Supporting an employee with an eating disorder

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Health Assured team

01 February 2023

Eating disorder awareness week is just around the corner (27th February – 5th March). And this year, we’re helping you understand how you can support an employee suffering from an eating disorder.

Beat Eating Disorders estimate that around 1.25 million people have an eating disorder in the UK. Eating disorders are complex and in some cases, debilitating psychological conditions, eating disorders have a serious impact on an individual’s emotional and physical wellbeing.

As an employer, understanding how to support an employee with an eating disorder can help you support your team’s overall wellbeing. When you understand how mental health conditions impact people’s lives at work, you can do your bit to make a difference. Find our top tips for supporting employees with an eating disorder below.

Watch our podcast.

In this episode, Health Assured's Head of Clinical Support, Kayleigh Frost, speaks to counsellor Amy Hyman, about eating disorders.

Educate yourself on the illness

A common misconception surrounding people with eating disorders is that it will seriously impede their ability to perform and excel in their job. This isn’t necessarily the case, as on the whole, employees with an eating disorder will make a conscious effort to avoid their disorder from being noticed and therefore, it is unusual for their eating disorder to affect the quality of their work or be an issue for their colleagues.

The first thing you might notice are behavioural and psychological symptoms such as:

  • avoiding socialising when food will be involved
  • having very strict habits or routines around food
  • changes in mood such as being withdrawn, anxious or depressed

Alongside the eating restrictions comes low mood, worry, fear and isolation from others. These are often indicators that there is a deeper issue at play.   

Making reasonable adjustments

Due to the effects eating disorders can have on an employee’s wellbeing at work, employers should fulfil their duty of care by making reasonable adjustments to make their work life more manageable.

These reasonable adjustments may include longer lunch breaks if the employee eats at a slower place; removing a requirement to attend work lunches; or allowing the employee time off during peak working hours to attend medical appointments relating to the disorder.

The aim of the adjustment is to remove the barrier that the disorder presents to the employee in carrying out their role effectively and recovering from the illness.

Provide resources

One of the best way you can support your staff is by sharing health and wellbeing resources with them. Eating disorder Awareness Week is a great time to put together some information on the topic and share with employees.

This could take the form of a leaflet, a poster or a simple email. Collate resources that might be useful such as the many different helplines that are available to those who might be struggling with an eating disorder.

A good place to start is the charity Beat Eating Disorders, who have their own helpline and the NHS.

Promote support where available

If you have mental health or wellbeing support in place for your employees, make sure you are signposting to them where appropriate. Make your staff aware of the services that are available and what problems they can seek support with.

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