46 FIRERESCUE MAGAZINE JUNE 2017 FIREFIGHTERNATION.COM
ating disorders are psychological conditions whereby
the person possesses a distorted body image and has an
obsessive desire to lose weight or maintain an
unhealthy weight. Some examples of eating disorders
are anorexia (starvation and/or extreme exercising), bulimia
(laxative abuse and self-induced vomiting or fasting after eating),
and binge eating (overeating within short periods of time). Eating
disorders are commonly associated with young people and
women, but these conditions can affect anyone regardless of age,
gender, or profession. Indeed, eating disorders are particularly
prevalent in high-stress jobs, making firefighters at increased risk.
Stress, anxiety, and trauma can lead to the development and
maintenance of eating disorders, with food and weight preoccupation becoming a way of coping. For firefighters, where emergency
situations are frequent and there can be irregular work hours,
experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and other forms of
psychological distress can be common. Furthermore, research suggests that any traumatic event that produces even partial symptoms
of post-traumatic stress disorder or clinically significant anxiety can
also increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.
Some of the factors that might lead to the development and
maintenance of eating disorders in firefighters include the
• Security: Eating disorders can provide a false sense of security
because of the focus on strict rules and routines around food;
this need for a sense of security may be more apparent in
• Avoidance: Eating disorders can distract you from dealing
with negative emotions and traumatic experiences.
• Self-confidence: The use of extreme dieting or exercising as a
way of feeling worthy of others’ attention. This can be exacerbated by the “ripped” image of firefighter calendar models
that creates a glorified and unrealistic standard.
BINGE EATING BECAUSE OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
What can also go largely unnoticed is the incidence of binge
eating behaviors among firefighters. During the summer, when
the incidence of fires is high, firefighters often lack sleep because
of the volume of emergency calls. Budget cuts force firefighters to
work longer shifts, which often results in disturbed sleeping patterns. The subsequent tiredness may be overcompensated for by
eating big meals or by snacking on high-energy foods.
Disturbed sleeping patterns can also inhibit the production of the
hormone leptin, which triggers satiety or the feeling of fullness after
a meal. Insufficient levels of leptin in the blood can cause firefight-
Eating disorders in firefighters
BY NICOLA DAVIES
Dr. Nicola Davies, health psychologist and coauthor of Eating
Disorder Recovery Handbook: A Practical Guide to Long-Term
Recovery, outlines how firefighters can be affected by eating
disorders and how to overcome them.
Eating disorders are particularly
prevalent in high-stress jobs,
making firefighters at increased
risk. (Photo by Pixabay.)