Working in the Food Industry with an Eating Disorder

Chef Cooking At A Restaurant

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.

Alternatively, some of you might dislike the idea of working so closely with food, but this was the first job that came along and you need to pay the bills. Regardless of how you ended up in the food industry, there are things you can proactively do to avoid slipping back into your eating disorder.

Coping with Triggers in the Food Industry

Constant exposure to food is typically the name of the game when you work in food service. Even if this is what drew you to this field in the first place, this reality can certainly lead to disordered food behaviors, including restriction, bingeing, purging, or a combination therein.

Minimum wage workers typically only get short breaks, depending on the length of their shift and state laws. This can make it challenging to fit in snacks and meals if you work in an entry-level position, so it is important to plan ahead to avoid resorting to behaviors. Either bring food to eat, or take advantage of the free meals or discounts you might receive as an employee.

Additionally, depending on your role in the food industry, you are likely on your feet all day in a fast-paced environment that involves lots of stress (and possibly intermittent criticism from patrons). It is widely known that substance abuse is a growing epidemic in the restaurant industry, in large part due to this stress. A recent survey found that full-time food service employees reported the highest rate of illicit drug use over the past month than any other industry, coming in at 19.1 percent [1].

It is important to process any uncomfortable emotions that come up throughout your workday so that they do not trigger disordered food behaviors or substance abuse when you get home after a long shift.

Making Recovery a Priority

Female Server At A RestaurantIf working in the food industry and all that it entails is too upsetting or triggering, it might be time to get back on the job hunt. No paycheck is worth your mental health and recovery, so consider searching for another position that will be a better fit.

And even if you are feeling good about the food industry and are looking to make this your career, be sure to still plan ahead with meals and snacks while processing any challenging stressors with your treatment team or support people. Making your recovery a priority will put things into perspective and support a healthy work-life balance.


Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.


[1]: Center for Behavior Health Statistics and Quality. (2013). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of national findings (HHS Publication No. SMA 13-4795, NSDUH Series H-46). Rockville, MD : Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 23, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 19, 2017.
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About Baxter Ekern

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