Given that eating disorders are severe mental health concerns, they have the potential to significantly interfere with affected individuals' workplace performance.
It may not be obvious who is struggling at first glance based on work performance, as many people with eating disorders can be high functioning and excel at their job. As eating disorders thrive in secrecy, individuals will often make strenuous efforts to keep any difficulties hidden and may keep to themselves to avoid their illness being noticed at work.
While a work situation will not be the sole and direct cause of an eating disorder, workplace related stress can trigger eating disordered thoughts and behaviours and be a factor that exacerbates an existing problem. While some people choose to inform their manager or a colleague to get support and/or accommodations, many do not out of fear that disclosing a mental illness may lead to consequences such as losing their job or dealing with gossip.
It’s important to avoid stereotypes and assumptions – remember that you cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder just based on their appearance. Keep an eye out for behavioural signs that may warrant a conversation for finding out more about what may be going on.
Examples of warnings signs that may someone with an eating disorder may exhibit are:
While it is possible that there is no one at your workplace with an eating disorder, everyone should be encouraged to create and foster a positive workplace culture around food and body.
Here are some suggestions to improve your workplace culture around food and dieting:
An employee affected by an eating disorder may need lengthy treatment or periodic absences to attend appointments. Employers should reinforce policies and procedures regarding accommodations. This may include adjusting hours or responsibilities to allow the employee to prioritize their well-being and recovery.
As an employer, flexibility is essential for supporting employees experiencing an eating disorder. Employees may need leaves of absence from work in order to attend intensive treatment or regular health care appointments. Support may include offering more predictable shifts, reduced hours, the ability to call treatment providers during work hours, and modifications in job responsibilities, especially if there are physical concerns (e.g., eliminating heavy lifting or other strenuous tasks). Treatment is not only physically uncomfortable but also emotionally taxing. Be compassionate and, if possible, be flexible with deadlines and offer opportunities for the redistribution of work or make assistance available.
Keep in mind that employees and coworkers may be greatly affected by the eating disorder of a loved one. Caring for a loved one struggling with an eating disorder can be physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. Those in a caregiving role may need support and accommodations of their own, such as a flexible schedule so they can accompany their loved one to appointments.
From a workplace perspective, it is beneficial to provide employees experiencing an eating disorder time off to receive treatment and accommodations to gradually return to work as this support is vital to their recovery and, in turn, their ability to contribute in the workplace to their full potential.