Understanding Eating Disorders and Supporting Employees


What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are mental health conditions characterised by persistent and maladaptive patterns of eating. They often involve an obsession with body shape, weight, and food which can cause serious physical and mental health issues for those affected. Eating disorders do not discriminate; they can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, or background. We look at how to support employees with eating disorders, including tools such as understanding eating disorders training.

There are several types of eating disorders, the most common being anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (BED).

Eating Disorder Diagram

Anorexia is characterised by extreme restriction of food intake and excessive exercise, and is often accompanied by body dysmorphia – excessive worrying about a perceived body flaw that is not visible or is barely noticeable to others.  Bulimia nervosa involves recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or fasting to avoid gaining weight. Binge eating disorder is when someone regularly overeats large amounts of food without engaging in compensatory behaviour afterwards. Eating disorders can singificantly impact daily life as well as work performance in the workplace. It’s estimated that around 10% of people with anorexia miss more than two weeks work due to their condition each year, so understanding these conditions and providing support for employees who may suffer from them is essential in any workplace setting.

In addition to affecting productivity in the workplace they can also be costly in terms of healthcare costs due to related physical complications from malnutrition or suicidal thoughts resulting from severe psychological distress caused by these conditions. As such it’s important that companies provide adequate understanding eating disorders training so that employees are aware of how best to support those who may be suffering from them at work. Understanding the signs and symptoms associated with each type of disorder will help employers provide appropriate support when needed.  

Who Develops Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are often associated with teenagers and young adults, however they affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. Data from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) shows that up to 17.5% of girls aged 11-19 have a clinically diagnosed eating disorder. Similarly, around 11-17% of boys aged 11-19 also have an eating disorder. However, up to 24% of adults experience an eating disorder at some point in their life (BEAT Eating Disorders).   

Certain characteristics or traits can make someone more prone to developing an eating disorder than others. These include perfectionism, obsessive personality traits, self-esteem issues and anxiety. Internal pressures such as stress or pressure from family and friends can also be a contributing factor in developing an eating disorder. People with existing mental health conditions such as depression are more likely to develop an eating disorder than those without pre-existing mental health problems.   

The workplace can be a stressful environment – with deadlines to meet, demands from employers or clients – employees could become overwhelmed, which could trigger disordered eating habits. It’s important that employers understand this risk so they are equipped with the necessary tools and resources needed to offer support within the workplace if required.   

Having a deeper understanding of who is at risk of developing an eating disorder is key to recognising and providing appropriate support for staff members in the workplace when they are struggling with stress. By having a better understanding of why people may be more susceptible, employers can ensure they provide tailored support for those who may be experiencing difficulties related to food, body image or other issues connected with disordered eating behaviours and patterns.  

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How do Eating Disorders Develop?

Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal relationship with food, which can take many forms, from a preoccupation with dieting or exercising to life-threatening extremes such as anorexia. It’s estimated that around 1 in 250 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, with rates higher in women than in men.   

The exact causes of eating disorders are not fully understood, but research suggests that a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors can lead to their development. Research indicates that genes associated with certain personality traits, such as perfectionism and anxiety, may be linked to the onset of an eating disorder. At the same time, external pressures such as societal expectations about body image can also play a role in driving disordered behaviour around food.   

It is also important to remember that different individuals may experience different triggers for developing an eating disorder. For some it may be a response to stress or trauma; for others it could stem from feelings of low self-worth or a lack of control over their lives. In some cases it may even be triggered by medical advice regarding weight loss or physical activity – although these cases tend to be rarer.  

Whatever the cause, it is essential that employers understand how eating disorders develop so they can provide appropriate support for any employees who may be at risk or already suffering from one. Understanding Eating Disorders Training provides invaluable knowledge about recognising signs and symptoms of disordered eating behaviours and create a supportive working environment where employees feel able to seek help if needed. This kind of training should include education about the various types of eating disorders (e.g., anorexia), how they develop and what strategies employers can use when supporting employees through recovery or prevention programmes.  

How Eating Disorders Impact Workplace Productivity

Eating disorders can be devastating for those affected and their families, but they can also impact on workplace productivity. The physical and emotional symptoms of an eating disorder can make it difficult for someone to concentrate, be productive or manage day-to-day tasks.   

Employers should aim to understand eating disorders that may affect their staff, and provide appropriate support.   

For example, individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa may show signs such as increased absenteeism, chronic fatigue due to lack of nutrition or energy, mood swings or changes in behaviour patterns. It is important for employers to recognise these red flags and offer support, such as connecting them with mental health resources for treatment and time off to attend therapy. Furthermore, training programs focused on understanding eating disorders may also help employees build awareness around the topic so that they can support colleagues.  

Providing employees access to resources such as access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or mental health days off are also helpful ways for employers to provide additional support within the workplace. By offering these types of services, employers can aid in improving employee wellbeing while helping them become more productive at work.   

Overall, understanding how eating disorders can affect workplace productivity is essential for businesses to ensure they are providing adequate support for employees who are struggling with disordered eating. With proper education on understanding eating disorders and providing access to adequate resources when needed, businesses can help create a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable addressing any mental health concerns they may have—ultimately leading to improved workplace productivity overall.  

