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Are you a law student or a lawyer with an eating disorder?


You’re definitely not alone.

In over 20 years of helping people recover from eating disorders, I have been shocked at how many of my clients are attorneys or law students.

So I decided to conduct a bit of online research. And the results were astonishing.

Constitution of the United States of America

In a recent, large-scale study of law student mental health from the Journal of Legal Education, 27% of law students (18% of male respondents and 34% of female respondents) screened positive for eating disorders (www.abovethelaw.com).

Brian's Story

One of the most famous attorneys brave enough to come out and disclose his troubled history with eating disorders is Brian Cuban, author of The Addicted Lawyer. In his book he describes a culture in the legal field that encourages over-functioning, stoicism and hard partying. In that type of environment, seeking help for any kind of problem (which is often misconstrued as weakness) can feel impossible.

In his popular blog, Mr. Cuban shares: “I felt completely stigmatized and alone in my eating disorder and did not feel that anyone could understand or help. Adding to the stigma was my profession. Not only was I a male with an eating disorder, I was a male lawyer with an eating disorder. How stigmatizing was that?”

Common Challenges Faced by Practicing Lawyers

For many years I have empathically listened to frustrated confessions from attorneys and law students who have had the courage to come see me for help with their own eating disordered behaviors (often combined with drinking or drug problems).

They describe work environments that place almost unbearable amounts of stress on them to amass as many billable hours as possible on the private sector side, and to handle an overwhelming caseload that could be easily divided among two or three attorneys on the public sector side.

Law students are often pushed to the limit to not only excel in classes but to endure the infamous “Socratic method” where students can be relentlessly grilled and criticized in front of their peers.

The Nebraska Law Review reports: The most common complaint against the Socratic Method is that it is cruel and psychologically abusive. Socratic professors are quick to criticize imperfect student answers, subjecting students to public degradation, humiliation, ridicule, and dehumanization. This torture often scars students for life.”

Add to that stiff competition for scarce internships, and the fact that most law school graduates face low starting salaries combined with huge amounts of debt; it is understandable that many law students and practicing attorneys can develop eating disorders and other dangerous behaviors to try and cope with the pressures.

Busy Work Schedule and LifestyleThe Risks

If you are a law student or a practicing attorney, ask yourself if you are prone to these risk factors developing eating disorders or substance abuse problems:

  1. Inadequate structural support

  2. Work overload

  3. Lack of social support

  4. Greater work expectations

  5. Younger age

  6. Having a personal history of abuse and/or trauma

  7. Being overly conscientious and perfectionistic

  8. Short-staffing, mandatory overtime, and unpaid vacation time.

  9. Presentation of job-related tasks as normal that most people would find uncomfortable (such as mediating high conflict divorces, defending abused children, and working 60 hours or more per week)

Remember that receiving counseling from qualified eating disorder professionals is by far the most important step you can take to recover.

What You Can Do

However, here are other steps you can implement on your own to enhance the progress of your counseling.

Physical Comforts:

  1. Making a conscious decision to put your self-care first not last

  2. Maintaining a balance of work and play

  3. Practicing intuitive eating

  4. Practicing joyful movement

  5. Limiting exposure to high stress clients and diversifying your caseload

  6. Respecting the limits of your workday schedule

  7. Taking regular breaks

  8. Eating lunch and taking a full hour away from your desk

  9. Maintaining a safe, private and comfortable workspace

  10. Delegating tasks you find joyless

  11. Use of alternative therapies: massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, etc.

Emotional Comforts

  1. Acknowledging when you help clients and improve their lives

  2. Taking time for self-reflection and creative expression

  3. Spending quality time alone

  4. Praising yourself

  5. Allowing yourself to cry

  6. Seeking supportive counseling or coaching

  7. Safeguarding your worldview (i.e. most people are good rather than most people are only out for themselves)

  8. Separating professional disappointments from personal worthiness

  9. Learning to say no

  10. Celebrating small accomplishments

  11. Not believing you work better under stress

Intellectual Comforts

  1. Know the signs for compassion fatigue and burnout

  2. Maintaining a realistic view of a client’s goals

  3. Maintaining membership and participation in professional affiliations and organizations

  4. Getting regular quality supervision or group supervision

  5. Do something different professionally (i.e. write an journal article, give a lecture, mentor a law student)

Social Comforts

  1. Spend regular time with friends and family

  2. Listen to the people who love you – you may be the last person to admit you have an eating disorder, drinking or drug problem.

  3. See your friends often

  4. Take your vacation time

  5. Pursue interests outside of work that help you make friends too

  6. Maintain your professional network

  7. Seek mentors and lean on them

Spiritual Comforts

  1. Spend time in nature

  2. Laugh

  3. Meditate

  4. Journal

  5. Practice deep breathing

  6. Get a pet

  7. Have faith in the resilience of your clients

  8. Consider working less and earning less and downsizing to compensate

  9. Remind yourself of the sacredness of your work and your role as a helper

Organizational Comforts

  1. Ask your organization to include trainings on burnout, compassion fatigue and dealing with addictions

  2. Express yourself in staff meetings

  3. Seek out supervisors who appreciate and support you

  4. Celebrate milestones as a team, such as anniversaries and birthdays

  5. Seek out support through your EAP program if you have one.

For all of you hard working law students and attorneys out there, I will leave you with the caring advice of Brian Cuban:


“I was bulimic and exercise bulimic (compulsive exercise with the primary goal of offsetting calories). Maybe you are dealing with one of those or the fastest-growing eating disorder, binge eating disorder. If you are suffering in silence as a law student or practicing lawyer, know that recovery is possible, but like with addiction, you have to take that first step forward regardless of the type of eating disorder.”


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