do it, but know that there is always something else you can do, it just takes more effort.
Create a space/person to go to
Having a place to go to when you feel overwhelmed with boredom or unhappiness can help interrupt any feelings to eat that start to come up. It could be a room, a person to talk to, even a trip to the bathroom. Just a few minutes of getting back to your own thoughts can take away that anxiety and give you space to choose how to feel instead. When I first began this I spent a disturbing amount of time in the ladies’ toilet, but eventually I was able to choose my feelings without leaving my desk.
Have a (very) short-term plan
Knowing you have something to enjoy coming up that you can focus on is very helpful. During the morning I would think about lunchtime when I could read or go for a walk, and during the afternoon I could think about what I was going to do that evening to feel good. This technique requires you to create things that you enjoy. You will be motivated to arrange things for lunchtimes, evenings and weekends that make you feel good, so that you have something that creates good feelings when you think of them.
Have a long-term plan
Most people who dislike their jobs focus on retirement and holidays; they assume not working at all is the only thing better than working. But human beings are meant to work, we are meant to create something from nothing and it is up to you to find out what that is. Think about what you love to do, what you are good at and then do whatever you can to spend as much time as possible doing it. If you’re not sure what that is, start by deciding how you want work to feel. If you want to feel excited and motivated to get out of bed each morning, then think about things you do now that make you feel that way. Then make plans to do it as much as possible in the present. Not when you’re retired, not when you’re on holiday but now, every evening or lunchtime or morning. Having the plan, the feeling of being able to always do what you love, gives you something better to focus on when you’re bored at work. This is where the fulfilment comes from.
Work is important but not important enough to let it decide how you eat. Your boss might control your time but never your happiness, that is always your choice.