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!
Be kind to 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
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
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!