Eating disorders and the workplace.

Hi, Emma here.

Last week was national Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Unfortunately, this coincided with most of England being underneath a thick blanket of snow causing disruption, chaos and mayhem for most of the population.

This included Be.

The Centre for Wellbeing and Emily and I both found ourselves snowed in. This meant Be. was closed during this period.
However, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to highlight Eating Disorders and explore the impact of these on those of us who are part of a workforce.

Beat is the UK’s Eating Disorder Charity and they led the way last week in Eating Disorders Awareness Week. They estimated that 1.25 million people in the UK are experiencing an eating disorder. They astutely recognise that “Between suffers themselves and their friends and relatives who may be supporting them, many people affected by eating disorders are members of the UK work force”. It may be useful at this point to clarify our understanding of eating disorders. Beat attempts to simplify it stating, “If you think you may be having problems with your eating or feel that difficult feelings or situations are making you change your eating habits or feel differently about food, you could have an eating disorder or be developing one”.
Eating disorders are a complex mental illness and the disordered eating that is observed may just be the visible tip of the iceberg with complex thought patterns and emotions underneath this.

Beat tell us that 34% of UK adults could not name a sign or symptom of an eating disorder. They either said, don’t know, gave a diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia or gave an incorrect answer.

Knowing that lack of knowledge around a mental illness can cause stigma and discrimination, it is not surprising that we also learnt from research that “in addition to over 30% feeling that they were stigmatised or discriminated against, more than four in five respondent’s felt their colleagues were not informed about eating disorders, almost two in five described their employer’s impact on their recovery as “unhelpful”.

Encouragingly, workplaces are increasingly working towards creating a culture where employees are given the opportunity to learn more about mental health and mental illness. Just recently I completed a second cohort of Mental Health Advocate training with a local council who are keen to place individuals in their work communities who can actively educate these communities on mental health and mental illness while reducing stigma and discrimination.
Based on the statistic of 34% of adults being unable to identify a sign or symptom of an eating disorders, maybe this type of mental illness is lower down on the list than illness’ like anxiety and depression. Maybe advocates can start with creating conversation around the topic and sharing information about these less recognised types of mental illness. Beat are one Eating Disorder organisation who can support workplaces to do this. Their website (listed below) offers hints and tips on how to do this, free resources to support you and telephone and online support services.

There is also a North East based support service for Eating Disorders NIWE who offer support to those living in Tyneside, Wearside, County Durham and Northumberland.
If you would like to talk to someone about concerns you have about your eating,
Helpline 0808 8010677
If you would like to talk to someone call 0191 221 0233 or email

Watch this clip from Beat of Ellen talking about her experience of having an eating disorder and how her workplace responded and supported her to thrive in her workplace.

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