Information and resources about eating disorders available to employees

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs Feb. 27–March 4 with the goal of providing education about disordered eating and connecting people with, potentially, life-saving resources. The reality is that eating disorders affect 30 million Americans at some point in their lives, and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Unfortunately, despite the prevalence of these disorders, they are disorders of shame and secrets—and most people never get the help they need.

Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED), avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (AFRID), and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED). People who struggle with eating disorders experience problems in many facets of their lives. For example, relationships often are strained or limited, focus and productivity usually decline, and serious health effects can develop. Common medical complications of eating disorders include heart failure, kidney failure, gastric rupture, gallbladder disease, tooth decay, ulcers, and many other serious conditions. Besides medical complications from binge-eating, purging, starvation and over-exercise, suicide is common among individuals with eating disorders.

In fast-paced, high-demand, high-performance work settings, employees are at higher risk for developing disordered eating behaviors and possibly an eating disorder. For example, in times of higher work demand, people may skip breakfast and/or lunch. Ignoring hunger cues and skipping meals can result in increased hunger later in the day. The restriction of calories and denial of physical hunger and fullness cues are a setup for developing binge-eating behaviors. Many employees struggle with poor body image or low self-esteem. The overconsumption or restriction of food may offer comfort, a feeling of power and control, or a sense of protection from the stresses of work and/or home life.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) suggests awareness of the following warning signs:

  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Food rituals
  • Obsessing over appearance
  • Negative self-esteem
  • Hoarding or hiding food
  • Eating in secret
  • Unhealthy exercise habits
  • Disappearing after eating
  • Dangerous dieting or “clean” eating
  • Personality changes
  • Large quantities of disappearing food
  • Hiding wrappers and containers
  • Gastrointestinal distress

If you are concerned about yourself, someone at work or someone at home, it is important to be aware of options for assessment, treatment and recovery. The Work/Life Connections–Employee Assistance Program’s article “Signs, Effects and Recovery Support for Eating Disorders” is a good place to start.

You, a friend or a loved one also can complete a confidential, online screening—the Disordered Eating and Negative Body Image Self-Assessment.

While WLC–EAP does not offer ongoing treatment for eating disorders, Vanderbilt employees and spouses can seek brief, targeted support and referrals by calling (615) 936-1327 and making an appointment.

By Chad A. Buck, WLC–EAP psychologist