Bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder — these most commonly defined eating disorders, along with an array of other types of disordered eating behaviors — can impact all parts of our lives. We have spent time discussing the effects of eating disorders on personal relationships, on self esteem and self care, and on physical health. What about in our workplace? A new article in the Huffington Post speaks about the “cost” of binge eating disorder at the workplace: Binge Eating Disorder and its Impact on the Workplace gives some insight into the positive correlation of binge eating disorder and loss of work productivity.
Dr. Bedrosian, a clinical psychologist with experience treating anxiety, depression and eating disorders states: “Binge eating is more than simply a behavioral problem. Binge eating is associated with greater psychological distress, as measured by increased frequency and intensity of negative emotions, and greater occurrence of negative thoughts and beliefs (e.g., poor body image or obsessive worries about one’s weight). It’s not surprising then that it is also associated with diminished capacity to discharge one’s day-to-day responsibilities.” I would like to expand this statement to include other types of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia — disorders who have similar underlying symptoms such as low self-esteem and feelings of being out of control — and state that ALL types of eating disorders can affect work productivity (focusing, concentrating, and also achievement in school).
It was interesting to find an article such as this one that gives a broader understanding about the complexities of eating disorders, as oftentimes people who struggle with food issues are either judged as “lazy or unproductive”. Eating disorders can also go under the radar at workplaces where there is a ‘normalized culture’ where food is brought in and consumed throughout the day and those who struggle with an eating disorder can have behaviors while ‘flying under the radar’. Dr. Bedrosian concurs that “in general, eating disorders are typically not identified or treated.” Why is this? Why are some eating disordered behaviors “more acceptable socially” than others? When someone who struggles with anorexia, for example, restricts her food, she can get encouraging comments about her “ability to control herself”, and someone who struggles with binge eating disorder can have behaviors that also are not deemed as “disordered”, thus decreasing the rate of intervention and treatment opportunity. This social acceptance of ED behaviors can only increase the feelings of shame, hopelessness, and guilt that are experienced by those struggling.
The article states also that, due to the unnatural and embarrassing nature of eating disordered behaviors, “some people are more likely to report potentially stigmatizing behaviors (e.g., unsafe sexual practices, substance abuse) to computer-based assessment rather than face-to-face assessment with a health care provider.” Providing confidential screening for eating disorders as well as other types of stigmatizing behaviors can potentially increase the disclosure rate and open the door to treatment and recovery.
Finally, the article gives notes to employers for important things to know about binge eating disorder (and other types of EDs):
“What are three things that employers should know about binge eating?
1. This is a common problem, but a treatable one.
2. Screening and treatment for binge eating disorder need to be part of all workplace health promotion programs and every effort we make to contain the obesity epidemic. That means that all employer-based health risk appraisals and weight management programs should be asking participants about binge eating behaviors and either providing them with or referring them to the appropriate services for the problem. As described … above, our experiences indicate that this will result in identifying and triaging substantial numbers of people whose difficulties might otherwise go unnoticed or unacknowledged
3. We need to provide alternative forms of self-help or self-management (e.g., digital health coaching) for people who might be reluctant to acknowledge their symptoms or come forward for treatment. As described … above, our experiences indicated that by doing so, employers may be able to reach a group of people whose eating difficulties might not have been identified or addressed in any other way.”
What are your thoughts on employer screening for ED behaviors and the subsequent effect on health and wellness in the workplace? Is this a helpful procedure, or one that further stigmatizes those who struggle?