What is eating disorders awareness week?
Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an international awareness event running from the 26th of February to the 4th of March, fighting the myths and misunderstandings that surround anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders affect anyone, anywhere regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, culture, size, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation. ‘The number of admissions to hospital for eating disorders has nearly doubled in six years’ and ‘they’re responsible for more loss of life than any other form of psychological illness’. The deniability, secrecy, and stigma surrounding eating disorders will stop many seeking help and prevent others from taking responsibility to help a sufferer.
The theme this year is ‘Let’s Get Real’ with the goal to expand the conversation by highlighting stories we don’t often hear. ‘On average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days’. Hopefully, by raising awareness people suffering in silence won’t be afraid to speak out. To help raise awareness you can socially converse with others and share your personal stories, find or plan an event and give presentations to spread accurate awareness of facts.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders can result in serious health concerns and physical and mental health complications involving your organs, the intellect, the mind and your mood which can result in loss of life. The DSM-5 (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) list eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is characterised by weight loss, difficulties in maintaining an appropriate body weight and a distorted body image. Bulimia nervosa combines binge eating with purging behaviours such as self-induced vomiting and excessive exercise in an attempt to avoid weight gain. Binge eating involves recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short amount of time and feeling out of control.
Why are eating disorders becoming more prevalent in today’s society?
It’s a myth that eating disorders are a choice. Researchers are unable to pinpoint the underlying causes and nature of eating disorders. It likely involves abnormal activity distributed across neural systems. Additionally, eating disorders appear to run in families so research on genetic factors continues. Psychological, interpersonal and social skills also play a role in eating disorders. For example, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, loneliness, troubled relationships, history of bullying and exam and work pressure. Social media encourages unrealistic body image ideals which encourages the futile aim of perfectionism. Additionally, fictions, including movies and books, circulate an inaccurate portrayal of the disorders, therefore increasing the risk of developing an eating disorder.
How can employees detect eating disorders in the workplace?
Eating disorders in the workplace can be difficult to detect. There are, however, some behavioural and physical signs to look out for;
- A discrepancy between reality and their perception (they are underweight but they say that they think they’re overweight)
- Preoccupation and obsession with food, weight, appearance, and dieting
- Difficulties concentrating
- Scheduling work events around exercise
- Cutting food into tiny pieces so it’s less obvious how much they’ve eaten
- Evidence of binge eating such as the disappearance of large amounts of food
- Social withdrawal and isolation from co-workers and normal activities
- Evidence of purging including going to the bathroom after eating
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Unusual increase or decrease in productivity levels
- Mood swings and denial or indifference
- Weakness and persistent tiredness or lethargy
For more information visit https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
How should you approach and help a colleague who has an eating disorder?
‘From a survey of over 650 people who have suffered from eating disorders at work, one in three sufferers had faced discrimination in the workplace. 40% admitted their employer had unhelpfully impacted on their recovery. 38% had used annual leave to meet medical appointments and 80% believed their employers and workmates were uninformed about their eating disorder’. As an employee or employer, you can support your colleague by;
- Speaking to them and expressing your concern in an empathetic and non-accusatory manner whilst respecting the confidentiality of their self-disclosure. However, don’t assume they have the disorder and avoid becoming a counsellor as this can expose your organisation to liability for a discrimination claim.
- Provide positive praise and reinforcement of recovery and listen to their worries and concerns.
- Allowing them leave to seek treatment. You could also offer to see their GP with them for support.
- Ensuring everyone in a workplace is aware of eating disorders. This may involve providing leaflets with information on how to offer support to those who suffer from them
- Inform your employee of helpful resources available. These include therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), nutritional guidance, evidence-based treatments based on scientific evidence and research trials and prescribed medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs.) However, remember it’s best to encourage them to seek professional guidance.
Where can I begin to get help?
If you suffer from an eating disorder or you’re concerned about someone you believe has an eating disorder, a range of contacts exist who can offer help and support. This includes;
- NEDA website and confidential helpline: 1-800-931-2237 or text ‘NEDA’ to 741741 for 24/7 crisis support.
- BEAT website and Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677 and email firstname.lastname@example.org or Youthline: 0808 801 0711 and email email@example.com
- More helplines are available on https://www.itv.com/thismorning/eating-disorder-helplines