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Civil Service

Launching the Civil Service Eating Disorders Network

Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2021

Eating Disorders Awareness Week (1-7 March) aims to raise awareness and show solidarity and compassion for people affected by this debilitating condition.

I am proud to champion the new Civil Service Eating Disorders Network (CSEDN) efforts to tackle stigma around eating disorders in the workplace and provide support to colleagues.

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions with potentially life-threatening impacts. UK charity Beat estimates that 1.25-3.4 million people in the UK currently experience eating disorders. A further 4-5 million people are indirectly affected through supporting and caring responsibilities.

Shrouded in stigma

However, they are unfortunately still shrouded in stigma, misunderstanding and silence – particularly in the workplace. This can make it difficult for those with an eating disorder to speak up.

This can also make it hard for line managers and colleagues to spot signs of illness and offer support. A Beat survey found over 30% of people felt they were stigmatised or discriminated against because of their eating disorder at work. More than four in five respondents felt their colleagues were uninformed about eating disorders.

Issues at work

Like other illness, eating disorders can impact a person’s ability to work, whether they themselves are affected or are supporting someone. Issues at work can, in turn, exacerbate the illness.

By breaking the stigma through open conversations, we can make the Civil Service a more inclusive workplace for those experiencing any issues. We can prevent serious problems from arising and foster an environment that allows colleagues to reach their potential.

Sarah Harrison, Chief Operating Officer, Cabinet Office

I encourage you all to get involved and support CSEDN’s programme of events and initiatives. Together, we can break the barrier for people who need to seek help but may be too fearful to do so.

As a parent of a teenager who has suffered anorexia, I know first-hand of the challenges of eating disorders, anxiety and poor mental health. I have also experienced the impact it has on families and friends.

Eating disorders don’t discriminate. They can affect anyone – regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or socioeconomic background. While eating disorders are difficult to treat, support and understanding in the workplace can play a significant role in recovery.

Introducing the CSEDN

Louise Sun

Louise Sun (CSEDN co-founder) explains: The CSEDN’s goal is to raise awareness and support anyone affected by eating disorders by fostering a safe and inclusive workplace culture. Anyone affected deserves to feel able to ask for help without fear of judgement, shame or discrimination.

We aim to achieve this by:

  • Supporting colleagues directly and indirectly affected and signpost resources;
  • Organising events, training, and providing information;
  • Facilitating peer support groups; and
  • Working with other networks on cross-cutting issues and encouraging diversity of voices around eating disorders.
Charlotte Coxon

Charlotte Coxon (CSEDN co-founder) highlighted the knock-on positive effects of one person speaking up.

After reading an intranet blog about a colleague’s eating disorder experience, I got in touch and we had a chat about the topic. The next year, inspired by her candid bravery, I wrote a blog about my experiences to raise awareness.

Following publication, another colleague got in touch and wanted to see how we could support others. We decided to set up a yammer support group for Defra colleagues. We also published a joint blog on ED awareness in relation to the Covid-19 situation and joined up with colleagues in the CSEDN.

Georgina Partida

Georgina Partida (CSEDN co-founder) summarised her experience of support received.

Sharing stories and finding colleagues with similar experiences to me has been so helpful with my recovery. The Support Group is such a brilliant place to share advice and worries about how EDs affect us all in the workplace.

We work together to help each other overcome things we may be struggling with. It’s a fantastic group and I’m so pleased to be able to spread awareness and support available across the civil service.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week Programme

The CSEDN have put together an exciting programme of events for all civil servants to take part in during EDAW. As part of this, I’m looking forward to discussing the impact of 2020 on disordered eating with Beat’s CEO Andrew Radford.  We will also be launching a video series on the Civil Service YouTube channel.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the network at

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  1. Comment by Louise Sun posted on

  2. Comment by Louise Sun posted on

    Many thanks Stuart, Cliff, Gavin - we really appreciate your kind comments. Absolutely agree on being fortunate to have had a role model in Gillian Whitworth for playing a huge role in driving forwards the BEIS Eating Disorders Support Group and spreading that to FCDO - definitely a well-deserved award.

    A shoutout to other CSEDN co-founders and members too who have done an amazing job of delivering EDAW: Reena Gudka, Kat Holmes, Chloe Page, Jackie O'Neil, Beatrice Moon, Laura Garn and Hulya Hooker (as well as Charlotte and George mentioned above of course). Thank you to you all - I feel very lucky to be able to work with you on such an important topic.

    Our membership is open to anyone across the civil service, please do email us if you're interested or pass on details to anyone who you think may be interested.

  3. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you promoting this key mental health condition, which affects so many people.

    I have to say that I have encouraged with the great work that colleagues have been doing within the Civil Service to educate and raise awareness.

    I have also been amazed with the number of celebrities who have spoken openly about their personal challenges and relationship with food. I was especially surprised to hear about the number of men affected by this condition.

    Within FCDO, we have been fortunate to have had a role model in Gillian Whitworth who has sought to break the stigma associated with Eating Disorders, increase awareness and understanding, and offer support.

    Really pleased that her efforts were recently acknowledged and she won the Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Award.

  4. Comment by Cliff Sale posted on

    Really interesting article and a fantastic initiative,

    Eating disorders affect so many people and have been misunderstood for so long, so raising awareness of the subject and how it impacts individuals, their friends and family is therefore much needed.

    It takes a huge amount of courage to acknowledge and want to change and any support that can be given to those in that situation can be invaluable.

  5. Comment by Stuart Rawlins posted on

    Excellent work - I suffered a lot from mental health (stress, depression etc.) and that culminated in gut issues and then anxiety around what to eat or not (also when I was younger when I was bullied about being overweight). Fortunately I got coached around these (and try to help others too now the mental health issues have gone), but it is good to see people setting this up.