National Eating Disorders Association

Like many illnesses, eating disorders can affect adults in the workforce. Many people with eating disorders are perfectionistic, leading them to be highly driven and competent—often ideal employees. If someone doesn’t learn to manage these traits, however, they can contribute to disordered eating or an eating disorder.

Although it’s not always easy to identify an eating disorder in a work colleague, employee, or boss, an undiagnosed or untreated disorder can lead to serious health problems, and even death. Even when an eating disorder may seem mild or not worth mentioning, it can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to do their job.

Warning signs of an eating disorder

  • Preoccupation with food, weight, appearance, and dieting
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Avoiding workplace events where food might be present
  • Scheduling work events around exercise
  • Evidence of binge eating, such as the disappearance of large amounts of food, or the presence of large numbers of candy wrappers and food containers
  • Evidence of purging, including heading to the bathroom right after eating
  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Withdrawal from co-workers and normal activities
  • Unusual increase or decrease in productivity levels

How can eating disorders affect the workplace?

  • Eating disorders can affect anyone. High-performing, dedicated employees may struggle with disordered eating and poor body image, impairing otherwise excellent performance. Organizational leadership should encourage a welcoming and inclusive workplace, optimizing employee productivity and wellness.
  • As with many illnesses, eating disorders have serious health effects that, gone untreated, may lead to lost productivity and long-term medical problems.
  • Employees and coworkers may be affected by the eating disorder of a loved one. Supporting a loved one struggling with an eating disorder can be emotionally and mentally demanding. Flexibility at the workplace can allow employees to maintain balance in their lives while helping their loved one to recover.
  • Eating disorders can affect an employee’s cognitive functioning because of poor nutrition and coexisting mental disorders.
  • Early intervention and treatment are the best measures to ensure proper management of medical problems and encourage recovery.