Eating Disorders Awareness Week: 26th February-4th March 2018

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is from 26th February to 4th March 2018, and focuses on the issues which matter to those affected by eating disorders. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that involve disordered eating behaviour, and include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). Eating disorders are not entirely about food, but about feelings - the way a person interacts with food may make them feel in control or more able to cope. Although young women are most likely to develop an eating disorder, anyone can actually develop an eating disorder, irrespective of their age, sex, or ethnic or cultural background. Alongside an eating disorder, some experience mental or physical health issues, which can also sometimes play a part in the eating disorder developing. Anorexia has been found to have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. Bulimia is associated with severe medical complications, and those with binge eating disorder can suffer medical complications associated with obesity. Regardless of the eating disorder someone suffers from, eating disorders severely affect both their quality of life and those that care for them.

Eating disorders in the workplace

Eating disorders can affect an employee’s cognitive functioning due to poor nutrition and coexisting mental disorders. Although the work setting does not cause an individual to develop an eating disorder, work-related stress can be a factor that intensifies the issue. Eating disorders can clearly have a severe effect whether inside or outside the workplace. Employees with eating disorders often present little difficulty at work and excel in their role, meaning that it is not always easy to recognise an employee with an eating disorder. There are a number of symptoms that you can look out for that could be potential signs of an eating disorder, including the following.

Symptoms to look out for

• Preoccupation with food, weight, appearance and dieting • Difficulties concentrating • Avoiding workplace events where food might be present • Scheduling work events around exercise • Evidence of binge eating, such as the disappearance of large amounts of food, or the presence of large numbers of candy wrappers and food containers • Evidence of purging, including heading to the bathroom right after eating • Excessive caffeine consumption • Withdrawal from co-workers and normal activities • Unusual increase or decrease in productivity levels • Physical changes, such as weight gain, loss or fluctuations • Increasing stress and anxiety • Low self-esteem • Mood swings and irritability

How to talk to employees about eating disorders

Keep it confidential. Whether the employee has disclosed their eating disorder to you or you have concerns that they have an eating disorder, never speak about it to other colleagues. You should speak to the HR department or speak to the employee directly. Listen. If an employee discloses their eating disorder to you: listen openly, avoid providing simple solutions such as “just eat” and encourage them to talk to a professional, whether that’s through the HR department or externally. Be flexible. Once an eating disorder has been recognised, the employee may require lengthy treatment or absence to attend appointments. This means their working hours or responsibilities may need to be adjusted so that their health needs are met. If an employee is supporting a loved one with an eating disorder, flexibility will help here also so that they can maintain balance in their lives while helping their loved one recover. Supporting employees with eating disorders is not easy but the above tips should help with the situation. Our helpline number is available 24 hours a day if an employee or their loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, and is in need of help. Telephone number 0844 8922 493

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