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Eating disorders: time to talk about employee wellbeing

Published by: LifeWorks,

Patrick McCaslin was a happy kid. He spent his days soaking up the sun and his evenings chasing after lightning bugs — a fond childhood memory many of us share. But, sadly, the picturesque childhood Patrick enjoyed wouldn’t last.

After entering high school, relentless bullying led Patrick into a pit of despair. This later resulted in a long struggle with anorexia; a struggle that would land him in the hospital and out of a job on multiple occasions.  

“Last year, at this very time, I was once again in an outpatient setting,” wrote Patrick. “I started to let go of hope and felt myself slipping away. I hit the bottom and was upset that I was struggling again. I told myself I would never fall again, and being in treatment another time really was rough.”

Eating disorders are serious conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. Many people still don’t fully understand what eating disorders are or how to address them, which is why National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is so important.

From February 26th to March 4th, the National Eating Disorders Association is sharing a simple message:

It’s time to talk about it.

As a superhuman resources professional, you know the importance of proactively addressing employee well-being. Communicating is crucial to someone’s recovery.

Employee well-being relies on your understanding of health topic and your ability to address them. Let’s take a look at how you can help people like Patrick:

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders refer to a range of psychological disorders that involve extreme emotions and behaviors that surround weight and food issues. Some of the most common disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

When people suffer from anorexia nervosa, they restrict their food so much that their body starts to slow down processes. They can experience fatigue, muscle loss and weakness, low blood pressure, and a reduction of bone density.

Bulimia nervosa can have terrible health consequences as well. Sufferers will binge eat large amounts of food, then purge through self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives. This can lead to pancreatitis, irregular heartbeats, tooth decay, and pancreatitis.

Unfortunately, most people with eating disorders often also have other mental health issues. A December 2015 study from Psychiatric Research found 71 percent of patients with an eating disorder experience at least one other disorder, the most common type being anxiety disorders.

The effect of anxiety can lead to worse consequences, like addictions. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment published a study in April 2010 that found the presence of anxiety disorders in opiate-dependent patients ranged from 26 to 35 percent.

In other words, an eating disorder may be just one piece of the puzzle. To improve employee well-being, you need to know how complex it can be. Unfortunately, a lot of sufferers stay quiet because of various stigmas.

The best way to combat stigmas and approach employee well-being is through education.

How to educate the workforce

To improve employee well-being, you need to proactively raise awareness. These disorders can be severe, even life-threatening.

Your superpower as a superhuman resources professional is treating employees like people. Encourage open communication and be a source of support for anyone in need.

Hire professionals or survivors to speak about the struggles of living with an eating disorder. If an employee sees someone else talking about what they’re hiding, they’re more prone to speak up and get help.

Look for warning signs that an employee is struggling silently. When you know an employee is suffering, you can offer them help through an employee assistance program (EAP). This help can take the form of educational resources or even counseling services. That’s the great thing about EAPs; help is catered to individual employees.  

How to help employees

Superheroes save lives, and you can too, even without a cape. As a superhuman resources professional, you deliver hope to employees by making them feel comfortable with getting help. When you establish trust, you can make a big impact on employee well-being.

Approach employees in private and discuss their performance. This invites them to open up, and if they mention an issue, refer them to their EAP, where they can contact professionals privately.

As for our friend Patrick, he has won his battle with anorexia:

A year ago I was hopeless, and was fearful I would never be able to work again. I now wake up every day and look forward to living life. I look in the mirror and tell myself to be proud of just how far I have come.

How are you addressing eating disorders and employee well-being in your workplace?

Make your employees feel loved