Leadership Roles and Eating Disorders, How Eating Disorders Are Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Overwhelming stress and pressure seem to be ingrained in the American lifestyle. The American Psychological Association found that the majority of Americans report moderate to high levels of stress We are overworked, stressed out and for many; we live a very unbalanced life, resulting in high levels of mental health disorders, eating disorders and substance abuse disorders. Lately, a lot of articles and studies have been published highlighting women and men in power who are using food as a way to de-stress. For those that hold a leadership position, this stress is often heightened and chronic. After all, these individuals are tasked with ensuring the success and well being of the company they work for as well as its employees. Whether using comfort food to hide unwanted feelings, restricting the body of food in order to gain a higher sense of control over yourself, or exercising excessively as a stress reliever; these behaviors can result in eating disorders, sending today’s top leaders down a slippery and dangerous slope.

CEO’s and binge eating disorder

Running a company may seem glamorous but it is stressful and can wreak havoc on your personal life. There is so much pressure to meet deadlines, take care of your employees, and meet financial goals. While some claim that this pressure brings out the greatness in leaders, there is no doubt that this overwhelming responsibility and chronic stress can take its toll. Research has shown that many CEOs have increased signs of stress, with their main issues being with their job interfering with family and personal lives due to enhanced workloads, work-related traveling, and weekend working. As a result, many high-powered leaders are using comfort food in an attempt to erase this stress. Foods high in sugars, fats, and carbs are known to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain temporality, resulting in feelings of euphoria, but only for a short amount of time. All-around, however, comfort eating has been found to be an ineffective and temporary solution to chronic problems. Engaging in comfort eating puts individuals at risk for developing feelings of shame and guilt afterward, which could lead to bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. The consequences of holding a position of power are also physical. Severe stress leads to increased cortisol production. Prolonged exposure to cortisol is highly toxic, wreaking havoc on the cardiovascular and immune systems, affecting the brain and memory, and probably impairing the ability to assess risk. This may explain why individuals holding leadership positions engage in dangerous and unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcoholism, drug abuse, or disordered eating.

Binge eating disorder explained

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by eating an excessive amount of food within a 2-hour time period and is associated with an extreme lack of self-control and shame during this episode. It is possible for an individual diagnosed with binge-eating disorder to consume as much as 3,400 calories in little more than an hour, and as much as 20,000 calories in eight hours. Unlike bulimia and anorexia nervosa, there is no compensatory purging such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise or laxative abuse associated with binge-eating disorder. In order for binge-eating disorder to be diagnosed an individual must partake in binging episodes on average at least once a week for a three-month duration, the individual must have feelings of marked distress over these binging episodes and have a loss of control over the amount of food they eat.

Women in leadership roles developing eating disorders

Women who have high-achieving personalities, first and foremost, have a strong desire to accomplish their goals. They are adept at combining these desires with their motivation, resources, and abilities to ensure that the goals are met. Women who are high achieving are more likely to make more money and hold higher positions in their fields but are still met continuously with pressure and pushback, especially from the gender gap society. This endless fight to justify a woman’s spot at the table can result in unbelievable stress, a distorted self-concept, and little, to no, time for positive self-care. High-achieving and perfectionistic personalities are also at a higher risk for poor self-concept, often as a result of the immense pressure, they place on themselves to achieve success and perfection. Additionally, women are more likely to feel societal pressure to achieve the “thin ideal.” For high achieving women, constantly being pressured and reminded to fulfill a physical and societal expectation they may not be able to accomplish could cause them to view themselves as failures and seriously harm their feelings of self-worth. Poor self-worth can result in poor self-image and low-self esteem, which can drive females to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Having a high-achieving personality is not a bad thing. It can lead to incredible progress for society and the individual, however it is important to be aware to practice self-care and self-love no matter how busy or stressed out you become.

We’re Here for You

If you are struggling or someone you know is struggling, we are here for you. Center for Discovery’s Treatment Centers specialize in treatment for eating disorders, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment with unique treatment programs for every individual to get them on their way to eating disorder recovery.

For more information, resources, or to consult with one of our specialists, call 888.320.7521. 

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