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Eating Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community

Sponsored by Center for Discovery

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community are common due to a number of reasons:

  • High levels of stress
  • Not being accepted by their families and peers
  • Fear and anxiety about coming out
  • Discrimination
  • Bullying, volence and more

For transgender and nonbinary people, this stress is exacerbated by body image issues. This can all take a serious psychological toll. Many of these individuals end up engaging in eating disorders and self-harm behaviors as a way to numb and suppress their emotions.

Past media stereotypes have showcased the face of eating disorders as a young, thin, Caucasian female, resulting in delays of diagnosing eating disorders in males, older people, non-Caucasian individuals, those in the LGBTQ+ community and those in larger bodies.

LGBTQ+ eating disorder facts

Unfortunately, not much research has been done on the prevalence of eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community. But we do have some facts to share:

  • In a 2010 study, researchers found that the average age for developing an eating disorder is 19 years old within the LGTBQ+ community compared to the national age of 12-13 years old.
  • Gay and bisexual boys are more likely to engage in food restrictive behaviors, self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse and diet pill use in order to control their weight.
  • Gay adult men are seven times more likely to report binging and 12 times more likely to report purging than heterosexual adult men.
  • Many LGBTQ+ individuals state that their eating disorder stems from their family not accepting them as a young child, which created years of trauma and low self-esteem.
  • Research shows that lesbian women experience less body dissatisfaction overall.
  • As early as 12, gay and lesbian and bisexual teens may be at a higher risk of binge-eating and purging than heterosexual peers.
  • Additionally the LGBTQ+ community is more at risk for mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety as well as substance abuse disorders.

Body image and the LGBTQ+ community

People experiencing gender dysphoria (feeling that their gender identity does not align with their body) are at a higher risk for developing eating disorders. These individuals may try to change their physical appearance through dieting and exercise in order to resemble the gender they identify with internally. Individuals may try to stop, delay, or reverse puberty by fasting, over-exercising or purging.

Treating eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community

Eating disorder treatment is the same for an LGTBQ+ individual as it is for a heterosexual individual. The primary goal of eating disorder treatment is weight restoration followed by teaching the individual to have a healthy relationship with food and their body. However in the LGTBQ+ community, the therapist will be wise to assess underlying triggers such as trauma or family issues.

Unfortunately, not all eating disorder treatment centers are LGTBQ-friendly. It is extremely important to choose an eating disorder treatment center that is professional, compassionate and has experience treating eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community.

At ANAD we understand the power of peer support. Throughout our 45 years serving people with eating disorders, we have seen and experienced amazing revelations, new relationships blossom, and the accomplishment of recovery. Learn more about Getting Help here!