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Eating Disorders Awareness Week – Employer Training

Eating Disorders Awareness Week – Employer Training
03 March 2022

Eating disorders affect one in fifty people in the UK – how can employers provide support?

To support Eating Disorders Awareness Week, TWinFM has collated information from eating disorder and mental health charities to help guide businesses in the right direction to help support those suffering.

Eating disorders and disordered eating can take a huge toll on a person’s physical and mental health, and anyone can experience it, regardless of background, age, weight or gender. Therefore the workplace can be an effective environment to signpost help to those who need it.


"Many assume that eating problems are linked to certain behaviours or physical traits. They might assume that eating problems are only about body image, or that you can tell what eating problems someone has based on their appearance.  None of these assumptions are true and for people with eating problems, dealing with misconceptions is a difficult part of the experience."



Knowing the Signs


Talk ED, previously known as Anorexia and Bulimia Care, offers the following non-exhaustive list of some of the main signs of a possible eating disorder:


  • An obvious and persistent change in mood – sadness, depression, anger, withdrawal, tearfulness.
  • Tactics and excuses to avoid eating.
  • Dieting or refusing certain foods such as fats, carbohydrates, or snacks.
  • Weight loss that would not be considered normal, or unless on a medically supervised diet.
  • Signs of self-induced vomiting with or without weight loss.
  • Stress, anxiety, pressure of work or school, coupled with a changing attitude towards food or eating.
  • Friendship and relationship problems in addition to a changing attitude towards food or eating.
  • Perfectionism and obsession with achievement that impacts food and eating habits.
  • Excessive exercising over and above what would be considered normal.
  • Complaining of stomach aches and feeling full even though food intake is low or reduced compared to normal.
  • Low self-esteem, body hatred, or self-harm. 
  • Lethargy, tiredness, but not sleeping well at night.
  • Constantly feeling cold or trying to keep warm with baths/showers.
  • Wearing clothes that are too big.
  • Hair loss or hair lacking lustre, growth of fine body hair particularly on backbone or arms.
  • Irregularities with periods, stopping altogether or failing to start at puberty.
  • Frequently visiting the bathroom directly after meals.
  • Signs of vomiting include raw knuckles, sore throat, swollen salivary glands.



Approaching with Sensitivity and Understanding


The National Eating Disorders Association is a USA-based non-profit organisation devoted to preventing eating disorders, providing treatment referrals, and increasing the education and understanding of eating disorders, weight, and body image in America. Their “Eating Disorders in the Workplace” guidance offers some advice if you’re concerned about a colleague or employee:


  • Remember that everyone has a right to privacy and confidentiality. Concern for another’s wellbeing should only be expressed to an HR staff member or to the person directly, never to other colleagues.
  • If someone at work chooses to disclose their eating disorder to you, listen openly and reflectively, without judgment. Don’t make accusations, communicate your concern and support, and encourage them to speak with a professional.
  • Remember that eating disorders can affect anyone. High-performing, dedicated employees may struggle with disordered eating and poor body image.


Avoiding Misconceptions around Eating Disorders


Mental health charity Mind has additional advice on avoiding common stereotypes around eating disorders when offering support.

Many assume that eating problems are linked to certain behaviours or physical traits. They might assume that eating problems are only about body image, or that you can tell what eating problems someone has based on their appearance.  None of these assumptions are true and for people with eating problems, dealing with misconceptions is a difficult part of the experience.

Mind offers the following practical advice:


  • Include them in social activities. If they find it difficult to eat, arrange activities which don’t involve food.
  • At break times, don't comment on their food choices. Let them get on with eating the food they feel able to eat.
  • Find safe ways to talk about it. Some people find it helps to refer to the eating problems in the third person. Try saying things like "that's not you, that's the eating problem speaking".
  • Help them find good information and avoid bad sources. This could mean looking for reliable facts and trusted online support. It also means helping them avoid places online that may promote unsafe eating and exercise habits.
  • Share stories from other people. It can be really helpful to read stories and accounts by people with eating problems. Especially those who are ready to think about recovery. You can find some by looking in the "Eating problems" category of the Mind blogs and stories. Another story to share is from James Knott, Health and Safety Manager at SJ Eastern, and SHP Rising Star in Construction finalist for 2021, who now raises awareness of how eating disorders affect men.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help.


Consider a Corporate Partnership in Your Workplace


Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, offers specialist Corporate Partnerships, where a dedicated team will work with you to better equip managers to recognise early signs of eating disorders and support those affected.

They can also help create a support channel for those suffering directly or affected by an eating disorder in their family.


Support Beat’s Campaign for Better GP Training


When it comes to seeking medical help,  69 per cent of people with an eating disorder felt that their GP did not know how to help them, according to a new survey by Beat. The charity is calling for all medical schools to implement comprehensive training on eating disorders so all doctors, including GPs, are able to identify eating disorders and signpost patients to specialist support without delay.

Currently, there is no requirement to provide medical students with any eating disorder training in the UK, with the average student receiving less than two hours throughout their degree. A fifth of medical schools do not provide any training at all.

During Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2022, Beat is campaigning for every medical school to provide comprehensive eating disorder training to give future GPs all the necessary knowledge and skills they need to help a patient presenting with an eating disorder. Currently, seven medical schools in the UK have implemented adequate training, including Glasgow Medical School, with a further seven in the process of doing so.

Find out more about Beat’s campaign here.

Picture: a photograph of two people sitting at a table speaking. Image Credit: Unsplash

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 03 March 2022


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