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East Anglia Future 50

Five warning signs your colleague may be suffering from an eating disorder

PUBLISHED: 11:30 15 May 2019

Debbie Watson is launching Wednesday’s Child to help those struggling with mental health. Photo: Warren Page.

Debbie Watson is launching Wednesday's Child to help those struggling with mental health. Photo: Warren Page.

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Millions of people across the UK struggle to maintain a positive body image.

And while having body image concerns is relatively common, for some it can be a risk factor for mental health problems.

This year's Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place between May 13 to May 19, is centred around body image.

Debbie Watson battled anorexia for 20 years and has recently launched a new gift box service inspired by her struggle.

"While it's so important to remember that an eating disorder doesn't have one set 'look' and that people experiencing such an issue might not exhibit obvious physical indicators", she said, "there are some areas you might want to be alert to, when considering the wellbeing of our colleague."

Below Ms Watson outlines five possible warning signs which could mean your colleague is struggling with an eating disorder and in need of help.

1) Isolation, social withdrawal, and lack of joy

Does your colleague increasingly seem reluctant to join in social activities or attend events they once did (this could be events associated with food, but others too)?

Do they seem on edge, angst-ridden and perhaps rather nervous or negative?

Eating disorders play havoc with people in terms of their mental capacity to be calm, rationed and reasoned, but also to experience true joy.

Their self-loathing and nervous energy is likely to mean they simply do not feel able to relax and feel content or at peace as others would.

Equally, their eating disorder might be telling them it's the 'only relationship' they currently need.

2) Preoccupation with food and weight discussion

Sure, we all talk as friends and colleagues about diets from time to time, or the meal we had last night or the food outing we're planning on having at the weekend.

But when is all that food chat and weight musing becoming a bit more than mere banter?

It's often noted that people with eating disorders will increasingly talk at length about topics related to food, cooking and weight.

If the dialogue is getting a little too repetitive and no longer seems mere passing remark, you may consider where that's stemming from and what it's really telling you.

3) Baggy clothes and abandoned style

Dramatic body changes aren't true in everyone who has an eating disorder, but hiding in huge clothes, or just losing all sense of style, could be a telltale sign in your colleague.

If you've spotted this, it could well be your fellow employee is beginning to cover up a more emaciated body, or that they're falling increasingly out of love with their bodily form.

4) Physical functions - temperature, hair, teeth, lips, skin

Just as a bodily shape might not always tell the reality of an eating disorder existing, these physical indicators won't be apparent in everyone.

However, if you've noted your colleague always seems colder, that their hair is thinning or their skin seems so much paler, this could be a sign that they're beginning to miss out on appropriate nutrition and are in need of help.

5) Rigid exercise regime

Is the person you're concerned about becoming increasingly wedded to an 'unshakeable' routine around exercise and sport?

Beyond formal workouts and aerobic activity, are they finding other reasons just to add in a few more miles on foot, to walk further, or to stroll for longer during your workday lunchtime?

Eating disorders are often hand in hand with the desire to create calorie deficit through exercise.

While we all know movement is considered 'healthy' for us, perhaps your colleague's approach has become less about 'joyful movement' and more about punishment and compulsion.

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