Having Supportive Conversations with Employees who Have an Eating Disorder

As an employers or business leader, having supportive conversations with employees who have an eating disorder is essential for creating a healthy, caring working environment.  

Employers should understand the common signs and symptoms of eating disorders to recognise them developing and provide appropriate support. Common signs of anorexia include weight loss; avoiding meals; wearing baggy clothes to hide their body; obsessively counting calories; and obsessively discussing weight. Bulimia can present as swollen cheeks from vomiting or dental problems from acid reflux caused by purging as examples. It’s important for employers to be aware that everyone will present differently.  

When having conversations with employees who have an eating disorder, employers should approach the conversation in a non-judgmental way and empathise with the employee’s struggles without judgment or criticism. Employers should also be honest about their concerns for their employee’s wellbeing but remain focused on supporting them rather than making assumptions or offering advice about what they need to do differently. It is important to remember that each person’s experience is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  

When discussing potential strategies for helping the employee cope, employers should consider any reasonable accommodations they could make in order to reduce stress levels at work such as providing flexible work hours for medical appointments or allowing more breaks during the day if needed. In terms of more direct support, employers can introduce the employee to relevant resources such as counseling services offered by Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or mental health professionals who specialise in treating disordered eating behaviors.   

Understanding Eating Disorders training can help equip managers with the knowledge they need for having these sensitive but essential conversations with their team members. PMAC offers tailored training programmes designed with your team and their challenges in mind.  

Flexibility and Regular Breaks

Eating disorders can be difficult to navigate for employers, and it is important to understand the issues their employees may be facing. One way to support employees with eating disorders is by providing flexibility in their working environment and regular breaks throughout the day.   

Flexible working practices can help employees with anorexia in particular, as they often struggle with feelings of control and powerlessness, which can manifest itself in constant attempts to control one’s diet or exercise levels. By offering flexible working hours, employers are sending a message that it is alright not to be available all of the time, and that taking breaks from work (including lunch breaks) are encouraged. Regular breaks also provide an opportunity for employees to take part in activities that help them manage anxiety levels such as mindfulness or gentle physical activity – something that can be especially beneficial for those with disordered eating patterns.   

Additionally, by allowing employees greater freedom over when they are able to work – such as allowing them to attend medical appointments during of normal working hours – employers demonstrate a deeper understanding of mental health needs and foster a sense of trust with their staff. This makes employees more likely to feel comfortable discussing their mental health needs, meaning employers can offer tailored support programmes if required.   

Therefore, providing flexible working practices and regular breaks is an important way for businesses to show understanding towards their employees struggling with eating disorders and create an environment where mental health issues are openly supported. Offering this type of supportive culture builds trust between team members as well as helping individuals manage their mental health more effectively – ultimately resulting in better retention rates within the workforce.  

Modelling Self-care and Positive Coping Strategies

As employers, it’s important to be aware of the prevalence of eating disorders among employees and to ensure that appropriate training is in place to assist those affected. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can have profound physical and psychological consequences, which can interfere with an individual’s ability to work effectively. Therefore, it’s key for businesses to model self-care and positive coping strategies when trying to support their employees who may be experiencing an eating disorder.   

The first step in modelling self-care is for employers and managers to create a safe space where affected employees can speak about their experiences without judgement. This could involve introducing policies that protect affected individuals from discrimination or stigmatisation at work, or creating a platform where staff are able to share ideas on how best to support their colleagues who may be struggling with an eating disorder. It is also important for businesses to provide access to appropriate eating disorder support services such as counselling or therapy, both within the workplace itself and through external services. These measures will help create a culture of acceptance and understanding around mental health issues within the workplace.   

In addition, encouraging healthy lifestyle habits through initiatives such as flexible working arrangements, regular breaks throughout the day and providing nutritious meals during work hours can also help foster positive attitudes around mental health among staff members. Employers should aim to promote activities such as healthy eating plans, physical activity classes or relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation so that staff feel empowered and capable of taking care of themselves mentally and physically. Moreover, employers should provide adequate resources for talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helps people understand their thoughts and feelings more clearly.  

Remember: They are the Same Person

Having an employee suffering from an eating disorder can be challenging. It is important however to remember that the individual is still the same person; someone who can bring value to your team or organisation. They may appear as withdrawn, irritable or their performance may differ, but they are still the same individual with many strengths.   

Employers should look into providing resources such as counselling sessions or therapy sessions for those affected by eating disorders to support them as effectively as possible within the workplace. There may also be outside organisations that specialise in providing advice on how best to manage an employee’s mental health when dealing with an eating disorder such as Anorexia. Seeking professional advice may prove invaluable in helping you create a better working environment where everyone feels safe and respected – regardless of any illnesses they may be battling with internally.   

It is also vital that employers show empathy towards those struggling with eating disorders to alleviate some of the pressure they may be feeling. By displaying compassion and empathy, you reaffirm individuals of their identity within your organisation – reminding them that despite their struggle they are still part of your team and valued accordingly.   

Remember: they are still the same person, and recovery is possible – offering understanding eating disorders training and support will go a long way in helping them through this difficult period in their life while maintaining strong morale among the workplace as whole. 

Understanding Eating Disorders Training

At PMAC, we can support your employees knowledge when it comes to eating disorders, by providing bespoke eating disorders training. Our training looks at all of the common eating disorders, along with tools and techniques to assist staff. 

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