It’s eating disorder awareness week from 25th February – 3rd March 2023 and we are considering how to approach eating disorders in the workplace and how to support employees facing the challenges of an eating disorder.

According to Beat, it is estimated that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. However, discussions about eating disorders are often neglected, especially in the workplace.

As an employer, it’s important to be aware of the potential signs of an eating disorder and to take appropriate steps to support employees who may be struggling.

Understanding an eating disorder

Eating disorders are a group of conditions characterised by an unhealthy relationship with food and body image. The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, environmental triggers, and psychological and emotional factors which can lead to negative effects on physical health.

Impact on the workplace

An eating disorder can have a significant impact on an employee’s work life, affecting their physical and emotional wellbeing in a variety of ways, from decreased productivity and increased absenteeism to difficulties with interpersonal relationships and burnout. Additionally, the pressure and stress of the workplace can also trigger or worsen eating disorder behaviours, making it important for managers to be supportive and understanding.

Recognising the signs of an eating disorder at work

To support employees struggling with eating disorders, it’s important to be aware of the potential signs and symptoms of these conditions. Some common signs of an eating disorder may include:

  • Extreme weight loss or gain
  • Changes in food behaviour or eating habits such as missing meals
  • Decreased energy levels or increased fatigue
  • Changes in mood, behaviour or becoming irritable
  • Frequently going to the toilet, particularly straight after eating
  • Being obsessed with food and calories
  • Disturbed body image, for example, complaining of being fat, even though they have a normal weight or are underweight
  • Difficulty concentrating or retaining information
  • Absences or not being punctual
  • Social withdrawal

Approaching the Employee

When addressing an eating disorder in the workplace, it’s important to provide employees with the necessary support and resources to help them overcome these challenges. Here are a few steps you can take to support employees who may be struggling with eating disorders:

Be flexible: Consider offering flexible working arrangements to accommodate employees who require support. This may include permitting time off for medical appointments, providing longer or more frequent breaks, and adjusting shift schedules for those working unsocial hours. Being flexible can significantly improve an employees’ mood and productivity.

Connect the employee with professional resources: Help the employee access support from mental health charities like Beat, who specialise in eating disorders, through their helpline or use of online resources. Additionally, if your company has an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place, use that to connect the employee to further supportFind out more about PAM Wellbeing’s EAP here.

Team activities and socials: When arranging team events and socials, be mindful that bringing cake to work or going out for meals can be stressful for those living with an eating disorder. Consider opting for team building exercises like quizzes, crazy golf, escape rooms instead of food-based socials.

Promote a healthy work-life balance: Creating a supportive work environment starts with promoting a healthy work-life balance and offering mental health resources to employees. Encourage self-care by allowing breaks and promoting activities that improve overall wellbeing. During eating disorders awareness week, consider providing materials to raise awareness and educate your staff.