How to handle eating disorders

By 
Dana Moran, Managing Editor

eating disorder tomato plate

Q: How should workers handle a situation in which they suspect a diner has an eating disorder?

A: Because foodservice workers in a dining hall or senior-living facility interact with the same diners on a daily basis, they’re often able to form a closer relationship than if that person were a customer in a restaurant, says Gretchen Matuszak, registered dietitian and director of the didactic program in dietetics at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. For that reason, foodservice workers sometimes can be the first line of defense when it comes to spotting and addressing eating disorders.

If an employee does notice the physical and emotional symptoms of an eating disorder—such as dry hair and skin, baggy clothing, returning a full tray or obsessive talk about food—Matuszak advises privately approaching the person or one or their close friends with printed information and a referral to student health-care facilities, a psychologist or nurse or other expert.

Supervisors also may want to have employee support in place due to the potential emotional impact, she says. “It’s such a hard thing to watch,” Matuszak says of eating disorders.

Operators in senior living should focus closely on emotional cues such as isolation and a feeling of hopelessness, because symptoms of depression among that population can be common. Making sure residents have someone to eat with and their favorite comfort foods available can be effective prevention tactics,” Matuszak says.

“If [the residents aren’t] receiving enough help, and no one’s coming to visit them, then [foodservice workers] would be the first ones to see the signs and symptoms,” she says.

Fore more information on eating disorder symptoms and treatment, visit nimh.nih.gov.

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