Every Body Has a Seat at the Table: National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2021

Posted on February 24, 2021


eating disorder awareness

This article was written by Cherise Mead, ELGL Program Director.

It’s estimated that, in the United States, 30 million people will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Everyone—regardless gender, age, race, ethnicity, culture, size, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation—can be impacted. Chances are at some point, you’ll be working alongside someone with one of these disorders.

In recognition of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness), here’s a list of ways you can support the cause!

Support Yourself

Be kind to yourself

Ease up on body checking. Try practicing body neutrality. Reframe the way you talk about yourself.

Educate yourself on disordered eating

You may be surprised at who is at risk for and impacted by eating disorders. A little bit of reading can go a long way towards allyship. The National Institute of Mental Health has a short reference sheet for shaping conversations about eating disorders, too!

Diversify your social media feeds

Follow people who don’t look like you. When you look at people, you develop positive feelings towards them—and if you’re only looking at what rises to the top of the algorithms, you’re missing out!

Get screened and ask for support if you’re concerned about your own habits

NEDA offers a short, online screening tool for ages 13+ as well as a chat/text/call helpline, an index of free and low cost support options, and provider search. Don’t forget your EAP options!

Support your coworkers

Create a workplace culture free of body talk

Virtually every training session or presentation I attend includes a self-deprecating reference to weight, dieting, eating too much, etc. So does the break room, chatter in meetings, holiday celebrations…well, you get the idea. Body talk, especially negative body talk, is harmful—even when those comments are directed at yourself. Discomfort over physical appearance can also have negative impacts on performance.

Don’t comment on other people’s bodies, weight changes, or ask if they’re expecting (yes, that actually needs to be said). Here’s a good rule of thumb from a friend: only ever comment on things people have a choice over. “Great earrings!” “You look really happy today!”

Acknowledge weight bias

Weight bias is real, harmful, and intersectional. It also carries an opportunity cost for employers. Interrogate the implicit biases you may have. Actively work to dismantle discriminatory systems in your organization.

Support your staff

Learn about eating disorders in the workplace
Make resources available

Stock eating disorder support-related materials alongside other staff wellness information. If your organization operates an employee wellness center, offers health classes, etc., ensure staff receive training opportunities so they know how to screen for eating disorders.

Center wellness programs on healthy behaviors

Don’t incentivize weight loss, focus on supporting healthy behaviors. Provide free, healthy snacks. Give people access to appealing drinking water. Promote taking vacations, breaks, and eating lunch away from desks.

Provide staff opportunities that aren’t centered on food

Sharing food at celebrations is a staple of basically any workplace. It can also be a minefield for someone dealing with an eating disorder. With a little forethought, though, you can make it easier for those employees. Hosting a potluck? Add a passive activity at one of the tables for people to work on if they don’t want to navigate the food table. Rewarding an employee by taking them out to lunch? Provide a trip to a coffee shop as an alternative. Be proactive—it’s a tough topic for people to bring up on their own.

Make sure everyone has a seat at the table

A literal seat. At a minimum, make sure you have some chairs that don’t have arms on them. Check weight limits before purchasing chairs (many are rated for 220 lbs., which is less than 25% of all American men weigh). Petite people need different office chairs than very tall people. Employees of different weights will have the same variety of needs. You can’t go wrong with individualized ergonomic assessments and equipment.

Check your healthcare coverage

In particular, coverage for dieticians/nutritional counseling. A critical component of eating disorder recovery—and many chronic health conditions, for that matter—even robust plans sometimes carry a low lifetime cap on specialist visits.

Support Your Community

Use inclusive imagery

It’s good practice in general to use imagery for online and print material that reflects your community–make sure you include diverse body sizes, too!

Light up blue and green!

Join the growing group of cities coast to coast who light up their monuments in blue and green in support of National Eating Disorder Awareness week. (Thank you Gilbert, AZ for sharing your photos!)


Note from Cherise: this list is likely imperfect, and certainly incomplete. I’d love to hear additions, thoughts, or feedback! You can find me at [email protected], on LinkedIn, or on Instagram.

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