This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week “fighting the myths and misunderstandings surrounding anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS” (more on what that is below).
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses affecting all ages, genders and backgrounds. It is therefore common to encounter someone with an eating disorder in their personal or professional life.
In my role as corporate trainer, mediator and hypno-coach for Carol Barwick Learning & Development Ltd., I encounter many people who have a daily battle with food. The primary focus of today’s article is to raise awareness of the impact of eating disorders on everyday life.
Emotional eating or fasting?
Eating disorders are unusual in that they display both physical and psychological symptoms and are classed as a mental disability under the Equality Act 2010. As serious mental illnesses, family, friends and also employers have an important role to play in supporting recovery.
That’s why it is vital to be able to recognise the signs of eating disorders and understand how to deal with them sensitively. Failure to do so will hinder a sufferer’s recovery.
It is estimated 725,000 people are affected by eating disorders in the UK, according to “The costs of eating disorders: social, health and economic impacts” report, published by eating disorder charity Beat and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) in February 2015.
A report, by economist John Henderson volunteering with Pro Bono Economics, reveals overall healthcare costs at c.£80-£100m, reduced GDP at £2.9bn, and costs of reduced length of life and health up to £6.6bn.
That is a staggering sum for employers and society to cope with.
Recognising the eight most common eating disorders
Eating disorders can range from emotional eating and food addiction at one end of the spectrum to anorexia nervosa at the other. Spotting the most common symptoms is not easy and vigilance is key.
- Anorexia Nervosa: Skipping meals and food avoidance
- Bulimia Nervosa: Vomiting in the toilet after meals
- Binge Eating Disorder: Overeating until sick, associated with obesity
- Anorexia Athletica: “Burning off” meals through obsessive gym/exercise
- Night-Eating Syndrome: Dieting daily, but junk food bingeing at night, associated with obesity
- Orthorexia: Obsessing over calorific and nutritional content of food
- Drunkorexia: Restricting calories because of planned drinking
- Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS): Signs of chaotic eating habits, but usually retains a healthy weight.
There are many more eating disorders than those mentioned above falling under the “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (ED-NOS) category; however, in the list above only anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are recognised as eating disorders. Many sufferers however fall into ED-NOS, sharing common symptoms between multiple disorders.
Physical symptoms such as weight loss, weight yo-yo-ing and obesity are much easier to recognise than the psychological symptoms that may reveal themselves in anxiety and stress; depression and suicide attempts; various OCD disorders such as obsession with food or exercising; low self-esteem; mood swings; lack of concentration; erratic commitment and absenteeism. High-risk sufferers of an eating disorder include those with other health issues such as type 1 diabetes and history of a suicide attempt. It explains why eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders.
Blame parenting or lack of it
All eating disorders connect with strong emotions. Some are more common in occupations where there is a focus on physical appearance, such as dancing, modelling, or athletics – this is an obvious connection; however, the vast majority of disorders have their roots in emotional disturbances in infancy and childhood.
Bingeing or famishing
Research shows people reach for comfort foods when they feel isolated, because the food in question reminds them of a strong emotional relationship they once had. For example, parents using food as inducement or reward for children, like giving a child an ice cream or sweets after a distressing parental row; or leaving them home alone chocolates as a guilt offering; or more commonly, overfeeding a child as a means of expressing misguided parental love. Conversely, a child ridiculed for being chubby, or given harsh criticism about appearance by a parent or sibling, may develop fasting as a way of controlling a sense of social rejection.
Over time, food becomes associated with either emotional relief for food addicts, or with pain and stress for anorexics and bulimics. Such emotional eating and fasting can prevent a person addressing their emotions and true sources of stress, leading to obesity or a dangerous anorexic / bulimic lifestyle.
A proven approach
If you maintain negative thoughts and feelings about yourself while trying to take physical steps to improve your body, you’re unlikely to succeed.
Through Carol Barwick Learning and Development Ltd., I understand the language of the unconscious mind and how to influence it positively. I provide a wide range of bespoke hypno-coaching sessions to help individuals recognise the subtle emotions behind these disorders.
Last week’s blog was how sports people are trained to use self-image to self-motivate, visualising themselves as winners with limitless energy and ‘running a video’ in their mind’s eye, seeing themselves gaining the victory. A similar process is used for emotional eating, where I can reprogramme the mind to conquer “food addiction” or “food aversion” using rapid transformational tools such as tapping and hypnotherapy.
Addressing half-forgotten sources of food anxiety and drilling down to the real reasons and triggers for eating disorders can be transformative, enabling a person to separate their emotions from their food intake.
How to support those with eating disorders
- Learn how to spot the early warning signs
- Learn about the challenges in identifying and treating people with eating disorders
- Learn how to approach and have difficult conversations i.e. early intervention
- Learn what to say and what not to say
- Directly ask someone what help they need
- Understand why someone might be resistant to treatment
Through the workplace
- Have an employee assistance programme, and support mechanisms in place
- Signpost to treatment services such as counselling, NHS, private treatment and eating disorder charitable organisations
- Provide an open culture where staff feel able to ask for support
- Run awareness days to get people talking about healthy lifestyles and mental health
- Offer flexible approaches including extra time off for treatment
- Provide quiet, discrete places to eat and take a break other than a canteen
- Suggest the option of a less stressful role if that is contributory factor
It’s very important to access treatment as early as possible, as earlier treatment means a greater chance of recovery.