4 Facts & 4 Tips For Eating Disorders in the Workplace


1) You cannot “SEE” an eating disorder in the workplace


A common myth about eating disorders is that you can SEE it. This is false. An eating disorder is a mental illness. Weight is not always an indicator of an eating disorder. As a result, you can’t know whether or not someone has an eating disorder.  As a result, you can’t know whether or not someone has an eating disorder by appearance.


Over 90% of my clients have had a normal BMI and appeared to be in physically great shape.


eating disorders in the work place at a meeting


2) Eating disorders and mental illness impacts productivity


Mental wellness matters. Many argue that success in the workplace is 80% mental and 20% strategy.


100% of my coaching clients are so consumed with thoughts of food and their body that they can’t meet their performance goals in the workplace.


Thoughts of eating lunch with colleagues feels overwhelming. Typical work conversations of diets can be triggering. As a result, this leads to restriction, over-exercising or binge episodes.


The eating disorder takes over lives. Therefore, many of my clients miss work regularly. They feel physically and mentally drained. And it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning.


The World Health Organization reported that depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact – to the tune of $1 trillion per year globally in lost productivity.


3) Eating disorders are more common in over-achievers


Eating disorders affect 30 million people in the United States. And they have the highest mortality rates among any mental illness.


Studies have shown that those with bulimia and anorexia have higher levels of perfectionism.


Not surprisingly, employees who perform at the top of their game and set high standards for themselves are more likely to suffer from an eating disorder.


These are the employees you want to retain!


I struggled with an eating disorder for seven years in a corporate environment and during graduate business school. I often wonder how much more effective I would have been if I didn’t have the eating disorder.


4) Shame plays a big role


I’m curious. If you had a mental illness, would you feel comfortable sharing with HR or your direct boss?


Firstly, many people are too ashamed to admit they are struggling. We now have a list of celebrities who seemed okay, but in reality were suffering. Secondly, it’s easier to pretend like everything is okay. You won’t draw attention to yourself. Plus, wearing a ‘wellness’ mask feels safer.


Finally, people don’t want to be a burden. Therefore, people don’t often seek help when depressed or mentally ill.


All of my clients felt pressure to keep the eating disorder ‘a secret’ in the work place. This secrecy increases the shame and reinforces eating disorder behaviors.


Ultimately, if an employee feels unsupported, he or she may call in sick or even worse, quit.


What employers can do to help employees with eating disorders


Mental wellness is the new ‘ping pong table’ and ‘kombucha on tap’ at companies. Invest in the mental wellness of your people and you’ll attract top tier talent and retain them.


Businesses don’t need to overhaul HR. And companies don’t need to add a new role to support those struggling.


Managers can take any of the below steps to show that mental wellness is a priority.


1) offer a list of resources for anyone struggling with mental illness.


This can include contact info of coaches, therapists, and dietitians. On the other hand, avoid giving employees a phone number to the insurance company.


I’ve seen companies hire in house coaches and mental wellness professionals. Employees can speak to these professionals in confidence.


2) contribute financially to mental wellness.


First, offer quarterly wellness seminars. Coaches or employees can facilitate these powerful sessions. Second, give your employees  tools to cope with stress. Finally, offer individual virtual coaching sessions for employees. Employees will feel safe, heard and won’t fear being judged.


All of these can be achieved by partnering with a mental wellness coach.


In conclusion, managers should care about employees with eating disorders. They should have an active mental wellness plan in place. And the plan should include a clear path for employees to seek help.


3) clearly communicate that mental wellness matters.


Let employees know mental health is a core value at the company. Write on the walls if you have to!


For example, your company could say: “If you are battling a mental illness, we will support you. And we want you to speak with Susie in HR to get help.”


4) create an environment that allows for mistakes.


Otherwise, the work culture may unknowingly increase the intensity of eating disorder behaviors.


If you are interested in an employee wellness seminar to improve productivity, focus and confidence, schedule a free consultation today.

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