How can employers support staff with eating disorders

How can employers support staff with eating disorders?

26th February 2024 is the start of ‘National Eating Disorders Awareness Week’. So, how can employers support their staff with eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious and complex mental illnesses that affect 1.25 million people across the UK. Eating disorders can affect individuals of all ages and backgrounds, having a significant impact both physically and mentally.  With around 2% of the working population battling eating disorders, it is important that employers understand the physical and mental toll that they can have on sufferers, and provide proper support in the workplace – and there is no better time than now as we commence National Eating Disorder Awareness Week!

The most common types of eating disorders:

There are three main types of eating disorders:

1. Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals with anorexia nervosa often have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. This can include severe restriction of food intake, leading to significant weight loss and malnutrition, and the development of certain rules around food.  Low mood and anxiety are common side effects for those with anorexia. Individuals may also withdraw themselves from social situations. Anorexia can have longstanding physical effects. Individuals may experience tiredness and poor concentration, or, in extreme cases, osteoporosis and heart failure.

2. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia involves episodes of binge eating followed by purging behaviours such as vomiting, excessive exercise, or fasting. Individuals with bulimia may maintain a normal weight but struggle with feelings of guilt and shame around their eating habits. Like anorexia, bulimia can dominate daily life and significantly impact a person’s physical and mental health. Mentally, those with Bulimia may have low self-esteem and suffer from depression. Additionally, they may also experience physical symptoms such as abdominal pain, swollen cheeks and dental issues. Regular purging may also cause damage to the heart.

3. Binge Eating Disorder

A binge eating disorder is characterised as regular episodes of consuming large quantities of food in a short period, often eating when they are not hungry. Sufferers often feel out of control.  People may experience guilt or disgust after bingeing, but do not have the urge to purge or fast. Those affected may experience anxiety, depression, or have low self-esteem. Obesity is a physical side effect of binge eating. This can also lead to more serious health complications such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

Eating disorders can have a profound impact on an individual’s ability to perform effectively in the workplace. Employees may experience physical health complications, such as fatigue, dizziness, and decreased concentration, which can affect productivity and job performance.

Eating disorder symptoms which may impact on an employee’s work:

  • Reduced productivity and performance due to fatigue and poor concentration.
  • A preoccupation with food, weight or dieting.
  • Rigid thought patterns.
  • Difficulty integrating with the team or withdrawing themselves from social situations.
  • Serious long-term health effects which can result in longer sickness absences.
  • Increased absences.
  • Emotional outbursts.
  • Coming in late or lethargic.
  • Persistent low mood.

What can Employers do?

Employers can play a crucial role in creating a supportive and inclusive work environment for employees struggling with eating disorders. Under UK employment law, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of their employees.   Where employees have a disability in terms of the Equality Act (which will be the case for many, even if not all, of those with an eating disorder), employers must ensure that employees do not suffer discriminatory treatment at work, and will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where applicable.   

Here are some steps employers can take to achieve support and inclusivity for individuals dealing with eating disorders in the workplace:

1. Education and awareness

Offer training sessions or workshops to educate employees and managers about eating disorders, their signs, and the impact such disorders can have on mental and physical health and job performance.

2. Provide support and understanding.

Employers should create an open and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their struggles with an eating disorder.  It is important employers understand how the condition is affecting the employee professionally, and what they might need to make them feel more comfortable at work. This could include offering access to counselling services via an employee assistance programme.

3. Flexible working arrangements

Employers should recognise that individuals with eating disorders may require flexibility in their work schedules such as flexible hours and days working from home so they can attend medical appointments, counselling sessions, or group support meetings.

4. Reasonable adjustments

Engage with employees to identify reasonable adjustments that can be made to ensure the employee is not put at a disadvantage at work compared to their colleagues.   This may include modifying work duties, providing additional breaks, or providing a more private place to spend lunchtimes.  Consider how best to deal with the provision of food at work events.  Remember that if the employer is aware, or should be aware, that the employee has a disability, it is a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments. 

5. Be thoughtful with conversation topics

Avoid commenting on what people are eating or on their appearance.  Hearing about gym routines, exercise schedule or running milestones can be triggering for someone whose symptoms include over exercising or calorie counting. 


Creating an open and approachable environment will allow employees to feel more comfortable expressing and communicating their mental health struggles in the workplace.  Education is at the forefront of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and it is an opportunity for employers to understand the complexity of eating disorders to support their employees.

This update contains general information only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.

Laura Salmond, Partner & Accredited Specialist in Employment Law: / 0141 225 5315 Connect with Laura on LinkedIn

Rebecca McGregor, Trainee Solicitor: / 0141 221 8012 / Connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn