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The Question

I've struggled privately with an eating disorder for 11 years. I have found ways to cope with it at home relatively well. However, I work in an office that is absolutely obsessed with food. Co-workers regularly bring in huge tubs of licorice, brownies, cookies, and it's always somebody's birthday. I have no issue politely declining birthday cake but it's a different story when there is constantly a tub of candy that I have to walk past literally more than 20 times a day. Stress, including job stress, is a major trigger for me and I end up back in the vicious cycle, which includes depression and anxiety. Work has become an extremely unhealthy environment for me.

I have no issue with food being offered around or kept in private spaces such as in personal offices or in a desk drawer; I just struggle with the "communal candy bowl." Is there a way I can stop this situation without revealing my private problem and without offending or inconveniencing my co-workers?

The First Answer

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner,, Toronto

As with any type of disorder, I encourage you to participate in support groups outside of work or gain advice for treatments from your health care professional. Your participation in these rehabilitation programs will help make you stronger when faced with these situations both at work and outside of work and contribute to a healthy life.

Also, speak to your HR department about employee assistance programs (EAPs) they offer. This will also provide you with additional support on how to cope with this situation at work, particularity, and provide strategies to heal.

Health and wellness is a important topic in the workplace. Many businesses are encouraging wellness to their staff by providing subsidies to gym memberships, sessions from professionals on healthy living, and active team building activities to promote wellness.

While you may not want to discuss your situation with your colleagues, you should speak to HR and your manager so they are aware and can provide you support whenever possible. Feel free to suggest a healthy snack initiative. For your birthday, bring in a fruit platter and start a new trend of healthy eating in the workplace. You may be surprised who will follow your lead.

The Second Answer

Greg A. Chung-Yan

Organizational psychology professor, University of Windsor

You don't have to have an eating disorder to object to having sugary temptation shoved in your face every day; healthy living is challenging enough. Keep in mind, though, your co-workers likely mean well; it's their way of establishing a collegial work environment. Luckily, the public discourse on healthy lifestyles has grown.

You can talk to your manager and point out that the communal foods might have negative consequences not considered. It makes life difficult for people who want to be healthy, many of whom struggle with their weight or health issues like diabetes.

Regardless of what approach you take, surround yourself with like-minded people. Openly discuss healthy living with your colleagues. Don't lecture them on a proper diet, but ask what they do for exercise and what they think of all the sugar in the office.

Remember, even though people don't publicly object to something, doesn't mean they endorse it. When you discover that others think the occasional bowl of apples might be nice and are also passing up the junk food, it will be easier for you to pass it up too, even if the candy bowl remains.

Although you don't have to reveal your eating disorder, neither should you feel shame in struggling with something many Canadians struggle with, too often alone. Do not avoid seeking professional help, maybe from your organization's employee assistance program.

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