You’ve been rocking the work-from-home routine, enjoying commute-free living and yoga pants on the daily.
But now it is time to go back to work: the boss has rung the back-to-work bell. And to be honest, you really don’t feel ready. At all.
Why? Besides the fact you can’t do laundry in between Zoom calls – your body doesn’t look the same as when you were last in the office, and that feels a little terrifying. What will people think?
If right now you’re asking “how do I replace this body shame and fear with some confidence”? This blog is for you!
body confidence takes practice
My clients have been yo-yo dieting for years. And if they do experience weight loss – even temporarily – it never really gets to the root of their body image issues. Instead, they just keep gaining weight with no skills to improve body image, making them feel even worse. Can you relate?
I know you’re exhausted with all that, so this post will help you take a different approach entirely; one WITHOUT the food guilt or body shame that goes hand in hand with dieting.
If you’re already working on your body confidence journey while at home – bravo! I recommend you check out this blog post to keep the momentum going: six intuitive eating tips for beginners.
While your “at home” body confidence may be feeling better, going back to work feels like an entirely different situation. It is fair to say that it is easier to have body confidence when you don’t have to leave the house or wear “professional clothes” in front of people who you’re trying to work with. That’s 100% okay to admit!
And even if the date to go back to work keeps getting pushed back, chances are the changing of the season will bring a reason to be seen again: weddings, potlucks, and networking events. The truth is, you’re going to have to interact with people, including your co-workers, at some point soon.
What’s a gal to do? How can you stay focused on your Intuitive Eating journey, as the circumstances change and challenge you?
Your changing body can distract you and make Intuitive Eating feel hard. On the one hand, you want to “not care” so you can keep the freedom you’ve found around food… on the other hand…maybe it is okay to do a quick diet to feel better. It feels super frustrating to be back in this place of questioning your choices around food. Again.
Even though you know it won’t work from your first 2 attempts, doing another quick round of the Whole30 sounds good right about now. Dieting is familiar, it is your usual tool for dealing with body confidence stress and it gives you the sense of control that you’re seeking.
This is just one example of how negative feelings can cause us to lean on dieting extremes. For more on this, visit my post called how body insecurities keep you stuck dieting.
For more connections to negative feelings influencing behavior, keep on reading.
are you going to dieting extremes?
As humans, we don’t like to feel uncomfortable. And if our body image is making us feel uncomfortable, we’ll do whatever we can to avoid or change those feelings. That’s human!
The desire to avoid body image discomfort might make you avoid challenging situations you feel judged (like avoiding a work party where you could have bonded with colleagues) or it might change your behavior when you’re there.
Here are two examples of how negative feelings can change your behavior:
One of my clients is a lawyer. She noticed she kept binging and drinking too much at networking events to soothe herself because she felt embarrassed by the idea her bigger size didn’t make her look professional.
Another one of my clients is a professor who worried about whether or not her clothes made her appear “professional” and deserving of respect. She had strict rules about wearing suits and slacks that felt super uncomfortable for her. On top of this, her body image triggers flared up every time she saw younger students who were thinner than she was. It distracted her from enjoying her passion for teaching.
Both of these women felt held back from their goals as professionals by their body image. It is hard when you feel so much pressure to look “put together” and compare yourself to others all the time!
The good news is that there is another way to deal with these negative feelings in a more constructive way, without beating yourself up, extreme behaviors that don’t make you feel comfortable, or avoiding important work situations to begin with. I can help!
other people’s judgment is not about you
First things first, it is important to remember that other people’s judgments aren’t about you; their judgments are about their life experiences, cultural norms, and their expectations. They do not get to decide if you’re valuable (you already are). They also don’t get to deduce if you’re professional (you are).
You – only you – get to decide those things.
If “dressing the part” is all that you need to earn respect in the workplace, what does that have to say for your ability to creatively solve problems, work cohesively in a team and manage multiple projects, all while keeping deadlines? Absolutely nothing!
If dressing the part is all that matters, there is a culture and inclusivity problem at your work.
Although it feels uncomfortable and at times triggers feelings of insecurity and lack of safety, this culture is not a YOU problem. It’s a them problem.
And although you might not be able to single-handedly change that culture, remembering your worth is not measured by being “put together,” is an important step toward cultivating your own body respect. You deserve respect and to be evaluated on your WORK, not your outfit or body size.
And to share a personal example: as an RD I’ve been told that my body is my business card.
That’s incredibly harmful. Like, how messed up is that? I’ve had 7 years of training and 15 years in the field. What does my body say about my ability? Again, absolutely nothing.
