As it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week, here at Work Well we wanted to acknowledge the wide range of eating disorders that currently exist. We may all be familiar with the diagnoses of anorexia nervosa and bulimia, however, these are not the only eating disorders to be aware of.
Binge eating involves the compulsion to indulge and overeat, causing you to eat more than you naturally world. Often this is a coping strategy for emotions, using eating to mask difficult feelings and making you feel better. This can lead to feelings of being out of control, the feeling you can’t stop eating, lonely, low, anxious and unhappy about your body.
OFSED (other specified feeding or eating disorder)
This eating disorder does not sit neatly in the categories of anorexia or bulimia, however holds similarities and alike patterns of behaviour that can be seen as disordered eating. With this condition you may be feeling dissatisfaction with your weight, over evaluating your appearance and have a fear of weight gain.
ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder)
This condition involves avoidance of certain foods. It can involve restricting food, and being sensitive to the taste, smell or appearance of food.
Orthorexia is associated with having an unhealthy obsession with only eating ‘pure’ and ‘clean’ foods. This behaviour occurs as a way to manage the anxiety and guilt that might be felt if food is seen to be unhealthy. This condition can cause physical health problems, as it can lead to a lack of essential nutrients.
What causes eating disorders?
When we think about eating disorders, we may assume it is solely about food. However it is much more. The behaviours may be connected to sad feelings, past negative experiences, the sense of losing control, stress, depression and anxiety. Food can become the focus for that problem.
How does an eating disorder affect employment?
Eating disorders can impact your intake of energy and nutrients, which can affect your performance in the workplace. It could also affect you through:
- worrying about lunches with colleagues
- avoidance of social events
- fear of someone noticing your struggles with food
- feeling fatigued and exhausted during the working day
- being at risk of burning out
- struggling to concentrate
- feeling irritable
- anxiety over a change in work routine
Overall, you may feel that it’s exhausting hiding the eating disorder and it may impact on your walk capabilities or safety, especially if the role has physical aspects.
What can you do in the workplace?
A confidential conversation with your employer about your eating disorder can be extremely beneficial. You can discuss how you’re feeling at work and explore reasonable adjustments that might suit you.
Through these discussions, you may be able to talk about ways to manage your anxiety around work social occasions, lunch, and changes in your work routine. Flexible working or working from home on days that are hard could be explored. If there is a certain work task that causes you stress, it might be able to be removed temporarily from your workload to aid your recovery. You might benefit from having a ‘workplace buddy’ who can provide support and guidance.
If your workplace has an occupational health team, a referral to them should be able to help explore supportive ways on how to manage your eating disorder at work. This might include taking sick leave if you are feeling unwell.
Under the Equality Act 2010, you may be able to take time off from work for therapy and recovery activities to help manage your eating disorder. If you have experienced an eating disorder for longer than a year and it impacts your day to day tasks, the Equality Act 2010 will also protect your employment rights, duty of care and allow you to challenge any discrimination that could occur as a result of your health condition.
Remember – your eating disorder is important. Many people feel it’s not bad enough to seek help or support. If you are experiencing any of the above, please do reach out and talk. Eating disorders can impact any age, gender, ethnicity and race. It’s a way of coping with difficult situations – by accessing support, you may be able to explore other ways to cope with those difficult situations.