Eating Disorders in the Workplace

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are real, complex medical and psychiatric illnesses that can have serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships. They are caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Eating disorders are bio-psycho-social diseases; they are not fads, phases or lifestyle choices.

In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder).

People struggling with an eating disorder typically become obsessed with food, body image and weight. These disorders can become very serious, chronic and sometimes even life-threatening if not recognized and treated appropriately. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.

How can eating disorders affect the workplace?

  • Eating disorders can affect anyone. High-performing, dedicated employees may struggle with disordered eating and poor body image, impairing otherwise excellent performance. HR professionals should encourage a welcoming and inclusive workplace, optimizing employee productivity and wellness.
  • As with many illnesses, eating disorders have serious health effects that, gone untreated, may lead to lost productivity and long-term medical problems.
  • Eating disorders can affect an employee’s cognitive functioning because of poor nutrition and the mental disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder) that often coexist with an eating disorder.
  • Early intervention and treatment are the best measures to ensure proper management of medical problems and encourage recovery.

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