Navigating The Workplace: Supporting Employees With Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can seem rare because they are not always discussed—an unfortunate result of a lack of education and the stigma surrounding mental health. In reality, these illnesses affect nearly 30 million Americans in their lifetime.
With Americans spending approximately one-third of their lives at work, their place of employment plays a significant role in their overall well-being. Employers who foster a safe environment for people with eating disorders and other mental health concerns give their staff—their most valuable resource—the support necessary to thrive both professionally and personally.
How to Create a Safe Workplace for Those with Eating Disorders
Most eating disorders are not immediately visible to others, and those affected may choose not to share their illness with their employer. Regardless of whether you know someone in your workplace has an eating disorder, it is vital to create an environment that is safe, inclusive, and supportive of those who might be struggling or at risk. Prioritizing employee well-being not only enhances the overall workplace culture, but also encourages employees to bring their full selves to work.
Read on for helpful tips on building a supportive workplace for your employees affected by eating disorders or disordered eating.
Promote a diverse and inclusive work environment
Contrary to common misconceptions, not everyone with an eating disorder is thin. In fact, less than six percent of people with eating disorders are medically categorized as “underweight.” While a common symptom of eating disorders includes a preoccupation with body size and shape, individuals with these brain-based illnesses can be any size.
Promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace for individuals of all body sizes can go a long way in enhancing employee well-being and laying the groundwork for respect. This type of environment helps individuals feel valued and respected for who they are and challenges the preoccupation with appearances that often accompanies eating disorders.
Here are some ways to foster a supportive setting inclusive of all body types:
- Conducting weight bias and stigma training that empowers employees to recognize and challenge any internalized biases
- Creating policies that explicitly address weight- and appearance-related discrimination and harassment
- Cultivating a culture of empathy that encourages open dialogue that helps employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns and seeking support when needed
By prioritizing these steps, you demonstrate your commitment to body size diversity and inclusivity. This can foster a sense of safety, inclusion, and acceptance, which is especially critical for those who struggle with eating disorders.
Challenge diet culture
Diet culture—which refers to any program, mentality, or system of beliefs that equates thinness and particular body shapes with “health” and morality—is rampant in American society. This obsession with thinness often disregards social determinants of health and systems of oppression like racism, ableism, and anti-fatness—all of which contribute to an individual’s health and well-being.
There are ways that you can avoid reinforcing diet culture in your workplace. Make your workplace a diet-culture-free space by:
- Avoiding weight loss and fitness contests
- Politely shutting down diet talk by changing the subject when it comes up
- Refraining from displaying signs in the breakroom or on vending machines that contribute to food judgment
By refusing to participate in a culture that glorifies thinness and assigns moral value to food, you are a catalyst of change and empowerment for those particularly susceptible to the dangers of diet culture.
Champion mental health
Eating disorders are mental health conditions that often occur alongside other mental health diagnoses. Common co-occurring mental health conditions include anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, and a history of trauma.
Demonstrate to your employees with eating disorders that their mental well-being is a top priority by:
- Promoting work-life balance (e.g., encouraging breaks and time away from work)
- Sharing mental health benefits and resources in internal communications, including local resources for those struggling
- Engaging in ongoing dialogue and feedback from employees to continually improve mental health support
Raise awareness about eating disorders and their warning signs
Another effective way to create a safe environment for your employees with eating disorders is to raise awareness for these complex illnesses. By educating yourself and your staff about eating disorders, you can cultivate a workplace that understands and supports those who may be struggling.
Here are some ways you might raise awareness for eating disorders at work:
- Provide access to information and resources about eating disorders, such as handouts, webinars, or support groups
- Empower managers and human resources with the necessary information to respond appropriately when an eating disorder is suspected
- Participate in Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which takes place each year in late February
Accommodate employees with eating disorders
You may have an employee come to you and share that they are entering treatment for an eating disorder. This is a big step that requires a lot of courage, and it is important to make your employee feel supported during this time. Making accommodations is one way to demonstrate your commitment to their well-being through tangible actions.
Examples of accommodations you could make include:
- Adjusting job duties, workloads, or schedules as needed
- Allowing flexible work arrangements
- Accommodating any dietary needs or support at company events
The impact of an empathetic and inclusive work environment extends far beyond employees with eating disorders; it reaches everyone within your organization. When compassion and inclusivity are woven into your culture, you enhance overall employee well-being and satisfaction by allowing staff to bring their full selves to work.
Increase your knowledge of eating disorders with the wide variety of content on our website, including blogs, videos, and podcasts. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out at 1-888-364-5977 or by completing our online form.