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How to support your staff with eating disorders.

By Rosie
Supporting eating disorders

28th February to 6th March 2022 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW). EDAW is a national, annual campaign that aims to educate people on the realities of eating disorders and to provide hope and support to those affected.

The shocking statistics show that between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. The sad reality is that some of your employees could be included in these figures.

Eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, and binge – eating disorder (BED) are like most mental health conditions. They are unfortunately still rarely spoken about and can often remain hidden. This can lead to a lack of awareness and support leaving employees feeling alone and struggling to cope.

Eating disorders will often be classed as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010 so must be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.

How can you help as an employer?

Recognising the signs – Often people with eating disorders will try to conceal their illness, the NHS suggests the following could be warning signs that employers should be aware of:

  • Spending a lot of time worrying about weight and body shape
  • Avoiding socialising where food will be involved or eating with others
  • Eating very little food or skipping meals
  • Excessive exercising
  • Eating a lot of food very quickly, or cutting food into small pieces and eating slowly
  • Wearing loose or baggy clothing to hide weight loss
  • Frequent trips to bathroom after meals
  • Dramatic weight loss

Create a supportive environment - Employers should always provide a workplace that is inclusive and supportive. A workplace that promotes a positive company culture that champions open lines of communication, and is free from judgement, is even more important when employees are struggling.

Don’t be pushy – Understand that talking about living with an eating disorder may be a sensitive and uncomfortable topic. Remember that it is not your role as an employer to provide a diagnosis or treatment. Conversations should be driven by the employee and you as the employer are there to listen and to offer support. Be aware that it may be appropriate to get occupational health involved at some stage.

Educate your staff – Make training and other reliable resources on mental health readily available to all staff. Make everyone aware of organisations such as National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and Mind and explain how they can help.

Be flexible – As an employer you have a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with eating disorders. This could include adjusting working hours or locations, and time off to attend appointments. Offering alternative social events that aren’t food–oriented could also have a positive impact.

For more information on mental health issues in the workplace and how you can support your employees check out this CIPD resource Mental Health in the Workplace | Factsheets | CIPD