Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Eating Disorders: What You Need To Know

As someobelly-2354_960_720ne who has worked in the mental health field for 30 years, I’m no stranger to working with clients who have suffered from eating disorders. This past week was Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a time dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with eating disorders and creating awareness about the mental health issue that affects approximately 1 million Canadians every year.

So what exactly is an eating disorder? In simple terms, an eating disorder is a mental health issue that leaves individuals completely pre-occupied with their weight. However, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association, eating disorders are not just about food. They are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. They are complicated disorders that affect a person’s sense of identity, worth and self-esteem.

Unsurprisingly, eating disorders are most common in females. A recent report found that 3% of Canadian women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. This can happen for a number of reasons. Female body image is constantly critiqued in popular culture, and as a result, women are more likely to develop disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia in an effort to control their weight.

While eating disorders are more common in females, body image issues impact males as well. Men are exposed to a similar level of body critique, mainly that they need to be muscular and strong. This kind of societal pressure can result in men developing eating disorders or taking hormones like steroids to increase their muscle mass. Steroid use, like an eating disorder, also has a long-term negative impact on a person’s health.

Effects of eating disorders may not always be apparent. For example, anorexia sufferers generally have a very low body mass index (BMI), but people suffering from bulimia often maintain a relatively stable body weight. Here are some tips on how you can identify if a friend or employee is suffering from an eating-related mental health issue.

  • Food obsession
    It’s important to note when someone begins to obsess about food, for example, constantly counting calories or eliminating large groups of “bad” foods from their diet, especially if this was never a topic of conversation before.
  • Excessive exercise
    Physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, but when you begin to notice someone is taking his or her gym routine to the next level it can be cause for concern. People with eating disorders often attempt to “work-off” the bad calories they have consumed after a binge, to the point where they are putting their bodies through physical discomfort.
  • Body image issues.
    While losing weight can be a side effect of an eating disorder, it can also increase the level of anxiety a person may have towards their body. Even though they may be losing weight, someone suffering from an eating disorder might wear baggy clothes to cover up their body. Take notice if someone in your life begins expressing dissatisfaction with his or her body more frequently.
  • Depression.
    Symptoms of eating disorders often mimic the symptoms of depression due to the lack of energy, low morale and lack of sufficient sleep the disease causes. People suffering from eating disorders tend to isolate themselves from groups, especially if food is involved. If you notice someone exhibiting symptoms of depression while showing signs of negative body image or food obsession, it could be cause for concern.

The impact of any eating disorder can be devastating. From restricting the body of food to choosing to binge eat and then purge, eating disorders can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and mental health. Short-term effects include poor digestion, kidney issues, anxiety and depression while long-term issues include infertility in women or death as a result of malnutrition.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, employer or friend, it’s important to know how to spot the signs of an eating disorder so if someone you know is impacted, you can help. Confronting someone about an eating-related mental health issue is difficult, but it’s important to get your loved one the help they need before they cause irreparable damage.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get help. Contact your EAP or SAP provider for assistance, or speak to a medical professional.

For more advice on this issue, visit The National Eating Disorder Information Centre or CAMH.

 


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Better Mental Health? Sign Me Up!

volunteer-1550327_960_720There’s no doubt about it: the holidays can be stressful. As we make time for friends and family, parties and gift exchanges, the entire season can be hectic. The rush to purchase presents for our loved ones can feel almost like a chore as opposed to an exciting activity. Depression rates during the holiday season are also high. Students are dealing with the pressures of exams before heading home, and adults dealing with difficult family or relationship problems or the loss of a loved one can dread this time of year when we are supposed to be the most joyful. So how can we bring back the magic of the holiday season?

As I was discussing this issue with a colleague recently, he explained that after years of stress around the holidays, his family began volunteering at a soup kitchen every holiday season. He told me, “It really puts things into perspective. As I stress about finding the perfect present for my wife, there are people out there who worry about having enough food to feed their families everyday.” Volunteering his time to help the less fortunate during the holidays helped him appreciate all the blessings he had been taking for granted.

Not only does volunteering provide a sense of gratitude, it also has benefits for your overall mental health. A 2013 Harvard Medical School publication outlined the mental health benefits of volunteering your time to help others in need. The article states, “volunteering helps people who donate their time feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression.” Around this time of year when these types of emotions may be magnified, volunteering can be even more beneficial.

Volunteering can add meaning to our lives. We live our lives looking for happiness in a vast world of billions of inhabitants, often feeling lonely, sad, and insignificant when we can’t find it. We are often misguided when we pursue material possessions we think will bring us happiness. Getting involved in activities that have purpose, that will make a difference – maybe to just one person, can add meaning to our lives. We all want to make a difference in our lives and this is what volunteering can achieve.

So how can you get involved this holiday season? From delivering gifts to the less fortunate to assisting at a homeless shelter, there are hundreds of ways you can volunteer. For example, click here to visit the Food Banks Canada website and see how you can help hungry Canadians this holiday season.

While the holiday season is difficult for a lot of people, giving back and volunteering your time to the less fortunate will not only help improve the lives of others, but also benefit your own mental health in the process.

 


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How to Lead in Turbulent Times

protest_in_victoria_against_prorogation_of_canadian_parliament_2Recently, I’ve been incredibly distressed by what I’ve been seeing in the news. After one of the most divisive American presidential elections in recent history, hateful and discriminatory actions have broken out all over the U.S. This kind of behaviour has even managed to infiltrate Canada. Just the other day, flyers were posted in the East York region of Toronto promoting an “Alt-Right” ideology, essentially calling for white nationalism.

