Eating disorders – including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder – affect as many as 5 million Americans every year. While eating disorders typically affect females, males make up as much as 25 percent the total population of people with eating disorders.
In the last decade, employers have had an increased awareness of the cost of mental illness in the workplace; eating disorders are no exception. Depression and irritability, which often accompany eating disorders, can lead to increased conflict at work. Treatment for eating disorders is widely available and highly successful if you recognize there is a problem and deal with it quickly.
Because of the destructive nature of the psychological and physical problems associated with eating disorders, these disorders can have a major impact on a person’s ability to function in the workplace. This creates challenges employers who have an employee with an eating disorder. Problems such as, tardiness, sick days and decreased productivity, due to employees engaging in abnormal eating behavior, can be signs of ongoing eating disorder symptoms or relapse in an eating disorder.
Denial and concealment of eating disorders symptoms occurs almost universally. Since most people are uniquely aware about the eating habits of their coworkers, it is not uncommon for co-workers to make observations about someone’s weight or eating habits. In the case of bulimia, employees may be caught binge eating or purging by co-workers. With improving employee assistance programs, it is not uncommon for employees to seek help from someone in the workplace as a first step in seeking recovery.
Directing an employee to an evaluation by a medical provider should be the first step to assure medical stability. The medical provider, often times in conjunction with an organization’s insurance plan, will then refer the patient to a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders. This can be particularly difficult with males as fewer professionals have experience with male patients’ eating disorders.
An increased awareness of eating disorders and their treatment can assist employers in helping their staff receive effective treatment that can lead to recovery. For a majority of patients, treatment will greatly reduce medical and psychiatric risk for other problems, decrease risk in the work-place and improve employee productivity.