Tag Archives: overweight

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.

2 Studies of Why Wellness Fails

Henry David Thoreau famously said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation…”

People who lead desperate lives don’t make good subjects for wellness programs, nor, for that matter, lifestyle advice from doctors. Below are two real life examples of ordinary people I’ve chatted with about matters of personal health. After both of these conversations, I was quite humbled.

Case 1

I had a chance conversation with a pleasant but overweight woman I’ll call Donna, a cashier in a big city grocery store, who was about 50 years old. We were having a nice chat, and I asked her if she had opportunities to exercise after work. Donna said that, after being on her feet all day, she had to go home and put her feet up. That prevented her from having much of a social life, too. Donna said she would never have a better job, that she’d never buy a new car, nor afford vacations or holiday trips. Her rent was so high, it was all she could do to makes ends meet. Donna said her only fun in life was buying a take-home pizza and a six pack of beer once or twice a week. Take that away, and Donna said she had nothing. Truthfully, and sadly, in my heart I could not blame her.

Case 2

A few years ago I had a lengthy cab ride in Baltimore and struck up a good conversation with the cab driver, a friendly, middle-aged man I’ll call George. He asked what I did for living, which resulted in a good chat about personal health. George smoked, had high blood pressure and diabetes and was overweight. He said he’d tried to get those things under control but just couldn’t. The interesting part of the story is why he couldn’t control his health risks. George said he’d lived in Baltimore all his life and had the same set of friends since grade school. One night a week, they’d go bowling, eat huge meals and drink way too much beer. Also, once a week or so they’d go to a sports bar and do the same thing. George truly believed he’d have to give up his lifelong friends if he were to cut out that lifestyle. He knew it was slowly killing him, but he just wasn’t willing give up. It was hard to blame him either.

Those are two true stories of people trapped in a lifestyle they can’t or won’t willingly forfeit. Huge numbers of people are in the same boat.

Some people are going to comply with doctor suggestions on lifestyle without any help at work. But, if Thoreau is right, there are many people out there like Donna and George.

Bad lifestyle choices can be terribly complex. They virtually never arise from the lack of the kind of information that wellness vendors push as the solution.