Whether you are dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free, or have any other type of dietary restriction, managing your diet in an office environment can be challenging.
1) Before work.
The first few days on any diet can be tough, whether it’s a diet adopted by choice or a diet adopted as a medical treatment. You don’t want to make it worse by having no acceptable food in your kitchen by the time Monday morning rolls around. And you don’t want to add any outside stress to your potentially already stressful week.
Diets aren’t necessarily about just eliminating food. They’re also about adding food, and substituting food. For example, if you are gluten-free, not only do you need to eliminate gluten from your diet, but you need to introduce other foods into your diet to be sure that you are getting the necessary nutrients that would normally be found in the glutenous foods you’ve eliminated.
Before the workweek starts, be sure that you have plenty of food to eat and haven’t just gotten rid of whatever you can’t eat. Eating out at lunch might not be as easy as it once was, so at least for the first week make sure you have enough food from your own home to sustain you.
2) During work.
If you’ve enlightened your colleagues to your new relationship with food, turning down a food that you actually can eat might cause a stir. It doesn’t matter if you hate rice cakes–they’re dairy-free and they’re being offered to you. And when you politely decline, you hear the protest: “But it’s dairy-free!” Yes, yes indeed. But so is tar, and you don’t like to eat that either. It might just take a while for your colleagues to adjust (and/or forget about your new dietary restriction) as well.
Or, say you are soy-free. Maybe the next time (or next five times) your colleagues order lunch as a group to save on delivery fees they tell you, “You pick the place and order since you know what you can eat.” You could interpret this as a genuine statement, or as code for “I don’t want the responsibility of ordering for everyone, and your soy restriction is a good excuse for you to do it instead.”
I get it. You’re sick of being stuck ordering for everyone, especially when you’re busy. But if you’re opting in to the group order and simply verbalizing your meal choice won’t work, isn’t ordering for yourself better than someone else ordering you a tofu wrap with a side of edamame?
3) After work.
If you don’t want the “life” part of your work-life balance to be dedicated entirely to your meal plan…have a meal plan. It will take you maybe an hour to come up with a meal plan for the entire week, an hour or two to buy the food, and another hour to cook in bulk.
This is a big chunk of time out of the week, but think about how much time you spend wandering the aisles in the grocery store wondering what to make for dinner or trying to remember if you have enough lunch for the next day. By the time you get home and start cooking, you’re ravenous. And then you do the same thing the next day because you were so hungry in the store the night before that you only bought enough food for dinner and rushed home.
By Friday, you’ve spent many unnecessary hours on this fruitless dance–double what you would have spent if you’d had a meal plan. Plus, having a meal plan written in front of you tends to highlight what foods you’re not getting enough of. Noticeable lack of leafy greens on your list? Add them in. I know I’d much rather go home and relax after work than worry that I have nothing in to eat.
There are many other challenges that manifest as a result of balancing an office job with dietary restrictions. And there are many ways to manage those challenges. What are some ways you’ve balanced your 9-5 (or 9-7) with your free-from diet?
Originally published on The Huffington Post.