Looking out for colleagues at work with an eating disorder

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Health Assured team

27 February 2023

Food plays a central role in many workplaces. From office treats to team dinners and lunchrooms to diet culture—many things make life at work more difficult for people with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are mental health conditions that can seriously affect daily life. 

Beat Eating Disorder estimate that eating disorders affect around 1.25 million people in the UK. That’s many people out there, possibly in your workplace, that are struggling.  

This is why it's so important that we take steps to understand what an eating disorder is, how we can spot the signs and how we can support others.

Food is woven into our culture, conversations, and connections—and this shows up in the workplace too. If you've not experienced an eating disorder before, it's hard to understand how this can cause difficulties. So we’ve put together some tips on how you can look out for colleagues with an eating disorder in your workplace. 


What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders affect mental health and relationship with food. People with an eating disorder use food to cope with emotions and difficulties. There are a range of eating disorders that affect people differently. These include (this list isn’t exhaustive):

Anorexia – controlling food intake and exercising a lot to keep weight as low as possible.

Bulimia – a cycle of binging then taking drastic action not to put on weight (such as vomiting).

Binge Eating Disorder – eating large quantities of food to the point of feeling uncomfortably full and experiencing shame or guilt about the binge.


Spotting the signs 

Different eating disorders come with different symptoms. But things to look out for include:

  • Increased stress levels
  • Physical changes (weight gain/loss)
  • Distancing themselves from others
  • Abnormal or secretive eating habits
  • Mood swings
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Increased irritability
  • Excessive concern about weight, exercise and food 

*This is not an exhaustive list of warning signs


Supporting colleagues with an eating disorder 

The earlier a person seeks treatment, the greater their chances of recovery. Try to create a supportive environment at work that encourages others to open up when they're struggling. You can find our top tips for this below.

If you think someone might have an eating disorder 

If you’re concerned about a colleague at work, there are a few things you can do. Try to keep the conversation about food to a minimum and talk about other things where you can. Removing comments and narratives about weight gain or loss will also help. Often, we don’t realise how deeply engrained these topics are into our conversations until we pay more attention to them.  

Try to check in regularly with them to see how they are. Ask genuine questions and really listen to the responses. It’s all too easy to get lost in busy work schedules. But taking a quick five minutes to stop and connect with the people around you can make all the difference.  

If someone at work opens up to you 

Opening up takes a lot of courage. If someone opens up to you at work, there are several things you can do to support them. Listen carefully and try your best to make the person feel heard and understood. Don’t judge the person. Eating disorders are a serious mental health condition, and they can make day-to-day life a challenge.

Be accepting and open with the language you use. You don’t need to have all the answers. Just being there and creating a safe space to talk can be enough to ease difficult emotions.


If you need support with eating disorders, please get in touch with Health Assured on: 

UK: 0844 892 2493

ROI: 01 886 0324



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