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Eating disorder treatment programs for executives

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C-suite jobs are highly demanding. CEOs and other executives have a lot on their shoulders, from striving to meet their companies’ bottom lines and taking care of their employees to working on ever-tighter deadlines. Unfortunately, all that stress can take a toll on one’s mental and physical health. Eating disorders, and disordered eating, are not uncommon among the executive demographic.

The good news is that there are effective eating disorder treatment programs for executives who live with these stressors and demands. This article explores how eating disorders affect managers and business leaders, the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in executives, and available treatment programs.

Eating disorder treatment programs for executives

Understanding Executives with Eating Disorders

While there are numerous studies on the mental health and wellbeing of employees, including the prevalence of eating disorders, the research on executives is somewhat limited. (1) This could be due to several reasons, including a perception that leaders and managers enjoy better work conditions, job control, and access to organizational and social resources. (2)

However, the research that does exist paints a different picture.

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Stats & Trends in Executives with Eating Disorders

Leadership positions can be uniquely challenging. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 51.3% of executives report high stress levels, and 64.4% say that their main stressor is related to their work. (3)
  • 40.5% of company managers – more than any other worker category – only sleep six hours per night or less. (4)
  • People in managerial positions are more likely to drink during business hours and work with a hangover or under the influence of alcohol. (5)
  • Stressed-out CEOs age more quickly and die earlier, with industry-wide recessions decreasing their average life expectancy by 1.5 years. (6) 
  • Compared to employees, managers face higher demands, experience more workplace conflicts, and receive less social support from peers. (7)
  • Women in leadership positions experience even more pressure than men. In addition to reporting subtle forms of discrimination in the workplace, women are more likely to take on more family and household responsibilities. (8)
  • With the use of technology, the “end of work day” is blurry, and creating work-life balance can be even more challenging. Self-care of any sort can be severely hampered. 

All these factors can make executives more susceptible to developing eating disorders: A growing body of research indicates a strong association between chronic stress and the onset of such conditions. (9)

Self-oriented perfectionism, or putting unrealistically high expectations for yourself, is another strong risk factor for developing an eating disorder, (10) and some managers show strong perfectionistic tendencies. (11)

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Executives with Eating Disorders: Signs & Symptoms 

It can be difficult to know if you have an eating disorder, though there are many signs and symptoms that may indicate you are struggling with one and could benefit from receiving a professional assessment through your medical provider or a mental health professional. Only a medical professional can diagnose an eating disorder; however, it can be helpful to know some key eating disorder symptoms and signs, such as: (12) 

Preoccupation with Food

  • Cutting food into small pieces or other behaviors with food that avoid the intake of calories or subtypes of food 
  • Excessive interest in “healthy” eating to the detriment of being able to enjoy meal experiences without extensive involvement in food selection
  • Refusal to eat certain food types like fats or carbs
  • Restrictive eating patterns or only eating in tiny portions
  • Conversations revolving around food, dieting, or counting calories
  • Spending an excessive amount of time on lunchtime meals
  • Avoiding meal times and other work events where food may be present
  • Fertility issues
  • Preoccupation with exercise

Preoccupation with One’s Appearance

  • Excessive interest in dieting, weight loss, and exercise
  • Preoccupation with exercise under the guise of “health”, but to the detriment of physical health and/or social connections 

Behavioral Changes

  • Eating alone or avoidance of social engagement while eating 
  • Patterns of behavior that result in not eating 
  • Excessive caffeine consumption in lieu of nutrition
  • Skipping meals or having a chaotic eating schedule
  • Abnormal decrease or increase in productivity levels
  • Scheduling meetings or work events around workout sessions

Mood and Cognitive Changes

  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Poorer decision-making ability
  • Uncharacteristic irritability
  • Withdrawal from coworkers, social events, and usual activities
  • Other signs of struggling, including missing appointments and/or missing work

Physical Changes

  • Bloating
  • Frequently feeling cold
  • Frequent weight fluctuations
  • Excessive or sudden weight loss or gain (note, this does not imply you must be underweight) 
  • Dry or thinning hair or hair loss
  • Constipation or stomach pain
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Treating Executives With Eating Disorders

Eating disorder treatment programs for executives vary depending on the condition and the patient’s needs. Possible options include: (13,14)

  • Nutrition education: A registered dietitian can help executives with eating disorders improve their eating habits, and grocery shopping lists, and prepare nutritious meals and most importantly help heal the person’s relationship with food.
  • Psychotherapy: Many executives with eating disorders benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapies, and a wide range of therapeutic modalities that those that focus on body image, self-esteem, emotion regulations, mindfulness, ACT, and movement groups. The many types of psychotherapy can help them understand and heal from the intrusive eating disorder thoughts, understand the origins of their thoughts and behaviors, and develop new ways of managing those thoughts and impulses. Forming connections with others can be a powerful mechanism to help form the pathway to “deliver” the new messages and ways of adaptation for those who suffer with eating disorders.
  • Medications: While some medications, like antidepressants, cannot necessarily cure eating disorders, they may help alleviate co-occurring conditions like anxiety, depression, mood disturbances and other aspects of the patient's mental health. This can be done while improving the patient’s thoughts about themselves, improved social and family connections, and how to more joyfully nourish themselves
  • Hospitalization: In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary for executives with more severe physical or mental health problems.
  • Partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient: Executives struggling with an eating disorder can benefit from the intensiveness of inpatient care without the inflexibility or rigid schedule often associated with inpatient programs. At Within Health, our virtual care program provides this level of care from the comfort and privacy of their own home. We adjust to their busy schedules to deliver them eating disorder treatment that is individualized and tailored to meet their needs. 