Over time I’ve gravitated toward people and spaces who don’t reinforce the idea my body is the most important part about me and I have done self-esteem work to remember I am more than my body. I am proud of the impact I’m having on the world because of the work that I do, not because of how I look or what outfit I’m wearing.
Psst: sometimes our partners and spouses don’t quite get it, yet. If these conversations are not feeling as constructive as you’d like, my blog post: how to communicate better with your spouse about Intuitive Eating might help!
know your why
I’d like to offer you more control as you head back to work in a different body, just not via a diet or berating yourself to fit into someone else’s expectations of what you should look like or wear.
Before you make any changes to your diet or movement, it is important to think about your intention behind your actions.
In Intuitive Eating, eating an apple because we should eat an apple to be “good” feels different than enjoying a sliced honey crisp apple because it sounds like the perfect snack today.
In either case, you’re eating an apple, but the actions can feel different because of the intention behind them.
Back to clothes…why are you wearing the specific outfit you have on? What are you trying to project in your clothing at work? Consider how to tap into that beyond thinness. See if you can push yourself to imagine the types of clothing that best represent who you are within the cultural norms of your organization.
For example, remember that professor client of mine? Through coaching, she was able to say wearing slacks (which felt uncomfortable for her) wasn’t really a requirement. She could get away with jeans and a blazer, like she saw other women wearing, as a way of evoking her authority while still feeling comfortable in her body. This is an important realization!
For this client, a change in work attire reduced triggers to diet immensely and helped her actually focus on her work instead of hiding or comparing her body. It is far easier to focus and be productive when your body is physically comfortable. Plus, she wound up feeling kind of cute with her new looks – huzzah!
Ready for a second example?
Another client was a dentist who wanted to look “cute and put together,” even though she wore scrubs on a daily basis. (BTW – scrubs often FEEL comfortable, but I’m not sure they make ANYONE feel like the most stylish version of themselves! Do you agree?). She said her scrubs fitting differently than her smaller-bodied peers challenged her self-image. So, she started investing in new hairpieces and footwear that matched and looked intentional. This small shift helped her to feel more like herself in her bigger body. She felt like she could express her style and show how put together she really was!
How you talk to yourself is important, so too is talking with people you trust. Let’s cover that next.
talk with someone you trust
Negative feelings about your body can feel heavy…even more so when you keep them to yourself.
Talk it out with someone you trust: having constant internal concerns about how you look is exhausting. And it’s not something you should have to carry alone (or keep carrying – though it takes practice to let those feelings go).
You’re always worth the support of your community of friends and colleagues.
Many of my clients have benefited from talking to trusted friends. Because not everyone can understand intuitive eating, I help clients identify who might be a supportive ally and how to go about sharing body image worries in a way that feels safe.
One example is a client of mine who told a colleague she really trusted “my body has changed since I saw you last. I’m a little worried about it. I’m only telling you so you know not to say anything harsh.”
Do you know what the friend replied?
My client’s friend was worried about the exact same thing and when they reunited at work they were able to jump back in on being work besties without any weirdness or worry. How freeing is that?
If you don’t have someone you trust, consider finding a coach trained in body image or an online community like mine where you can cope and process your feelings.
Weight stigma is a real concern in the workplace, and unlike other stigmas such as mental health or gender bias, weight stigma is the only one where many avoid support. This matters because support is what reduces guilt and shame.
When you feel stigmatized, the worst thing you can do is isolate yourself. And because many folks in bigger bodies struggle to be associated with other people in bigger bodies there can be real isolation!
Did you know that in the US, 2/3 of our population are in bigger bodies (1)? You’re not alone.
As a dietitian specializing in body image for this population, I’ve made it a point to bring people together and remind them: the experience is common, and we don’t have to internalize it to our own detriment anymore, at work or anywhere else!
key takeaways: back to work with confidence
It is okay to acknowledge that going back to work in a different body can feel scary and hard.
It is also important to know that with change, we get the chance to practice new skills and watch our confidence as Intuitive Eaters grow. A lot of your self-esteem around your body has to do with the messages you choose to internalize.
Do you want to continue berating yourself for not matching an arbitrary and hurtful norm of thinness? Or did this post help you work toward a more constructive and confident mindset going forward? If you want to find lasting peace and confidence in your body – it’s time to practice body acceptance.
If you found these tips helpful, I’m so glad! For even more, join my newsletter so that you’re first in line to read new posts, hot off the press.