Feb 6, 201911:15 PM Live Well, Work Well
with Debra Lafler
Understanding eating disorders at the workplace
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Have you heard about eating disorders at work? Most likely you haven’t. Most employers don’t have it on their radar as something to educate about or help their employees with. But it is an important topic that we should be talking about.
“Eating disorders can affect anyone. High-performing, dedicated employees may struggle with disordered eating … impairing otherwise excellent performance. As with many illnesses, eating disorders have serious health effects that, gone untreated, may lead to lost productivity and long-term medical problems.” — Eating disorders in the workplace toolkit, National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)
I am bringing up the issue of eating disorders this month for a few reasons. First, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is the last week of February. Second, I am in recovery myself, and continue to feel challenged even though I’m currently doing well. And third, I have worked with many employees in health coaching sessions throughout the years that struggle with disordered eating patterns, even if they are not diagnosed with an eating disorder.
In this blog, I am going to define both eating disorders and disordered eating, and provide us with ways we can help employees.
Statistics on eating disorders
- 30 million people from all ages and genders suffer from eating disorders.
- Every 62 minutes someone dies from complications from an eating disorder.
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
- One in five people who suffer from anorexia commit suicide.
- Thirteen percent of women over the age of 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors.
These are the statistics on eating disorders that have been reported. However, many people do not report their eating behaviors, so these statistics are likely under-representing the issue.
Health complications of eating disorders
Eating disorders can contribute to a number of health issues. In addition to affecting someone’s energy, vitality, and sense of well-being, the following medical complications can emerge:
- Weight loss or weight gain;
- Gastro-intestinal conditions (mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines);
- Electrolyte imbalance;
- Muscle loss and weakness;
- Heart disease and heart failure;
- Type 2 diabetes; and
- Gallbladder disease.
When someone is diagnosed with an eating disorder, it means that the mindset and behaviors regarding eating and their body have become obsessive, compulsive, addictive, and they feel a lack of ability to control them. Like any addiction, it feels as if the eating disorder is in control of the person, rather than the person being in control of their mindset and behaviors.
Ironically, most people with eating disorders say that they engage in the behaviors as a means to feel like they are in control of their body and/or their eating, especially if other areas of their life are feeling out-of-control.
There are many types of eating disorders. The most commonly mentioned are anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia is where someone severely restricts their eating and loses a significant amount of weight, many times to the point of being underweight. Bulimia is where a person repeatedly overeats and then purges the food through vomiting, laxatives, or over-exercising. And binge-eating disorder is where the person repeatedly compulsively overeats to the point of being uncomfortably full. However, it is important to note that someone with an eating disorder can also have a variety of these behaviors that cross over categories.