By Elizabeth Simon, BABCP Accredited Therapist, Supervisor and Trainer Deputy Clinical Lead at Onebright
Between the 13th and the 17th of June, Healthy Eating Week 2022, will raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating all over the UK.
Binge Eating Disorder is a very serious condition where people use food as a coping mechanism, with meals and snacks being consumed in a short period of time, which then in part affects an individual’s ability to control their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Unhealthy eating behaviours often have a trickle effect on appearance, body weight concerns and over-exercising.
According to the eating disorder charity Beat, over 1 million people in the UK suffer from eating disorders, with binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia, and avoidant or restrictive food intake being other serious forms of the condition.
Spotting the signs of eating disorders
There are many forms of eating disorders that can affect a person in their daily life, relationships, and productivity at work:
- Cycles of binges, with eating large amounts of food 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 eat.
- Distorted body image and a deep fear of gaining weight
- Feelings of disgust, shame or guilt related to eating or exercise
- Low 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 supporting their employees with not just their mental wellbeing, but their physical wellbeing as well. Here are some ways you can support employees who may find it difficult to cope with an eating disorder, which could affect their productivity and performance at work:
Listen & 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, don’t judge, lend an ear. Sometimes the most significant step of all is them admitting how they are feeling to someone, 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. Psychoeducation plays a big role in the recovery of that person, so it can only help you to understand their issues too. Remember you are not taking the role of a clinician; explain avenues available for them to seek professional help and encourage them to do so at the earliest opportunity.
Treating an employee any differently will only make them feel worse or they might feel like a burden in regard to discussing their eating disorder. Positive adjustments may be needed to support an individual – and managers need to act without making the employee feel like a burden. Employees will pick up on any change of treatment, so where possible, carry on communicating with them as you would any employee. It also helps to ground them and bring a sense of ‘normal’ in their lives.
Be conscious of the language you use
It is important for us to be aware that an eating disorder is a mental health condition, where people have a difficult relationship with food, this can become a way to feel in control of, or cope with emotions and other situations. A disturbance in someone’s eating can be the result of an underlying issue, this will differ from person to person.
Using compliments related to someone’s body image, weight, or shape to try and support them when they are struggling with an eating disorder might have unintended, unforeseen consequences. Body related comments, no matter how flattering, could do more harm than good. It is important to be conscious of our language when communicating with others as body-related remarks can generate the idea that how you look is important in the availability and provision of support. Additionally, these body-related remarks can be a major trigger of negative emotions and behaviours, especially for those struggling with disordered eating.
Shifting the tone of the conversation to be more focused on a person’s overall health and wellbeing can be helpful. Asking about how someone is doing and expressing that you are pleased to see them focuses more on the whole person and ensures people do not feel that they are just seen as having a problem with eating. Conversations and questions which are not appearance related will help people with eating difficulties to focus on their overall wellbeing and help them equate their self-worth to something other than their weight.
Psychiatric Care through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Psychiatric Care is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that has been adapted to support and offer treatment to those who suffer from eating disorders. Psychiatry will provide a comprehensive assessment, diagnosis, treatment recommendations and medication where appropriate and ongoing review as and where required.
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 and educate them on the problem.
- 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.
By having that deeper understanding of the ways in which eating disorders affect employees, businesses and organisations can make all important strides in promoting good mental and physical health among their workforce and ensure that employees receive the support they need to overcome it. I encourage people to remember that Eating Disorders are not about food, or weight even if this is how they present it. It is about retaining a sense of emotional control.