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Surviving in the Food Industry with an Eating Disorder

Restaurants are centers for entertainment, nourishment, fun, and celebration. But for many who make them their life’s work, chefs, servers, restaurant managers, food photographers, and beyond, food is complicated. Chefs and servers work odd, grueling hours on their feet, always surrounded by food. Working in the food service industry can be rewarding, but it is vital for those recovering from eating disorders to evaluate if it will be contributing to or detracting from their recovery. Individuals with eating disorders often develop an obsession with food, including meal preparation and cooking for others, leading many to pursue careers in the culinary arts. Others might seek entry-level jobs in food service out of convenience, including positions as greeters, servers, or bussers. Some may develop an eating disorder while working in the food industry. Whether you are a well-known chef working in a five-star restaurant, a waitress at a cocktail bar, a food delivery driver; working in the food industry while struggling with an eating disorder can be difficult and may even perpetuate your disorder if you are not careful. With that being said, it is possible to still remain in the food industry during your recovery as long as you have the coping skills and the tools to handle any sort of triggers that may come your way.

Common eating disorder triggers in the food service industry

  • High paced job can lead to stress, which can cause you to want to use food as a coping mechanism
  • Food industry workers often have short breaks which means a limited time to eat a snack or meal which can lead to grabbing whatever food you find handy
  • The constant exposure to food can trigger you to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as binging, purging or restricting
  • The restaurant industry is widely known for substance abuse, which often co-occurs with an eating disorder
  • Always overhearing conversational fragments about the nutritional value of the food

Signs you may need to take a break from the food service industry

  • You find yourself continually obsessing about food while you are at work
  • You are purging or binging on your breaks
  • You are continually judging customers by what they are ordering
  • You find yourself continuously counting calories in your head while at work
  • You use food as a stress reliever when you come home from work
  • You are continually sneaking bits of food
  • You are overwhelmed with feelings of guilt after eating a meal

Seeking help for your eating disorder

Many well-known culinary artists have left the food industry to seek advice for their eating disorder and for others, it may take years until they realize they actually have an eating disorder. Returning back to the industry after treatment and having a new perspective on food is what helps many individuals in recovery succeed in this industry. Chef Jennifer Ophir, left her career in retail design at the age of thirty-four to follow her culinary dreams. Ophir graduated from culinary school, cooked on the line in a Michelin-starred restaurant, taught aspiring chefs, and led food tours. Now she works as a private chef and food stylist. Her eating struggles flourished in tandem with her career. Her obsession with food eventually became an unhealthy and gratifying relationship, and she later went to treatment for food addiction and began the long, slow process of changing her relationship with food. “I started to realize the food for work was not my food. I could still be creative and appreciate the fine art of cooking and plating and serving, yet I don’t need to engulf all of that.”

Recovery and having a healthy relationship with food is possible, but sometimes, you may need to step away from the industry for a limited or for an extended time to seek treatment for your eating disorder.

Center For Discovery