Residential treatment: A residential program where the patient temporarily relocates to a live-in facility may be necessary for patients who need longer-term treatment or have been treated either in an outpatient, IOP or PHP setting without sufficient improvement, or within a hospital setting and need of a step down into a 24-hour care environment.

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How Executives Cope with Eating Disorders

People in leadership positions may have better access to treatment than those with lower socioeconomic status.

However, due to their jobs’ high demands some executives may have learned that they must prioritize work and career success over their physical and mental wellbeing. Executives may also find it hard to admit that they have a problem or ask for help. (15)

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How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

Here are some ways to support an executive with an eating disorder: (16)

Lead with Compassion

It is recommended that friends, family members, and coworkers looking to help someone with an eating disorder avoid stigmatizing language and show that they are coming from a place of genuine care. It is also a good idea to offer to listen, help them get in touch with a professional, or refer them to a helpline.  

Tell Someone Who Knows Them Better

The coworkers of an executive may notice the signs of an eating disorder but may not be comfortable broaching the subject. Employees may be worried about jeopardizing their jobs or feel that it is not their place to discuss sensitive personal issues with their CEO or manager. In such cases, it may be best to approach someone who knows them better.

Be Prepared for Negative Reactions

When challenged, some people with an eating disorder may become angry, hostile, or dismissive. While such responses are normal, reactions like these can make others uncomfortable, especially if they work for that person or are lower in the organizational hierarchy.

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Frequently asked questions

Are There Special Eating Disorder Treatment Programs for Executives?

Treatments for people with eating disorders vary based on their condition and individual needs. While some healthcare providers may offer programs geared toward specific demographics, including executives, most can seek out standard eating disorder treatment programs for their recovery.

Does Having an Eating Disorder Affect Executives’ Work Performance?

Many people with eating disorders are highly productive and maintain a consistently good performance at work, despite a great deal of inner pain and struggle with an eating disorder. Excellent work performance is not a sign that the person is not struggling in some way with their mental health. In some cases, eating disorders can affect executives’ concentration and decision-making ability. (12) Furthermore, depressive symptoms, which are a risk factor for developing an eating disorder, are associated with higher levels of abusive supervision. (17) Another factor is that others may assume that an Executive may have a privileged life and therefore is not subject to a mental health condition. As more and more awareness and less stigma around mental health evolves in our society, it may become more viable for an executive to be able to acknowledge their need for support, guidance and treatment.

Are You Looking for Eating Disorder Treatment Programs for Executives?

Within Health can help CEOs, entrepreneurs, managers, and other people in leadership positions struggling with all types of eating disorders. Within Health’s unique program combines a full clinical team, holistic and integrative methods, and the latest advances in medicine. The program has already shown an exceptional success rate – and all that without requiring an inpatient stay in most cases. However, it should be noted that in some cases, it may be necessary for patients to be at a higher level, in person care. In any case, Within Health is happy to provide an assessment and treatment recommendation. 

Within Health offers clinically-superior treatment programs for executives, designed to match your specific needs. Call our team now to learn more about Within Health’s virtual care program for eating disorders.

Resources

1. Barling, J., & Cloutier, A. (2016). Leaders’ mental health at work: empirical, methodological, and policy directions. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), 394–406. 

2. Hofboll, S. E. (2002). Social and psychological resources and adaptation. Review of General Psychology, 6(4), 307–324. 

3. Ganesh R., Mahapatra S., Fuehrer D. L., Folkert L. J., Jack W. A., Jenkins, S. M., Bauer, B. A., Wahner-Roedler, D. L., & Sood A. (2018). The stressed executive: sources and predictors of stress among participants in an executive health program. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 7

4. Luckhaupt, S. E., Tak S., Calvert, G. M. (2010). The prevalence of short sleep duration by industry and occupation in the National Health Interview Survey. Sleep, 33(2), 149–159. 

5. Frone, M. R. Prevalence and distribution of alcohol use and impairment in the workplace: a U.S. national survey. (2006) Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67(1), 147–156.  

6. Borgschulte M., Guenzel M., Liu C., & Malmendier U. (2021). CEO stress, aging, and death (Working Paper 28550). National Bureau of Economic Research. 

7. Skakon, J., Kristensen, T. S., Christensen, K. B., Lund, T., & Labriola, M. (2011). Do managers experience more stress than employees? Work, 38(2), 103–109.

8. Nelson, D. L., & Burke, R. J. (2000). Women executives: health, stress, and success. The Academy of Management Executive, 14(2), 107–121. 

9. Rojo, L., Conesa, L., Bermudez, O., & Livianos, L. (2006). Influence of stress in the onset of eating disorders: data from a two-stage epidemiologic controlled study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 68(4), 628–635.

10. National Eating Disorders Association. (2021). Risk factors.

11. Kaiser, R. B., LeBreton, J. M., & Hogan J. (2013). The dark side of personality and extreme leader behavior. Applied Psychology, 64(1), 55–92.

12. National Eating Disorders Association. (2021). Eating disorders in the workplace.

13. Cleveland Clinic. (2020). Eating disorders. 

14. Mayo Clinic. (2017, July 14). Eating disorder treatment: Know your options. 

15. Blanding, M. (2021, May 12). The hard truth about being a CEO. Working Knowledge Business Research for Business Leaders.

16. National Eating Disorders Association. (2021). How to help a loved one.

17. Byrne, A., Dionisia, A. M., Barling J., Akers, A., Robertson, J., Lys, R., Wylie, J., & Dupré, K. (2014). The depleted leader: the influence of leaders’ diminished psychological resources on leadership behaviors.The Leadership Quarterly, 25(2), 344–357.

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