4 Things Managers need to know before having a conversation with an employee who has BED

Conversations with managers can be extremely stressful events for many employees and talking about Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is particularly challenging. I consider myself to be a bold, confident person and have supportive managers and colleagues, but I still found it personally challenging to navigate my professional conversations with what I was going through personally.

As a manager, you might not know where to start or how best to approach or support someone in your organisation with BED. Here are some insights that might make you feel better prepared for these types of conversations.

I’d like you to know:

  1. I’m already doubting the severity of the eating disorder, please don’t add to it

With the common perception that someone with an eating disorder is a white, emaciated teenage girl, someone who is overweight or obese is just greedy and lacks willpower and anyone in between is fine, it can be hard to believe that binge eating disorder is a real medical issue that affects everyone and not a self-discipline problem.

Questioning and challenging a person about the authenticity of their eating disorder or creating barriers to them reaching out and receiving professional help, can be the tiny seed of doubt that will validate the thoughts they’re already experiencing about whether they have a real problem or not.

There are people who will take advantage, throw around the word ‘mental illness’ for their own gain and abuse your kindness, but please know that for those who are really suffering, it isn’t easy to ask for or receive help.

2. I don’t know what I need you to do to help me, that’s why I need treatment

A huge part of treatment for BED is exploring and reconnecting with personal needs that have been suppressed, numbed and ignored for a long time, and replaced by a dependence on food to feel better.

It’s great that you want to offer support and your desire to help is appreciated. Just remember that this can be an uncomfortable and unsettling time for someone having to discover and process new parts of themselves that they haven’t experienced before. How do you navigate that? Don’t expect answers to help you know what to do, but instead be willing to listen, trust and learn as you go along.

3. I have a serious mental illness and not just a character flaw

BED is not just about food and eating; it’s connected to core beliefs and thinking patterns that lead to behaviours which may seem irrational, illogical, and hard to understand. This is not a reflection of who a person really is, but of the mental illness they’re battling.

Be quick to kindness and slow to judgment. Questions like, “How are you feeling?” with the genuine intention of listening and wanting to understand, go a long way to challenge the thoughts that someone is struggling with. But please don’t ask questions if you really don’t care, you’ll just make things worse. Better to say nothing than to pretend.

4. You might not be part of my support system at work, please don’t take it personally

Finding safety in trusted colleagues makes functioning in the workplace a whole lot easier for someone suffering with BED. That colleague might not be you and that’s ok, it’s not a reflection of you.

Encourage and support a person to establish and build these trusting relationships, even if they’re outside of your own team. In the long run, it will allow them to function better in their role and flourish in the work environment.

Still not sure what to say or do?

It’s not the responsibility of a manager to be a therapist or trained in mental health, but it is important for you to want the people you manage, to be well. Many people struggle and find it hard to know what to do or say to someone suffering with a mental illness. I often say that it’s not as hard as you think – it comes down to two things: Compassion and Awareness.

The Fat.Ugly Blog and Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Guide are insightful resources to increase understanding, not only of the condition and the experience of someone living with or recovering from BED, but of ways to support them effectively.

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