February is National Eating Disorders Awareness month, which makes it a great time for your workplace to consider how eating disorders might be affecting your employees.
Although eating disorders are often stigmatized or thought of as a personal — not a professional — problem, the truth is that like other illnesses, eating disorders do affect the workplace. It’s key for employers to understand the basics about eating disorders in order to best shape workplace wellness programs to address the issue.
How Do Eating Disorders Impact the Workplace?
Approximately 24 million Americans suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating. Unfortunately the stigma surrounding these diseases often prevent people from seeking treatment — only 1 in 10 people suffering from eating disorders enter treatment. In addition to causing lasting physical and mental damage, untreated eating disorders can hinder a person at home and at work.
Costs of Lost Productivity
A 2012 study by behavioral health specialist and clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Bedrosian found that binge eating was linked to lost work productivity, costing a company of 1,000 employees up to $107,965 per year. Bedrosian explains that the root of binge eating goes beyond mere behavioral issues, indicating a deeper psychological distress. Due to the greater occurrence and deeper intensity of negative emotions, it can be difficult for employees to deal with daily workplace responsibilities as they handle their eating disorders.
Eating disorders can also lead to other serious health problems, which amounts to more lost productivity and health care costs for employers. In particular, binge eating can lead to adult obesity, which puts employees at greater risk for certain cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more. Anorexia can lead to heart disease, heart arrythmias, and neurological issues such as tremors or seizures. Bulimia can cause kidney disease, heart disease, gum disease, or osteoporosis. Clearly, the physical damage caused by eating disorders doesn’t just stop at the eating disorder itself.
Signs of Eating Disorders
It’s key for employers to know the signs of eating disorders so they can provide employees the help they need, especially since so many eating disorders go untreated or undiagnosed until they have progressed to an advanced (and thus more damaging and expensive) stage. Although many people suffering from eating disorders will attempt to hide their affliction, you should train your supervisors to recognize the following signs of eating disorders:
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- A marked preoccupation with food
- Skipping meals or only taking small portions, providing frequent excuses about illness, lack of hunger, or recent meals
- Eating in a ritualistic manner or eating odd food combinations
- Abuse of gastrointestinal medications such as diuretics, diet pills, or laxatives
- Frequent mood swings, self-esteem issues, compulsive behaviors, or signs of depression
- Compulsive exercise
- Frequent public complaints about their body image
- Poor job performance or increased absenteeism
- Overly competitive behaviors
- Difficulty concentrating
Help With Eating Disorders – Develop a Workplace Wellness Program
In addition to training managers on how to recognize and handle eating disorders in the workplace, it’s key for businesses to develop effective workplace wellness programs. With assistance from the wellness-certified Test Smartly Labs located nationwide, you can best promote physical and mental health in your employees and combat the effects of eating disorders.
Learn more about our workplace wellness program assistance today — and find the wellness-certified Test Smartly Labs location near you to see how we can help with eating disorders in the workplace.