Why Smart Business Women Don’t Diet: How Healing Your Food and Body Image Issues Can Improve Your Career

It’s Monday around 3 pm. I’m in my cubicle, staring at the flashing cursor on my screen trying to articulate a point to my colleague in a nice but “I know what I’m talking about’ kind of way. I’m Foggy. Stressed. Hungry. It’s not going well.

This was, sadly, the scene on most Mondays for me, after a weekend of binging. Feeling awful physically and mentally, vowing to get back on the clean eating train. I had to do things differently this time, and actually stick to something for once in my life. 

This translated to a restrictive diet of some sort. Which inevitably incurred a 3 pm slump, through which I’d wonder how long it’d take me to grab a coffee and a cookie from the bakery two blocks over, before remembering I was no longer allowed to enjoy cookies.

I’d sit there, wavering over the cookie, instead of writing the email. And then get stressed over said unwritten email, and the rest of my very long to-do list.

This, as you might assume or know from personal experience, is not a very effective, or enjoyable way to work.

Which brings me to my very poetic and thoughtfully-crafted thesis statement: dieting can really fuck with your career.

Today we’re gonna explore how dieting and the constant pursuit of ‘fixing’ your appearance can affect your ability to thrive at work. We’ll also look at why this struggle can impact entire teams, companies and industries, and what the antidote is. 

This is for you if you, too, have had far too many miserable Monday afternoons at the office internally debating the goddamn cookie.

What is Disordered Eating, and Why does it Matter for Working Women?

Defining disordered eating is complicated. We live in a culture where it’s completely normalized thanks to our obsession with thinness, and it can be tricky to decipher disordered eating behavior, which may affect around 50 percent of the population, from a diagnosed eating disorder. 

Some common signs of disordered eating are: 

  • Restricting food and chronic dieting
  • Binge eating
  • Obsessing about food
  • Measuring your value or self-worth by your weight
  • Preoccupation with how you look and your body size
  • Excessive or punitive exercise
  • Anxiety or fear around food

The distinction between disordered eating and eating disorders comes down to the frequency or severity of these behaviors. 

If you believe you might be struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to us at hello@wellnesslately.com. We would be happy to refer you to a trusted specialist in our personal network!

Why Does Understanding Disordered Eating Matter?

Because all these highly common, influencer-promoted, normalized behaviors to manipulate food and our bodies steal our time, energy, money, and mind space.

Think about it. For women who struggle with run of the mill disordered eating, the average amount of mind space consumed thinking about food is 50-60 percent (and up to 100 percent or more for those who struggle with a clinically diagnosed eating disorder), as Melanie Rogers, the Founder and Executive Director of BALANCE eating disorder treatment center™, told us in this conversation.

50-60 percent! Of course we’re distracted and struggling to get shit done.

And let’s not forget about the 70 billion dollar diet industry. The one for which women shell out their paychecks on weight loss programs, anti-aging creams, detox shakes, botox, and laxative flavored tea.

In The Invisible Corset, author Lauren Geertsen reports that Spanx was valued at a billion dollars in 2012. “That’s a billion dollar industry based on restricting women’s comfort for the sake of an arbitrary beauty ideal,” she writes.

This is, of course, not surprising. A little unnerving to really marinate in those numbers maybe, but not surprising. 

We live in a patriarchal society that places a premium on beauty and thinness, and this is intentional. The more we exert our energy and resources on striving or maintaining a level of perfection required for happiness and success as women, the less concerned we are with demanding equality and change. The less power we hold. The less holes we’re poking. 

Hard to speak up and challenge the jackass in marketing’s crappy campaign at the company-wide meeting when you’re worried your arms look flabby in your sleeveless shirt, you know?

So. What if women stopped buying into this industrial complex and all that money was spent differently? 70 billion dollars would go a long way. What if instead of allocating half their time trying to perfect themselves, they learned new skills to apply at work, or picked up new certifications to advance their careers?

We’d have a very different workplace, and a drastically different world.

How to Thrive at Work By Overcoming Food and Body Image Challenges

The path to building confidence at your job and finding more success in your career has nothing to do with becoming more attractive. We’ve been sold that idea our entire lives as women, so it makes total sense that we all feel that way. Plus there are very real situations of fatphobia, sexism and discrimination to navigate.

But it’s not a cold, hard fact that we need to improve our appearance in order to build our confidence or excel at work. We can challenge that notion, and realize it’s just something we’ve all been brainwashed by diet culture to believe.

Here’s what is true. You find more energy and productivity by freeing up all the mind space and time that’s currently allotted for ‘fixing’ your appearance and shrinking yourself. That shit is stressful (no really, they did the studies). Not to mention, dieting negatively affects body image and self esteem, and simply doesn’t work. Plus, being hungry all the time is distracting. And being hangry all the time doesn’t make for great workplace relationships, which are key for advancement. 

