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Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

This week (Feb 28th – March 6th) is Eating Disorder Awareness Week #EDAW – a chance to talk openly about eating disorders. 

As with any disease, disability or illness, it is important to take a moment of compassion to understand the challenges that sufferers can face, whether this be your friends, family or colleagues, and equip yourself with the knowledge that could help you to support them.  

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Our HR team are no medical experts; however, they are all about people and have put together some information for our team and the wider public: 

What is an eating disorder?     

According to the NHS, the medical definition of an eating disorder is a food related disorder often linked to a “mental health condition” that an individual uses to help “cope with feelings and other situations”. 

Academic literature and wider studies describe an eating disorder as a “disturbance in eating habits that may be either excessive or insufficient food intake”. It is seen to be linked with a person’s biological, psychological and sociocultural factors and some studies suggest a genetic link. 

From a psychological perspective, eating disorders arise due to several reasons including: 

  • Individuals may use eating disorders as coping mechanisms of dealing with stress and trauma. 
  • As a result of society and its culture which we are surrounded by every day, for example, social media and platforms which portray depictions of the ideal body image. 

There is no one all-inclusive definition of an eating disorder, it can appear in many forms and severities and could impact anyone. 

Key Statistics:   

  • Individuals who tend to be most affected by eating disorders are younger people, those specifically between the ages of 13 to 17. (NHS) 
  • 2% of the UK have experienced or currently reside with an eating disorder. This topic is rarely spoken about in the workplace. (championhealth) 
  • 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder (championhealth) 
  • 25% of the working population who experience eating disorders are male (championhealth) 

What are the forms of eating disorders? 

It is important to realise that some of the traditional perceptions of what an eating disorder is, does not always reflect the truth. The most common forms of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder but there are many others. 

  • Anorexia nervosa- is when an individual eats less or over exercises as a result of stress (loss of appetite), a means of trying to lose weight. 
  • Bulimia- is seen as not having control over how much a person eats, to overeating, which is followed by self-induced vomiting. 
  • Binge eating disorder is consuming a large intake of food. 

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the focus of this year’s awareness week and is more common than anorexia and bulimia, but many do not know the signs or where to get help.  

How can it impact the workplace?  

  • Many people who have an eating disorder often have other mental health disorders. They are dealing with more than one mental health issue, which adds more pressure on them. 
  • It can cause issues such as lack of concentration which has an impact upon productivity and creativity because of a poor diet. It can also cause long term medical problems, which leads to longer periods of sickness from work. 
  • In relation to the workplace, lack of productivity may influence other co-workers, employees in the wider organisation now have extra workload and pressures of completing tasks. 
  • Eating disorders associated with poor body image may make employees uncomfortable when presenting or carrying out daily work tasks. 
  • Some people may not be as sociable, withdraw from the rest of the group. Affects work dynamics and the individual may feel left out. 
  • It can also affect co-workers within the workplace. Supporting co-workers may be emotionally and mentally demanding. This may reduce co workers productivity as well as their wellbeing. 

How you can help? 

  • An open dialogue: By speaking about eating disorders, it can create a sense of openness and allows individuals to feel comfortable in asking and receiving the help they need. It also allows others to hear stories and techniques that they can use to support their own loved ones outside of the workplace.  
  • Education: Employers and co-workers should be educated, so that they are aware of some of the signs. Noticing someone’s attitude and body language (issues with concentration, low self-esteem, high level of self-criticism.) 
  • The bigger picture: When giving workload to employees, setting deadlines, and questioning when work hasn’t been completed to usual standard, it’s important to understand why this might be the case as it can be an indication that someone is going through something. 
  • Eating etiquette: Avoid questioning someone when they are not eating as much, or intaking a large amount of food, especially during social events such as work parties, drinks after work and lunches or dinners. Though it may not be made with bad intent, commenting on someone’s appearance may cause more harm than good, being mindful of words used around discussions of body image. 
  • Compassion: If you feel you see signs or are worried about your co-workers, speak to them in a respectful way and in confidence. If a co-worker has told you they have an eating disorder, be comforting and mindful, ask what you can do to support them and direct them to useful tools. 

Other supporting resource: 

Caitlin Stewart, Marketing Manager

My background in Food Science and Marketing means I have a unique combination of commercial creativity and technical food manufacturing experience. My ambition is to bring clarity to the complex world of compliance through the simple and eye-catching communication of Ashbury's services.

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