Guest post from Melissa Martini of Three Ears Media
Trigger warning: eating disorders
There are plenty of things you can learn about a person at work. If you read their resume, you can understand their work history and skill sets. If you chat with them on your lunch break, you can get a feel for their personality. But people aren’t movies – they don’t come with a warning letting you know their triggers. The reality? Most triggers and mental health conditions are invisible.
“I’m recovering from an eating disorder!” isn’t exactly something you include in a cover letter, either, and it’s certainly not something you typically bring up in a job interview. But when everyday interactions in the workplace caught me off guard, I realized we need to start talking about eating disorders at work.
What Your Employees Eat Is None Of Your Business
After years of meticulously measuring my Special K and skim milk for breakfast, I attempted to take a step in my recovery by opting for a bowl of Froot Loops. Sitting in the corner of the bakery I worked at, I peeled open the Fruit Loops.
“No food with an expiration date,” my boss said to me. He took the Fruit Loops from me and handed me a vegan oat-based breakfast bar to eat instead. While he didn’t know that I was in recovery from an eating disorder, what I was eating wasn’t any of his business, anyway.
A few years later, while working an office job, I joined my coworkers for lunch and listened to them discuss how they didn’t understand how smart people could let themselves be fat. I couldn’t exactly get out of lunch; as someone recovering from an eating disorder, it’s not possible to just avoid food – it’s part of the healing process.
But workplace discussions don’t need to be triggering to your employees with eating disorders. It’s impossible to know whether or not someone in your office has an eating disorder simply by looking at them, but with 9% of the population worldwide being affected by eating disorders, it’s pretty likely.
Understanding how to avoid triggering eating disorders in the workplace is important: eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental illnesses, being second only to opioid overdose. In fact, eating disorders are the direct cause of death for 10,200 deaths per year – that’s one death every 52 minutes. On top of that, 26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide.
The workplace is where we spend most of our time, so it’s a pretty shitty place to be triggering for a person recovering from an eating disorder. Unfortunately, most companies are triggering: companies have even based their holiday bonuses on employee weight. While your employees’ weights are none of your business to begin with, imagine having a recovering anorexic employee be told they will be awarded more money if they don’t gain weight.
Instead of perpetuating diet culture and other harmful, triggering ideologies, consider understanding eating disorder triggers and how they can affect the workplace. For more information, download the National Eating Disorders Association’s Eating Disorders in the Workplace Toolkit Brochure.
Well-Being Goes Well Beyond Weight
To build a healthy company culture without perpetuating diet culture and disordered eating, companies can prioritize and promote a holistic approach to well-being that includes mental, physical, and emotional health. Consider focusing on fostering a supportive environment and providing resources for employees to manage stress.
Companies can also work to eliminate harmful language or behaviors related to food, body image, and weight, and instead foster a culture of inclusivity and body positivity. Changing conversations starts with changing culture. By creating a safe and supportive environment that values employee well-being, companies can help their employees thrive both personally and professionally.
In general and at work, it is essential to prioritize your mental health, physical health, and well-being. I don’t want to attend mandatory company lunches. I don’t want to hear about coworkers’ diets. I don’t want free wellness resources that consist of “eat healthy” and “drink water” – I want healthcare that covers mental health.
Remember that recovery is possible, and seeking support from loved ones and professionals can be a critical step in the healing process.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to remember you are not alone and recovery is possible. I’m proof of that.
National Eating Disorders Association
- Call: 800-931-2237 Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm PT
- Text: NEDA to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer
Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders (ANAD) Helpline
- Call: 630-577-1330
- Online Chat: http://www.anad.org/get-help/helpline-email/
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline)
- Call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Text: HELLO to 741741
- The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.