Here’s the proven formula we use around these parts to help women reclaim their mind space, time and energy:

  1. Give up dieting and become an intuitive eater
  2. Build true, lasting, body image resilience
  3. Create clarity around what you want your life to look like and focus on more meaningful, fulfilling goals and pursuits

Let’s walk through why this approach is so important for women who wanna break those glass ceilings, but can’t seem to find the energy on their allotted Weight Watchers points.

Why Intuitive Eating?

Dieting takes up an enormous amount of mind space. Obsessing over carbs, macros or calories. Internal debates over non-organic vegetables. Restriction directly leads to intense cravings, feeling out of control around food, and binging. So the alternative? Learning how to relate to food in a different way. Becoming an Intuitive Eater and creating a healthy, peaceful relationship with food, so it takes up less space in your brain, doesn’t constantly leave you feeling guilty or ashamed, and allows you to relax about the whole thing. Our clients report feeling rested, more energized and increased overall happiness. Crazy what can happen you just eat and it feels like no big deal.

If that sounds like a dream scenario for you, that’s where we come in. You can grab our free download with 10 steps to start Intuitive Eating right here, which is a handy companion as you begin listening to your body and unlearning all the food rules. You can also check out our complete guide to Intuitive Eating, where we get into all the stuff in detail and share our favorite resources. 

Embracing Body Neutrality

In addition to addressing your relationship with food, body image’s gotta be a factor in reclaiming your mind space and energy for two reasons. One: shitty body image is often the underlying trigger for those food issues we just talked about. When you look in the mirror and call yourself disgusting, that’s what prompts you to start the diet, or punish yourself on the treadmill, or consider botox. So healing your body image helps to evaporate the constant struggle with food.

And two, when we care less about how we look, we have the energy and resources to put into other things. Women, on average, spend an average of $225,000 to 300,000 on beauty expenses over the course of their life, another staggering statistic disclosed in The Invisible Corset. What if we all simply decided to stop buying in? If we stopped spending so much money on cellulite cream, covering up our grays, or erasing wrinkles, and instead looked for ways to advance our career (or any big life goal)? Things like books, education or certifications or conferences to learn cool new stuff that actually impacts your life in a meaningful way. 

The crucial tool we use in our own lives and teach our clients is body neutrality. It’s what allows you to separate your appearance from your worth and your confidence. Instead of trying to convince yourself that you’re beautiful or repeat empty affirmations on the stairclimber, you simply let go of the need to be. You can have an awesome, happy, confident life and take great care of your health, without giving so much thought to how beautiful you are. It’s wonderfully freeing. 

The more you fixate on their appearance, the less satisfied you’ll be with it. The trick is to focus on more meaningful things and work to deemphasize the importance of the size of your jeans. 

Shifting to More Meaningful Goals and Pursuits

An interesting thing happens when we stop thinking so damn much about food and our bodies. We have some mental space to think about what we actually want out of life, which may surprise us. 

When I stopped dieting, I realized I was pretty miserable in my role at work. I wasn’t sad because I couldn’t lose weight, I was sad because I was spending 80% of my waking hours in a toxic environment with horrible management, cramped cubicles, and shitty heat. I also came to terms with the fact that the relationship I was in wasn’t really what I wanted, and you know what I didn’t really want to live in my apartment anymore either. 

When we shift our focus from fixing ourselves to getting clarity around what we want our life to look like and how to make that vision happen. We pursue goals that actually bring us happiness, fulfillment and success, like a killer career, or a loving family or an exciting adventure. 

Granting Permission

When we grant ourselves permission to opt out of diet culture, we make it easier for women around us to do the same. More women speak up in meetings, conversations at the proverbial water cooler explore other things, and we lift each other up in much more meaningful ways. That’s how we all shift a culture together, not by complimenting each other on weight loss or or sharing diet advice.

Putting this into Practice

So now that you have an idea for what’s possible and understand how leaving dieting behind can help you thrive in your career, it’s time to put those three steps into practice:

  1. Give up dieting and become an intuitive eater 
  2. Work on your body image and embrace body neutrality
  3. Create clarity around what you want your life to look like and focus on meaningful, fulfilling goals and pursuits

If this is all resonating with you and you and you’re ready to rock but could use support, we’ve got you. Book a free breakthrough call with one of our coaches here and we’ll create a personal game plan for you! Don’t let diet culture hold you back for one more day. 

And if you think this is information your team or company could use, we offer virtual corporate workshops as well. We love jamming with smart women about how to make these principles work for them and find true wellbeing, so they can become happier, more energized and productive employees. Shoot us a note at hello@wellnesslately.com if that’s something you’re interested in booking!

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