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Were you aware that between 1.25 million to 3.4 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, and most of them are adults?  

While eating disorders are often associated with teenagers, they can affect individuals of all ages. 

Managers, how comfortable would you be to open up conversations if you noticed someone on your team may be suffering from an eating disorder?  

Eating Disorders at Work 

Eating disorders are seldom discussed in the workplace, but if you aim to foster a psychologically safe environment, you must be willing to engage in conversations with your team, especially if you have concerns. Spotting the signs of eating disorders is the first step and we need to remember that the signs are not just about NOT eating. There are so many aspects to eating disorders. 

How To Recognise Eating Disorders To Promote Psychological Safety At Work

Here are 10 warning signs that could signal an eating disorder: 

  1. Anxiety and distress around food. Individuals with eating disorders often experience anxiety and distress related to food, making meal times a source of discomfort for them. 
  2. Not wanting to eat in front of others. They may avoid eating in the presence of others, preferring solitude during meal times 
  3. An obsession with calories. An obsession with calorie counting and constant monitoring of food intake is a common behaviour among those with eating disorders. 
  4. Exercising obsessively. They may engage in strenuous workouts to compensate for their food intake. 
  5. Constantly talking about food and diets.  Constant discussions about food, diets, and weight loss can be a red flag. 
  6. Being critical of their body. Individuals with eating disorders are often critical of their own bodies and may express dissatisfaction with their appearance. 
  7. Commenting on what they ate in a negative way. They may frequently make negative comments about the food they’ve consumed. 
  8. Being a perfectionist. Perfectionism can also be a sign, as individuals with eating disorders may strive for unrealistic standards in their appearance and behaviour. 
  9. Not breaking a routine around food and exercise. A rigid adherence to specific routines regarding food and exercise is common among those with eating disorders. 
  10. Avoiding social events involving food. They might refrain from participating in social gatherings or events that revolve around food.  

Through my work with mental health training in the workplace, I have learnt so much about eating disorders from the people I work with. I did a YouTube and podcast series on eating disorders, interviewing a diverse range of people who have personal experience with the subject. 

Binge Eating 

Have you ever heard of binge eating disorder? I hadn’t until I interviewed Vicky Midwood for Mental Health Chats. Watch this interview about “Myths around compulsive eating”. 

Vicky goes into detail about what triggers binge eating and the signs of someone who eats compulsively. Binge eating is all about trauma, self-doubt, lack of confidence and not being happy.

How To Recognise Eating Disorders To Promote Psychological Safety At Work

The Trauma Response 

So many lightbulbs went on for me during the interview. I thought of so many people who ate excessively and I had always assumed they just couldn’t control themselves; they had no willpower. I never related this to an eating disorder. So often binge eating disorder stems from a trauma that has occurred in life. Vicky explains this in detail. 

One of my favourite boxsets on TV is ‘This is Us.’ The character of Kate explains how the trauma of the death of her father when she was younger affected her eating. The journey she goes through, not understanding she has an eating disorder is so interesting. It also explains how it has affected not only her personal life but her confidence in the workplace too.     

Adult Anorexia and Bulimia 

To create a psychologically safe workplace for our team, we should be aware that eating disorders are just as common for adults as they are for teenagers. Some adult stories have been told on Mental Health Chats YouTube and Podcast by Hope Virgo and Alex Cross who were affected by anorexia and bulimia in their 20s. Hope Virgo also outlines in her book, Stand Tall Little Girl, how her anorexia reoccurred when she was working in the corporate world in London. Nobody noticed she was suffering and she had to be admitted to hospital.  

Where Does Management Fit? 

Management is not just about results, results, results. We need to nurture our teams for more positive mental health, and this includes watching out for eating disorders and supporting those who are suffering from it. As managers, we need to notice, be aware, spotting the signs, then open up conversations. These steps will create a psychologically safe environment, helping teams to feel confident in disclosing their concerns with you as a Manager.  

How To Recognise Eating Disorders To Promote Psychological Safety At Work

The A-Star Management Programme 

In the A-Star Management Programme, we cover difficult conversations related to mental health concerns. These conversations are vital for the well-being of your team. Reach out to us by booking a free Strategy Call to learn how to support your managers in their journey toward effective management. Also, visit our website for more information.   

Creating a psychologically safe workplace starts with understanding and addressing issues like eating disorders. By recognizing the signs, initiating conversations, and offering support, managers can play a crucial role in ensuring the well-being of their teams. Together, we can promote positive mental health and a more inclusive, caring work environment.