Exploring the Link Between Workplace Stress and Eating Disorders

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Link Between Workplace Stress and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are about more than just food; they are psychological or complex mental health conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop. Consequently, they lead to severe health consequences that often require medical or psychological intervention. 

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the population worldwide, and they can have severe health effects, affect your productivity, and impair your cognitive functioning. Let us help you understand the different types of eating disorders, the link between workplace stress and eating disorders, how to manage eating disorders in the workplace, and ways to reduce workplace stress. 

Understanding Different Types of Eating Disorders

An eating disorder can result from genetics; you’re at an increased risk of developing one if your parents or siblings have one. Other reasons include perceived cultural pressure to be thin and personality traits such as perfectionism and impulsivity.  Eating disorders can manifest themselves in different ways. Let’s look at some of them:

  • Bulimia nervosa: Individuals with bulimia frequently consume large quantities of food until they become painfully full (also called binging). They may find themself unable to control how much they are eating. They then try to compensate for calories consumed or overeating by purging through forced vomiting, excessive exercise, fasting, or laxatives. Side effects experienced as a result include swollen salivary glands, tooth decay, inflamed and sore throat, acid reflux, severe dehydration, and gut irritation. 
  • Anorexia nervosa: Perhaps the most well-known eating disorder, in which individuals perceive themself to be overweight, even when they are severely underweight. They have very restricted eating patterns, constantly monitor their weight, restrict their calories, and have a distorted body image, leading to self-esteem issues. It has two subtypes: binge eating and purging and restricting.
  • Binge eating disorder is the most common, with symptoms similar to bulimia nervosa. While they typically eat a large amount of food, they do not purge or restrict calories but may experience a lack of control, shame, guilt, and disgust. They may not make the right nutritional choices, leading to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. 
  • Pica: This involves eating things not considered food or without nutritional value, such as soap, paper, rocks, ice, pebbles, etc. Individuals are at increased risk of nutritional deficiency, gut injuries, and poisoning. 
  • AFRID: Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder to Individuals experiencing disturbed eating due to distaste in textures, temperature, colors, smells, tastes, etc. It can lead to nutritional deficiencies. 
  • Orthorexia falls under the OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder). Individuals focus obsessively on healthy eating that disrupts their daily lives. 

Exploring the Link Between Workplace Stress and Eating Disorders

While self-esteem issues and unrealistic portrayals of an ideal body type in media can trigger eating disorders to develop, an important trigger is stress, which can lead to stress-induced anorexia. Here, the individual experiences PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or chronic stress before developing anorexia nervosa.

Everyone experiences stress, but chronic stress, such as workplace stress, can lead to disordered eating. If you already have an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, you’re at higher risk of experiencing anxiety and chronic stress, which can also lead to stress-induced anorexia. 

If you have an avoidance coping style, meaning you partake in destructive behavior to avoid dealing with stress, it can lead to disordered eating. A workplace environment can also help individuals hide their eating disorders by giving a lack of time to take proper lunch breaks and encouraging employees to continue working instead of taking time off. 

Certain professions emphasizing an ideal body type may also be at higher risk of developing eating disorders, such as athletes, models, and dancers. These fields glorify dieting and may pressure them to restrict their eating to control their weight. Here are a few warning signs someone in the workplace has an eating disorder: 

  • Avoiding events where food is present
  • Withdrawing from everyday activities and coworkers.
  • Constant preoccupation with appearance, weight, dieting, and nutrition
  • Poor body image
  • Binging or binge eating, the presence of a large number of wrappers and food containers, and the disappearance of large quantities of food from the community fridge
  • Purging; heading to the restroom after eating
  • Consuming excessive caffeine
  • Unusual changes in productivity levels
  • Difficulty concentrating

How to Manage Eating Disorders in the Workplace

Consider having a discussion with HR or your employer about your eating disorder and if they can accommodate you and make reasonable adjustments, such as flexible working hours or a change in your work routine. You can ask them to remove you from specific tasks or workloads If they cause you stress. They can also help connect you to professional resources specializing in eating disorders, such as online resources, helplines, or therapy. Establish a healthy work-life balance, such as not working overtime and taking appropriate breaks to improve your overall well-being

Your conversation with your employers may also help establish an eating-disorder-informed workplace, where people are conscious of not attaching stereotypes, commenting on people’s bodies, and leaving behind diet-obsessed conversations. You can also request a lunch or workplace buddy or find one on your own to provide support and guidance, such as sitting with you during work events.

The Equality Act 2010 classifies an eating disorder as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. So, you are well within your rights to ask for time off from work for therapy, have a space to eat privately, be able to work from home, and get more time to take your lunch, and this act protects your employment rights. It allows you to challenge any discriminatory behavior against you. 

How to Reduce Workplace Stress

Workplace stress can be a serious contributing factor to your eating disorder; let’s look at a few ways you can attempt to reduce it!

  1. Automate Administrative Tasks

When work keeps piling up, it can add to your stress, and you can spend your afternoons or break times filling up forms or doing administrative work. With boleta electronica, you can reduce the fatigue of repetitive processes and free up your hours. It can send you reminders by email and WhatsApp, customize your agenda, and keep records and observations, giving you more control over the situation and helping relieve anxiety. 

Other ways to streamline administrative processes include setting standardized procedures and processes, setting a to-do list, automating repetitive tasks, and creating guidelines for interaction or communication. 

  1. Opt for Counseling Services 

Workplaces often provide counseling services to help their employees deal with stress, or you can search for counseling services near your area. You can talk about any issues you are experiencing, including your eating disorder, and they can help you pinpoint the reasons behind your stress and how you can manage it. You can work with them to help you identify the thoughts contributing to your stress and use techniques such as practicing mindfulness or cognitive behavior therapy to help you change your way of thinking.


An eating disorder can be exhausting and draining. It can affect every sphere of your life, including your workplace and home life. It is crucial that you find different strategies and support to help you deal with your eating disorder and seek professional help. Don’t let it get worse, and seek timely help!

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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