Managing Eating Disorders in the Workplace
As many as 24 million people in America suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Eating disorders are often attached with shame and embarrassment, prohibiting most sufferers from seeking treatment. In fact, only one of every 10 people with an eating disorder ever receive treatment. When left untreated, eating disorders can disrupt one’s every day life, including productivity at work and relationships with coworkers.
The workplace can be a source of great stress for many people. While the stress in some work environments may trigger an eating disorder, a healthy work environment can help promote health and wellness. Awareness of signs and symptoms of eating disorders will enable employer and supervisors to address concerns with employees, encouraging them to seek treatment.
Eating disorders most often exist in treatment, but there are several signs and symptoms you can look out for. These include:
- Excessive weight loss
- Preoccupation with food
- Mood swings, compulsive behavior, depression
- Compulsive exercising
- Preoccupation with weight and body image
- Difficulty concentrating
- Withdrawing from others
- Skipping meals or giving excuses for not being hungry
By being aware of these symptoms, and giving close attention to the job performance of employees, you may be able to detect an eating disorder and encourage an employee to seek treatment. Though you may suspect an eating disorder, it’s important to never allege that an employee has an eating disorder, rather discuss poor job performance of behavioral indications and express a concern for your employee’s overall health and wellness.
If an employee does disclose their eating disorder, he or she is protected from discrimination based on the disease by the Americans with Disabilities Act. ADA law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. These may include:
- Accommodating the employee’s doctor appointments.
- Modifying job duties, for example, breaking large projects into smaller tasks.
- Encouraging the employee to continue with medication and treatment.
If you suspect an employee or coworker may be suffering from an eating disorder, share your concern for his or her overall health and wellness with them. Encourage them to seek treatment, and take care to not evoke feelings of shame or condemnation.
If you suffer from an eating disorder, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year. Arm yourself with tools to avoid eating disorder triggers and pitfalls at holiday parties and work functions. Here are a few tips:
- Always take a “wingman” with you to holiday parties. This individual should be someone who knows your triggers and is able to help you combat common pitfalls.
- If you’re attending a potluck party, be sure to cook a dish that you consider to be “safe.” That will guarantee you at least one thing to eat while at the party that won’t trigger your eating disorder or unhealthy behaviors.
- Never go to a holiday party hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Think: “HALT,” the common slogan for eating disorder treatment and recovery.
- Anticipate drama. Be realistic, the holidays are never drama-free. If drama tends to be a trigger for your eating disorder, prepare yourself ahead of time for a potentially emotional or stressful evening. If you don’t go into the holidays expecting perfection, you will better able to navigate common triggers associated with emotions and stress.
Eating disorders can cause serious health complications. If you or someone you love suffers from binge eating, compulsive over-eating or bulimia, seek help from a professional.
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