All this troublesome news got me thinking, how can I, as my organization’s leader, who also feels strongly about current world issues, continue to be a positive role model and create a safe space for my employees? One that promotes fairness and equality amongst all this destructive and divisive rhetoric in the world?

Whether we like it or not, managers and bosses play a large role in every employee’s life. While company leaders might not be outwardly discriminatory, their behaviour sets the overall tone of the workplace. If a boss is constantly putting people down or doesn’t take the time to listen, an employee’s overall job satisfaction can be affected. If employees are working with an encouraging and appreciative leader, it can make all the difference in the world.

Studies show that stress and anxiety levels have increased significantly in our post-election world, so it’s more important than ever that management teams establish themselves as positive leaders. So how can you accomplish this task? Here are some of my tips that have been helpful to me as a leader of people:

Keep it positive:

Repeating hateful words or continuing to bring up tragedy only enforces a sad and hateful message. While it’s important to acknowledge what is occurring around the world, focus on creating positive messages so your employees can feel inspired. Do this by encouraging your employees to continue to advocate for what is right and not dwell on fear and hate.

Keep it neutral:

Votes on both sides of the ballot for Brexit and the American Presidential Election were almost equal. This means, despite how different another’s point of view may be, there will likely be people in your workplace who disagree with your own political or social beliefs. While you’re entitled to your own personal opinions, try to keep them to yourself, just in case you alienate employees who may have a differing opinion. The Globe and Mail recently published an informative article on this topic, exploring the risks associated with company leaders disclosing their political opinions in the office.

Enforce it:

That being said, it’s your job as a leader to make sure all employees are treating each other with fairness, equality and respect. Ensure your employees know that hateful attitudes and disrespect will not be tolerated, and if there are reports of inappropriate behaviour, there will be consequences. Standing firm on this subject will show employees that poor behaviour is not acceptable in the workplace.

Reach out:

If you’re aware that people within your organization are struggling as a result of world issues, ensure they know you understand what they’re going through. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple made headlines with his email to employees after the election, stating:

We have a very diverse team of employees, including supporters of each of the candidates. Regardless of which candidate each of us supported as individuals, the only way to move forward is to move forward together.”

The note has a neutral tone, but offered support to the entire Apple community. Letting your staff know that you’re all in this together will promote inclusivity.

 Talk to HR or Senior Management:

As previously mentioned, people around the world are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety as a result of the political turmoil this year has seen. Encourage your management team to create a safe space for employees to talk about their problems, and discuss any grievances they may have as a result of another employee’s differing political views. By giving your employees a safe, confidential space to discuss these issues, it diminishes the chance of an argument breaking out amongst your staff. For staff members who are in need of mental health assistance, contact your EAP provider. They certainly will have the tools to work with organizations and individuals who require mental health support to address these conflicts in a safe environment.

As the founder and CEO of my company, I work hard to ensure that all of my employees are treated with respect. While it’s impossible to make everyone happy, it’s important as a leader to show your employees how to act accordingly and demonstrate your strength through these tough times.

“The ultimate measure of leaders in not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy”

-Anonymous


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Getting Out of a Rut

stuck-in-a-rutAlthough we move along in our lives at a frenetic pace, we don’t often stop to take time to reflect. When things change in our environment, like the sun setting earlier or tragedies like the Ottawa shooting just last week, or the Ebola world crisis, we can wear down. Days of feeling lost, confused and less hopeful can turn into weeks, and before you know it, you’re in a rut and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes in life we find ourselves feeling lost, confused, unmotivated, and simply “blah”. Things feel like they may not be going your way, and each day you feel less hopeful about that changing. Before you know it, you’re in a full-on rut, and unsure of how to get out of it.

External factors can contribute to your rut, like feeling the effects of cooling temperatures and less sunshine each day. We turn on the news and are bombarded with tragic and disheartening events of terror and fear, like the previously mentioned Ottawa terror of last week. It should come as no surprise that the world definitely has a hand in how motivated and inspired you are in getting out of your rut.

So with all that is happening around us, how do we manage to self-motivate and return to a place of peace and happiness? I’ve provided some tips designed to help you turn things around quickly:

  1. Rediscover what you love doing.

Make a list of the activities you love most, and choose one to do each week. If it’s something big, work on setting small goals/taking small steps towards making it happen.

  1. Actively change your thinking.

Think of a few areas of your life where you’re feeling “stuck”, and write down exactly what is making you feel that way. Then, think about the same area in a different way, this time shedding a positive light on it. Contrast your first statement with a new, optimistic one!

  1. Do something different.

Being in a rut means you are in a negative pattern of thinking. They always say you can’t expect different results with the same actions, so do something different, something you may not otherwise think of doing, like booking that massage, going for a brisk walk, or savouring that orange, one piece at a time. You don’t have to make major changes, think about your behaviour and what you can change to produce better results for you!

  1. Say “yes” more!

If we all said “yes” to the many opportunities, big or small, that we have presented to us each day, we’d open ourselves up to so many exciting experiences and be able to learn and understand so much about ourselves. Make the most of your time each day.

  1. Embrace change.

Accept change as a good factor in life, not one that causes discomfort or disarray. Routines are not always your friend! Taking the fear out of change will help you feel calmer and more prepared for curveballs in life.

It is important to remember that being in a rut is not necessarily a bad thing – it signifies a chance for growth and positive adjustment. We will all go through periods where we must realign ourselves to our surroundings in an effort to settle back into a place of peace and comfort. It is much like a spaceship that has veered off course. If it is not corrected, it could lead to disastrous results. Use these tips to help you find your happy place!

Do you have any personal techniques you use to get yourself out of a rut? Share with us in the comments!