Eating Disorders in the Workplace

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Health Assured team

24 November 2023

We are coming to the end of 2023 and the Covid-19 pandemic feels like a lifetime ago for many of us. However, some people are still dealing with the marks it left in their lives.

Eating disorders are not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about delayed struggles from the pandemic, yet studies suggest that it is on the rise because of the Coronavirus and it’s lockdowns.

The London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image reported that “UK hospital admissions for eating disorders have risen 84% in the last 5 years” and “the most notable contributor to more recent rises is likely to be the impact of the COVID pandemic.”

Support for people living and working with eating disorders has never been so important.

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a mental health condition which uses the control of food to manage feelings and situations.

Unhealthy habits grow from the control of food, for example, obsessively monitoring food intake, eating too much or too little, and constantly worrying about weight.

When talking about eating disorders, we mostly think of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia or binge eating disorder. Yet, there is a wide range of eating disorders and there are many more that should be known and understood.

Types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • ARFID (Avoidance Restrictive Food Intake Disorder)
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Orthorexia
  • Pica
  • Rumination Disorder

What are some eating disorder warning signs?

Everyone with an eating disorder will be unique, with different triggers and warning signs. But there are some common signs to look out for if you think a colleague may be struggling with an eating condition.

Below are some warning signs to watch out for:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Going to the bathroom a lot after eating
  • Avoiding eating with others
  • Eating a lot of food fast
  • Cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
  • Wearing loose or baggy clothes to hide their weight loss

These signs might be more noticeable around lunchtimes or while out at work occasions such as a celebratory dinner event.

How can an eating disorder affect a colleague?

Eating disorders can be physically and mentally draining for the person. It is no surprise that having an eating disorder can significantly impact energy levels and nutrients, consequently affecting the person’s mental wellness and ability to work productively.

They may come across as anxious and tired constantly, they often have low moods or can appear anxious around mealtimes.

Here are some ways a colleague could be struggling at work:

  • Impacts performance
  • Avoiding social occasions, especially events centred around food.
  • Feeling tired and drained a lot
  • Feeling irritable
  • Potentially burnt out or nearing burn out
  • Fear of someone noticing struggles with food
  • Fear of eating lunch around others

How do eating disorders affect the workspace?

It’s no surprise that having an eating disorder is harmful to mental health. It can lower mood, decrease momentum, and rouse anxiety, leading to overall poor mental health.

Colleagues experiencing weakened mental health in the workplace can experience reduced productivity, faded confidence, and increased absences.

As an employer, it is essential to understand eating disorders so you are able to support and comfort colleagues who may need it.

How to support someone with an eating disorder?

It is vital that policies, procedures, and support are provided to allow colleagues to navigate eating disorders and to boost mental wellbeing.

Here are some ways you can support someone at work who may be struggling with an eating disorder:

  1. Compassion and understanding

There is nothing worse than when you feel low, and someone does not care to understand or have any compassion towards your situation. This is no different for people with eating disorders.

Being compassionate, fair, and understanding is fundamental to supporting people with eating disorders. Eating disorders can be extremely emotional to deal with so having compassion is essential.

Try to research and understand their eating disorder but do not push them if they do not feel like talking. Get to know them outside of the disorder, what are their likes and dislikes? Make them feel as though they are supported and a valuable member of the team. Above all let them know you are always there if they need any support.

  1. Have an open-door policy

Feeling alone whilst managing an eating disorder can be detrimental to mental health.

Implementing an open-door policy allows individuals with eating disorders to discuss any issues they may have.

This is also a good opportunity for employers and managers to understand their disorders better, refining valuable knowledge to assist them further. For example, are there any adjustments they may need in their workspace? Do they need flexible working hours? Is anything in the office triggering them?

Signpost useful resources so they can better understand their eating disorder and find ways to cope on their own.

As an employer your top priority should be to make them feel safe, heard and that they have someone to talk to should they need it.

  1. Arrange social occasions that do not involve food

Many social occasions revolve around food, and it is a good way to show your workforce how you appreciate their hard work. However, those who have eating disorders often feel anxious when around food with other people and it can be very confusing for them to decide whether to attend, further escalating loneliness.

Arranging social occasions that don’t involve food will ease those anxieties and give people coping with eating disorders a chance to socially connect with other people without the worry of food.

Some ideas you could try are a fundraising event like a sponsored walk, a wellness retreat to get everyone relaxed, or an escape room which is great for team building.

  1. Offer counselling.

Many organisations are offering counselling to their people as a way to provide support to those who need it.

Adopting an Employee Assistance Programme is a great way to offer counselling to your people.

Counselling offers a unique opportunity for those struggling to discuss their issues in a safe, open, and honest environment, at their own pace, and in their own time.

Counsellors will often present different perspectives, advice and ways to cope with their specific needs, helping them on their way to recovery.

Supporting employees with eating disorders?

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides guidance and supports your employees with their mental health. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all.

We support employees mental wellbeing with any problems they might be facing in their professional or personal lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.


Find out more about EAPs



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