Tag Archives: eating disorder

How to Address Eating Disorders at Work

In America, 30 million people will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life. With statistics this high, it is likely that someone you know, or perhaps even you, has struggled with this mental health issue. Family members, friends and even coworkers can struggle with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Despite their prevalence, eating disorders are treatable. It is important to know the signs and symptoms as well as what to do if someone you know is at risk—especially in the workplace.

Our workplaces are often a source of stress. Deadlines, long hours and strained relationships can leave us feeling tired and vulnerable. When we feel down, we can be more susceptible to mental illness, including eating disorders, and stressful times can exacerbate existing conditions. With eating disorders, as with most illnesses, early intervention is important.

Businesses are in an excellent position to help employees who may be struggling with an eating disorder. Wellness programs can help raise awareness and encourage treatment. And anonymous screening programs can be an effective way to assist employees.

Anonymous and confidential mental health screenings are designed to help individuals examine any thoughts or behaviors that may be associated with eating disorders. After completing the self-assessment, users are provided with helpful resources and treatment information, if necessary. Although the screenings are not diagnostic, they will determine if someone is exhibiting symptoms associated with an eating disorder and if that someone should seek help.

Some common eating disorder signs and symptoms include:

  • Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and the control of food are becoming primary concerns
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
  • Hiding body with baggy clothes
  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods or lots of wrappers and containers indicating consumption of large amounts of food
  • Maintaining an excessive, rigid exercise regimen—despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury—because of the need to “burn off” calories
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water or using excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints and gum

If you are concerned that a coworker may have an eating disorder, there are things you can do to help. Rather than focus on issues related to their physical appearance, let your coworker know you have noticed a change in their behavior. Perhaps the quality of their work has suffered or their mood has changed. Let them know that you care and offer helpful resources. If your workplace offers a wellness or screening program, share that information. Anonymous eating disorder screenings are always available at MyBodyScreening.org. Be sure to follow-up with the coworker to see how they are doing. Support systems are important as they work toward recovery.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is a public-private partnership advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, put forward by the U.S. surgeon general. The alliance supports mental health and suicide prevention programs in the workplace and endorses mental health screenings as part of those programs. Screenings can make a difference in mental health and suicide prevention.

As millions of adults struggle with eating disorders, workplaces can make an impact by spreading awareness, offering screenings and encouraging treatment. It is in the best interest of an employer to help workers stay healthy and productive. Wellness and screening programs are a proven way to do this.

The Mental Health Disorder Employers Need to Recognize

As many employers offer wellness programs, they focus on increasing their employees’ physical health but often neglect to offer any mental health component to their wellness programs. If employers do offer a mental health component to their wellness programs, the focus is usually on depression, the most common mental health issue. Yet, there is a prevalent mental health disorder that affects 30 million Americans and often goes untreated – eating disorders.

Employers that provide incentives for weight loss programs without a mental health component are putting themselves at risk by not being able to detect employees who develop unhealthy eating and exercise habits.

Twenty million women and 10 million men will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).  Research shows that 35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting and, of those, 20% to 25% develop partial or full eating disorders.

There is a common misperception that eating disorders are simply an obsession with eating or dieting. Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. Individuals with anorexia nervosa are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and suicide is the leading cause of death for those with this disorder. Eating disorders also often occur along with other mental illnesses, and approximately 50% to 75% of those with an eating disorder also suffer from major depressive disorder. However, because of the stigma surrounding eating disorders and mental health, only one in 10 will seek treatment.

Mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, need to be viewed and treated like physical illnesses. As with most illnesses, early intervention and detection are the keys to recovery.

How Employers Can Help

  1. Learn the signs and symptoms of eating disorders:
  • Constant adherence to increasingly strict diets, regardless of weight
  • Habitual trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Secretly bingeing on large amounts of food
  • Hoarding large amounts of food
  • Exercising compulsively, often several hours per day
  • Avoidance of meals or situations where food may be present
  • Preoccupation with weight, body size and shape, or specific aspects of one’s appearance
  • Obsessing over calorie intake and calories burned via exercise, even as one may be losing significant amounts of weight

The National Eating Disorder Association provides more information on the types of eating disorders and signs and symptoms. 

Learn the signs and symptoms of suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Stopasuicide.org provides more information on the signs and symptoms of suicide and how to help.

Provide employees tools to check in on their mental health:

  • Online screenings are a great first step toward treatment and offer employees an anonymous, confidential way to learn if they have signs or symptoms of an eating disorder or other mental health disorder.
  •  Online screenings consist of a series of questions designed to indicate whether symptoms of an eating disorder are present. The screenings also includes a question about suicide. If an individual provides a positive answer during this question, a pop-up message appears that provides the individual with emergency resources such as 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline, if needed.
  • After completing the screening, participants receive immediate feedback and referral information to local resources for further information or treatment.

Connect with resources

  • The Workplace Task Force, a component of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, provides support for employers and works with them to implement a comprehensive, public health approach to employee wellness.

The best way to address employee mental health is to ensure it is a key component of any employee wellness program. In addition, employers that publicly show a commitment to employee mental health help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health disorders and increase help-seeking among those suffering.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is Feb, 22-28, providing employers with a great opportunity to increase awareness of eating disorders among their employees. Screening for Mental Health in partnership with the National Eating Disorder Association provides anonymous online mental health screenings at http://mybodyscreening.org/.