Eating Disorders Within the LGBTQ+ Community

Eating Disorders Within the LGBTQ+ Community

There is a perilous trend the LGBT+ community faces when it comes to eating disorders, in both being afflicted from things that push them towards it and facing the world of treatment unable and unwilling to help them with it.

Eating disorders are often brought about by negative feelings of self, stress, and unrealistic expectations with body image and this community is wrought with all of these symptoms:

  • Beginning as early as 12, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens may be at a higher risk of binge-eating and purging than their heterosexual peers.
  • Studies have found that compared with heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men have more behavioral symptoms indicative of eating disorders. For example, Strong et al  found that the proportion of gay and bisexual men with symptoms related to disordered eating was 10 times higher than among heterosexual men.
  • There also appear to be higher rates of binge eating and elevated BMIs in lesbian and bisexual women than in their heterosexual peers.
  • LGBTQ individuals are more likely to engage in risky behavior, have lower self-esteem, and battle depression and suicidal ideation. The Minority Stress Theory posits that stigmatized social groups, such as LGBTQ youth, experience excessive stress from discrimination, violence and bullying, social pressure, and alienation. Internalization of this stress is thought to negatively affect mental health, leading to low self-esteem and disordered thoughts and actions.

Being a member of this community, I myself have seen so many examples of these things brought to life:

Having a dysphoric sense of self (especially those struggling with their identity being different from their current biological bodies) often leaves these individuals with exorbitant amounts of self-loathing, desperately seeking methods (often unsafe ones) to change. Restricting their diets, excessively working out etc. The more they look in the mirror and see the changes not happening, the more they feel trapped in their own body, the more their own mental health spirals out of control. This also leads to a lot of people growing up in this world where those around them hate them for who they are or arguably worse, internalized phobias of their own identities. Being constantly exposed to such negative images of hate only internally reinforces that they are invalid and don’t belong. This ostracization has been proven more than once to push people into eating disorders; stress eating to cope with their toxic environment, skipping meals to try and be more attractive so they feel a great sense of belonging etc.

Being unable to meet a crippling standard of beauty: almost every ad targeted to those in this community shows bodies that are unhealthy or aren’t real: An Adonis with washboard abs, a woman smiling in the wind, celebrating a standard of thinness only achievable with a computer and an air brush. That hasn’t stopped people from making use of negative health habits to try and achieve them anyways. With sexual 

A lack of education. Leading to unsafe sex practices resulting in STIS or HIV, leading to even more self-hatred. Even not understanding what their identities are in the first place, leaving them with a sense of loss and confusion. This also leaves those going through hormone therapy without proper knowledge on how to adjust their diets and mental health to the aggressive changes brought upon by HRT. All of this leads to diets that are just not simply adequate to meet these individuals’ needs. Those with HIV need to subscribe to more health and when ignored only suffer further for example. 

There are also barriers this community faces to actually receiving treatment.

  • Trans or non-gender conforming individuals not fitting into centers because they aren’t equipped to handle their identities: such as rooming someone with their birth assigned sex when they identify as an opposing one.
  • Lack of education in general over the community. Whenever someone with unique pronouns walks into a center and isn’t respected it only pushes those away in need of healing and acceptance. 
  • They also face discrimination from others in treatment with them. I have heard countless stories of their roommates not wanting to share a bedroom with them for an irrational fear of something sexually inappropriate happening. And instead of the center taking the time to actually educate their residents (just because someone is sexually diverse does not mean they pose a threat) they reinforce this behavior by either putting these peoples feelings and discrimination first and giving into these demands or just turning people away entirely to avoid these kinds of situations. 
  • Insurance as well has posed a problem, there are so many insensitivities that say for instance a trans person can face like having to give out their dead name in order to check benefits and such private information they want to put behind is dragged out in front of them in a time of vulnerability and stress that only makes the healing process even more difficult. 

All of this and more I’ve seen up close and personal. One story in particular haunts me to this day: I watched a friend of mine I’ll call Brent grow up in our world suffering for being born a woman and knowing he was a man. No amount of my presence and friendship could seem to mend his wounds, or protect him from the sheer disrespect of his parents, the words like arrows he had to dodge in high school. On top of all of that, he struggled with the way he looked. Even when he finally had the courage to come out as trans, even when he finally was years into his hormone therapy, and looking like the man he always knew he was, he still couldn’t stand what he saw in the mirror. His stomach wasn’t flat enough, his chest was too big, his hips were too wide, he was far too feminine, far too ugly: all of these negative proclamations of self eventually gave life to bulimia in Brent. 

Even more depressing was his two attempts at trying to fix this. Upon trying to enter one treatment center, he was turned away since it was faith based and they were unwilling to treat him due to his identity. And somehow after picking up the pieces of his hopelessness, we managed to convince him to enter another center. 

But just a week later I got a call from his girlfriend, that he was back home. Apparently Brent’s roommate at this treatment center made his discomfort over his identity known; a place that was supposed to bring healing and relief to Brent only brought him more stress and mockery. His complaints to staff fell on deaf ears, and no amount of patience and understanding fixed anything, until he found it better to just go back home, back into the claws of his disorder until it eventually claimed his life, and stole my friend from me. 

If it wasn’t for the reality that treatment centers are undereducated, or simply don’t except clientele in this community; there is the desperate truth on top of that the LGBT+ community is more prone to eating disorders than those in the heterosexual community because of all the factors leading to stress and self-loathing they face.  These poor souls already exist in a world that tells them to reject themselves, that doesn’t support their existence; it is melancholic to see the parts of our society that preach to save those from eating disorders have erected impassable barricades to them as well.