Juggling work responsibilities, personal life, and maintaining one’s health can be challenging. Some people struggle with this, and this can manifest in the form of an eating disorder, which can significantly impact their physical and mental well-being.


Employers in the UK should be aware of the signs that one of your team is struggling with an eating disorder. It’s essential to be vigilant and compassionate, as most people tend to battle these struggles silently. 


What is an eating disorder?


An eating disorder is a mental health condition. It is where you use the control of food to cope with feelings. Although eating disorders present themselves differently between individuals, they could include eating too much, or too little, the constant worrying about body shape, weight or food in general. 


Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that affect a person’s relationship with food, body image, and overall health. 


Who can have an eating disorder?


Anyone can have an eating disorder, both males and females, and people of all ages. However, research has shown that people between 13 and 17 are affected more by eating disorders. 


Possible symptoms of an eating disorder


There are a number of symptoms and signs to look out for when determining whether a person has an eating disorder. However, recognising these can be challenging, as many people go to great lengths to conceal struggles and hide habits. But being observant and supportive can make a difference.


Behavioural signs can include: 


  • Spending lots of time worrying about weight and body shape 
  • Eating very little food 
  • Avoiding social situations where food is involved 
  • Exercising too much 
  • Employing very strict eating habits 
  • Making yourself sick or taking laxatives after eating 
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain 
  • Lying about the frequency of eating or weight 
  • Eating large amounts of food quickly 
  • Visiting the bathroom after eating 
  • Cutting food into very small pieces or eating very slowly
  • Wearing loose clothing to hide weight loss 


Symptoms and physical signs can include: 


  • Changes in mood 
  • Feeling cold, dizzy, tired and withdrawn 
  • Tingling or numbness in arms and legs 
  • Experiencing a quick heart rate
  • Feeling faint and sick 
  • Issues with digestion such as bloating, constipation or diarrhea 
  • Uncommon weight changes, becoming either very overweight or very underweight
  • Delayed period or puberty 


What are the different types of eating disorders?


Common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. These disorders often stem from a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.


  • Anorexia nervosa – trying to control your weight by not eating enough food, exercising too much, or doing both
  • Bulimia – losing control over how much you eat and then taking drastic action to not put on weight
  • Binge eating disorder (BED) – eating large portions of food until you feel uncomfortably full


What causes an eating disorder?


The causes of eating disorders are not commonly known; however, they typically stem from mental health issues and are often seen as coping mechanisms. This means that individuals with eating disorders may be dealing with other challenges or issues in their lives that manifest through the disorder.


Individuals are more likely to develop an eating disorder if: 


  • There is a history of eating disorders in the family 
  • There is a history or depression in the family 
  • There is a history of alcohol or drug misuse in the family 
  • A person has been criticised for their weight, eating habits, body shape or weight 
  • A person has been sexually abused 
  • A person has anxiety or low self-esteem 
  • A person is in a role or profession where they feel pressure to be slim, e.g. ballet dancers, models or athletes 


Approaching a conversation


If you suspect that an employee is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s of the utmost importance to approach the situation with sensitivity and empathy. 


  • Choose the right time and place. Find a private, quiet, and comfortable space to have the conversation. Ensure that you won’t be interrupted or overheard.
  • Express concern. Ensuring to use language that shows you are concerned and care for the person, rather than accusing the individual. 
  • Listen. Allow the employee to share their feelings and experiences. Listen without judgment and provide a safe space for them to open up.
  • Offer support. Let the employee know that you are there to support them. Rather than telling them they need help, ensure that they know they can trust you to offer support and guidance. 
  • Ensure confidentiality. Ensure that the conversation remains confidential unless the employee gives permission to involve others, such as HR or a healthcare professional.


It’s important to be sensitive when approaching the subject of an eating disorder with an individual. They may not even realise they have an eating disorder, they could also deny it or be very secretive about the subject. 


It’s important for the individual to know that you’re concerned about their well-being and that you’re not passing judgment. Instead, your intention is to provide them with support.


The eating disorder charity Beat also has information on:



Providing a practical solution 


Supporting employees with eating disorders is an ongoing process that requires patience and understanding. 


  • Provide Information: Offer resources and educational materials about eating disorders in the workplace. This can help raise awareness among employees and reduce stigma.


  • Flexible Scheduling: Consider offering flexible work hours to accommodate treatment appointments or therapy sessions, should an employee be going through any treatment. 


  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Encourage employees to utilise EAPs, which often include counseling services and referrals to specialists.


  • Wellness Programs: Promote holistic wellness programs that focus on mental and physical health, including nutrition, stress management, and body positivity.


  • Training for Managers: Train managers and supervisors to recognise the signs of eating disorders and respond with empathy and support.


Contact us 


Spotting the signs of an eating disorder in the workplace is a crucial step toward helping your employees seek the assistance they need for recovery. As an employer, you are able to create an environment of understanding, support, and open communication. 


Remember that early intervention and support can make all the difference in an employee’s journey toward health and healing.

You can refer an employee to one of our specialists if you are seeking more support, just email the team on manref@acornoh.co.uk

Want to know more about the Occupational Health services we provide at Acorn, and how they could benefit your business and your employees? Please get in touch.