By Shamira Graham, Director of Corporate Solutions at Onebright
Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which takes place from 27th February and 5th March, aims to fight the myths and misunderstandings that surround anorexia, bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
According to Beat, an eating disorder charity, over 1 million people in the UK suffer from eating disorders. These are serious conditions where people often use food as a coping mechanism, which affects their ability to control thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Unhealthy eating behaviours then often influence appearance, body weight and exercise habits.
Spotting the signs of eating disorders
There are many forms of eating disorder that can affect an individual’s daily life, relationships, and productivity at work. These conditions can take form as:
Cycles of binges, where large amounts of food are eaten at once, sometimes followed by purges (getting rid of food by forced vomiting or laxative use)Very strict controls around eating and drinking – including the type of meal or snack, where you decide to eat or drink and the time of day you decide to eatDistorted body image and a deep fear of gaining weightFeelings of disgust, shame or guilt related to eating or exerciseLow self-esteem, irritability, and mood swings
How to support employees who may have eating disorders
It’s important for businesses to have a deeper understanding of how to support their employees with both their physical and mental wellbeing. Here are some ways to provide support and resources to those who may be struggling with an eating disorder.
Listen and educate
It can be challenging for someone to open up about how they’re truly feeling and how eating affects them in their daily life. If an employee decides to talk to you about their thoughts and feelings, lend an ear. Sometimes the most significant step is them admitting how they are feeling, especially if they have been battling with their eating disorder alone for a while.
Listen intently, be patient and educate yourself on what they may be dealing with. Remember you are not taking the role of a clinician, but rather explaining the avenues available for them to seek professional help if necessary.
Treating an employee any differently will only make them feel worse. Positive adjustments may be needed to support an individual, and managers should provide support without making them feel like a burden. Where possible, continue to communicate with them as you would any employee to ensure no one feels alienated.
Be conscious of the language you use
It is important to remember that an eating disorder is a mental health condition. For some people, controlling their relationship with food is a way to feel in control of emotions or other stress-inducing situations. It’s crucial to be conscious of the language you use around body image and weight, as these comments can be a major trigger of negative emotions and behaviours for those struggling with disordered eating.
Shifting the tone of a conversation to an individual’s overall health and wellbeing can be helpful. Conversations and questions which are related to physical health rather than appearance will help people with eating difficulties to focus on their overall wellbeing and equate their self-worth to something other than their weight.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy allows for those at senior management levels to have a deeper understanding of how binge eating disorders can affect their workforce. It also helps to:
Reveal and challenge beliefs around eating and associated behaviours.Understand eating and binge patterns, and how they may be related to mood and other stressors.Address the underlying causes or accompanying difficulties, such as low mood, irritability, anxiety, or low self-esteem, that may affect an individual’s performance at work.
With a deeper understanding of the ways in which eating disorders affect employees, businesses and organisations can make an impact in promoting good mental and physical health among their workforce and ensure that employees receive the support they need.
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