LGBTQ+ and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are commonly thought to be a heterosexual, young-adult, female-oriented mental health issue. However, this cannot be further from the truth as eating disorders do not discriminate against race, age, socio-economic status, gender, or sexual identification. LGBTQ+ individuals are at an increased risk for developing an eating disorder when compared to their heterosexual peers. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 45% of male clients with an eating disorder identify as gay. The LGBTQ+ community is faced with unique stressors and challenges that contribute to their increased risk of developing an eating disorder and thoughts of negative body image.

According to the Trevor Project, more than two-thirds of LGBTQ+ individuals between the ages of 13 and 24,  admitted to having considered suicide with a diagnosis of an eating disorder. These stressors include, but are not limited to, harassment, bullying, familial and societal rejection, fear of rejection, and discrimination upon coming out. While seemingly apparent, society often turns a blind eye in accepting and understanding that these environmental stressors can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, disordered body image, and unhealthy coping skills such as substance abuse and eating disorders.

Think about this — adolescents and young adults struggle to find their religious beliefs, political views, let alone their true identity and self-worth outside of their family system. Now, add in the unique struggle of overcoming fears of rejection from family, peers, and their community All of these struggles take place at such a pivotal age, that you are feeling alone and scared trying to identify your gender and/or sexuality. It becomes apparent that LGBTQ+ individuals are at higher risk for the development of an eating disorder.

There are many barriers to treatment and even more support needed in the LGBTQ+ community. Many providers may lack knowledge, experience, or sensitivity in providing treatment. In addition, many individuals may lack family support- a large dynamic in treating individuals with eating disorders. That being said, a supportive environment offering a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals to explore their identity and sexuality is crucial in the treatment and recovery process.

If you do not have a supportive environment, that does not mean you will not be successful in the recovery process as you can create a supportive environment by finding support groups with individuals who share common struggles. If you are struggling with gender identity, sexual orientation, and an eating disorder — you are not alone! It’s important to focus on yourself and your well-being, which may mean changing the people you surround yourself with or educating families and friends about your eating disorder.

At Eating Disorder Solutions, we offer treatment tailored to meet each individual’s needs by considering a holistic approach to treatment, rather than one-size fits all. We encourage and promote acceptance and self-love because you are worth it, deserving, and more than your gender and/or sexual orientation. Treatment and recovery from an eating disorder are not easy, but having a supportive environment with people who accept you, can create a safe space to begin your journey to recovery.

Authored by Emily Baum, M.S., RDN, LD