Disordered eating behaviour and body image issues affect between 4% and 23% of the population at any given time.
It is also becoming increasingly common for people to apply strict ‘food rules’ that often cause more stress, obsessional behaviour patterns and a distorted body images. This is largely facilitated by the media, who perpetuate the idea of the ‘perfect’ body in their magazine headlines or articles, and with videos and adverts about miracle health foods and weight loss products popping up on social media every day.
The effects of this unhealthy relationship with food and body image aren’t restricted to individuals’ personal life – like any other stress-related issues, they seep into all other areas of our lives, including work.
Binge eating and work performance
Binge eating – the tendency to lose control of the amount you are eating and to overeat, even when you aren’t hungry – is the most common type of disordered eating behaviour. It is often associated with negative emotions such as depression, guilt and shame, which then feeds into a further spiral of poor body image and obsessive worrying about weight and food. It’s therefore unsurprising that it is also associated with a diminished capacity to cope with one’s day-to-day responsibilities.
According to a 2012 study, published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, binge eating results in higher levels of absenteeism, presenteeism and an overall impairment to work productivity. This impairment didn’t take into consideration the impairments attributed to stress and depression, which are also found to be more prominent in binge eaters.
Disordered eating is rarely given consideration in workplace contexts, yet it is considered to account for $107,965 (approximately £87,000) in annual productivity in a company of 1,000. The cost of obesity, which is often caused by binge eating, is even greater.
It is therefore essential to tackle binge eating if any efforts to improve the health, productivity and performance of employees are to be completely effective. You can do this by carrying out routine screening and interventions for binge eating behaviours as a standard of your wellbeing at work strategy. By putting an onus on healthy eating and a balanced diet in the workplace, you can more effectively address emotional and binge eating behaviour, and more effectively assist in employee weight regulation.
Our eating behaviour is often on autopilot, driven by subconscious influences that most of the time we are not even aware of. Mindful Eating is a scientific technique that encourages us to observe, understand and gain awareness of our eating behaviour. It is eating with purpose and connecting to what our bodies need, what we like and do not like, what we want and how we feel.
This systemic approach to eating works on several levels, tackling family and societal influences, individual’s emotions and habitual pattern of responding to stress, as well as misconceptions and lack of education on nutrition.
Mindful Eating busts the myth of ‘bad’, ‘good’, ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ foods. From the nutritional point of view, all foods are good – so long as we eat them in moderation.
So if individual foods are not the problem, then what is?
Research has shown that application of strict ‘food rules’ leads to disturbed eating as well as a disturbed relationship with oneself. This is where Mindful Eating comes in. By helping us to reconnect with our body and understand our eating habits, and underlying emotional triggers, it enables us to break that vicious cycle of overeating (or, in some cases, of not eating enough) and start nurturing ourselves and enjoying food without guilt.
By helping us reconnect with our bodily signals of hunger, thirst and satiety and promoting self-care, Mindful Eating also helps reduce the occurrence of spikes and dips in our blood sugar levels which is one of the most important physiological factors leading to reduced concentration, low energy levels, mood changes and binge eating. Spiked blood sugar and the subsequent crash also leads to greater feelings of hunger, thus continuing the cycle of overeating.
Although, as its name implies, Mindful Eating focuses on our eating behaviour, it also has knock-on effects on many other aspects of our life. Once we start eating mindfully, we start respecting ourselves more, which has a positive impact on all relationships in our life, be they personal or professional.
Dr Jelena Goranovic – Jelena is a doctor of psychology working in the area of people development and wellbeing. She is Co-Founder and Programme Director of Sussex Wellbeing Company, where she spends her days consulting organisations on their wellbeing needs and building tailor-made wellbeing and team development programmes. Jelena also evaluates the effectiveness of all interventions, providing clients from a wide range of industries with a clear insight into their return on investment.
Mindful Eating is part of the specialised stress management programmes offered to client organisations whose main workplace wellbeing goal is to help improve energy levels and reduce absenteeism due to chronic health conditions among groups of employees identified as being at risk of eating-related problems.