Eating Disorders in the workplace: How to maintain your recovery when you’re working

When you have an eating disorder, most of the time some of the simplest things or most common activities can feel disrupted. What can make things even more difficult is finding a way to do this in an environment where other people may not understand. Or worse still, an environment that fosters negative emotions and behaviours.

This week is National Eating Disorders Week, and the theme is recovery in the workplace. Today, people spend over half their waking hours in an office, so even when you’re trying your best to combine recovery and work, it’s difficult not to get caught in uncomfortable situations.

These situations can include coping with the stresses of a busy routine, navigating relationships with colleagues, dealing with demands and sudden deadlines, mental and physical exhaustion – the list goes on. And as eating disorders can place so much emphasis on control, allowing things to crop up unexpectedly is all part of the challenge.

Most of the time workplaces do have a framework in place to assist with mental health issues. But sometimes the hardest part can be knowing that your colleagues, and friends, don’t truly understand what is going on.

 

Grace’s Story:

I’d been dreaming of getting a job in PR & communications for months, so I couldn’t quite believe it when HR called and offered it to me! When I started the job, I had already graduated from a full therapy program at the Clinic that had slowly been cut down, so I felt confident about how I would handle a new routine. That being said, despite doing lots of work in therapy to prepare for the change, I was aware that there could be many things that would throw me off balance.

I knew I may struggle being outside comfortable and familiar frameworks, such as my house or with friends. This was particularly difficult to prepare for, seeing as how food and socialising seems so much more spontaneous when you haven’t suffered from an eating disorder!

The thing that surprised me most was just how much food and drink plays a part in people’s daily lives: how much people talk about food, their dieting and exercise routines, attitudes to snacking….it was a learning curve to see how carefree people are! It was also really nice to see how food could bring people together. 

When you suffer from an eating disorder (one that can center so much around behaviour) it’s sometimes hard to know how to act and where to turn when things get tough. What helped me was having a person at work (friend and manager) who I trusted and felt open to discussing my anxiety with. I also knew that even though food seemed everywhere, I didn’t have to take part in anything I felt uncomfortable with – and that went for social engagements too.

Luckily for me I was at a point in my recovery where food was no longer a control mechanism. So despite work feeling like a baptism of fire, it was a really good induction into normal attitudes towards food, as well as proof of how far I’d come.

 

Five Top Tips:

We’ve compiled a list of tips for coping at work when recovering from an eating disorder. The key takeaway, is to not let your eating disorder overcome you:

  • Talk to someone in confidence: HR are there to help and will be able to point you in the right direction. Speak to the person in charge of HR within your company and explain you are dealing with personal issues. In most cases they will be able to support you and work with you to help your recover.
  • Don’t push yourself: Remember that your health is of paramount importance! If you feel that work is hindering your recovery, don’t be afraid to take some time out to focus on yourself
  • Communicate with your manager if you have personal commitments: Let them know if you need time away from the office to make medical appointments, even if they are recurring. In most cases your manager should be accommodating
  • Put time aside for meals and snacks: Remember your health goes first, so if it’s easier to block time in your calendar for snacks and meals, do so. This will help support your routine and allow you to feel in control of your recovery
  • Don’t feel obliged: There may be times when a work setting makes you feel uncomfortable, for instance when entertaining clients or when catering for meetings. Don’t feel forced to get involved in anything you don’t feel comfortable with

 

Research by BEAT into workplace discrimination showed that of those who had eating disorders:

  • More than 30% of people felt they were stigmatised or discriminated against because of their eating disorder at work
  • 40% said their employers’ impact on their recovery was ‘unhelpful’
  • Two thirds were unable to access support for their eating disorder at work
  • More than four out of five said they didn’t think or didn’t know whether their employers and colleagues were ‘informed’ about eating disorders.

This data, as unfortunate as it is, proves the significance of clear communication with employers. It is their duty to create an environment that fosters personal wellbeing and health, and therefore should have the frameworks in place to deal with mental health issues, including eating disorders.

 

Resources:

If you feel someone at work would benefit from finding out more about eating disorders, feel free to direct them to our website for more information: http://www.therecoverclinic.co.uk

BEAT has also produced additional information tailored specifically for employers, and can be found at: https://www.b-eat.co.uk/support-us/eating-disorder-awareness-week/enei-guide-for-employers-eating-disorders-in-the-workplace

To find out more about the research BEAT did into workplace discrimination, click here: https://www.b-eat.co.uk/support-us/eating-disorder-awareness-week

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