Eating Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community

Blog, Written by Sophie Corbett

June is Pride Month, an important time to celebrate the diversity and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community. However, it is also a crucial period to address pressing issues that disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ individuals, such as eating disorders. Despite the lasting misconception that eating disorders only impact young, white, middle-class women, they occur across all groups in society, with significantly higher rates in the LGBTQ+ community. 

 

Elevated Rates of Eating Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community

 

According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 survey of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ+ young people, there are alarming rates of eating disorders within this community. Their findings reveal that up to 54% of LGBTQ+ youth have been diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their lives, compared to 28% of cisgender heterosexual youth. This data highlights the urgent need for increased awareness, understanding, and most importantly – support for LGBTQ+ individuals struggling with eating disorders.

 

Breaking Down the Statistics

The prevalence of eating disorders varies within different groups of the LGBTQ+ community.

Gay and Bisexual Men:

The gay beauty standard: Via Dazed.com

Studies show that gay and bisexual men are significantly more likely to suffer from eating disorders than their heterosexual counterparts. The pressure to conform to the narrow scope of gay beauty, and the pervasive nature of body shaming in some parts of the gay community contribute to this heightened risk. 

 

Lesbian and Bisexual Women: 

Lesbian and bisexual women also face unique challenges. While some studies suggest they may experience lower rates of certain eating disorders compared to heterosexual women, they still face significant body image pressures and societal stigmatisation that can lead to disordered eating behaviours.

 

Transgender Individuals: 

 

Transgender people, particularly transgender women, are at an exceptionally high risk for eating disorders. The desire to align one’s body with their gender identity, coupled with societal pressures and discrimination, can drive unhealthy and dangerous eating behaviours. For transgender men, the pressure to achieve a lean, muscular physique can similarly lead to disordered eating. The Trevor Foundation survey found that trans men and boys had rates of eating disorders up to 33%. There is still a pressing need for research in this area. 

 

Gender Non-Binary Individuals: 

 

Gender non-binary individuals also experience high rates of eating disorders. The struggle to fit into societal norms that are strictly divided into male and female categories can lead to significant body dissatisfaction and unhealthy eating behaviours. The Trevor Project research found that Gender Non Binary individuals assigned female at birth had the highest eating disorder prevalence out of any group. Non-binary individuals often face unique challenges, such as a lack of recognition and understanding, which can exacerbate feelings of isolation and contribute to the development of eating disorders.

 

Discrimination, Isolation, and Homophobia

 

Catalysts for Eating Disorders

 

Discrimination, isolation, and homophobia can become significant precipitating factors for the development of eating disorders in LGBTQ+ individuals. These factors can exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as a genetic predisposition or family history of eating disorders. The stress and trauma from facing societal rejection, bullying, and violence can lead individuals to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, including disordered eating.

 

The Impact of Gender-Based Beauty Standards

 

Gender-based beauty standards profoundly affect transgender individuals. Trans people often face immense pressure to conform to societal norms of attractiveness aligned with their gender identity. This pressure can lead to extreme measures to modify their bodies, including restrictive eating, excessive exercise, or purging. The struggle to achieve an “ideal” body type can become all-consuming, resulting in severe eating disorders.

Available Support for the LGBTQ+ Community

 

Despite the challenges, there is hope and support available for LGBTQ+ individuals struggling with eating disorders. We notice these issues being raised with greater frequency among health professionals. 

 

Organisations such as Beat and The Trevor Project provide invaluable resources, support networks, and counselling services tailored to the unique needs of LGBTQ+ individuals.

 

Mindout is the UK’s main LGBTQ+ Mental Health Charity with a chatline for advice and events 

 

The charity Mind has a support line for Trans people struggling with their mental health. 

 

How We Can Do Better

 

To better support the LGBTQ+ community, we must take a multi-faceted approach

 

Raise Awareness

Increase public understanding of the higher prevalence of eating disorders within the LGBTQ+ community. This includes dispelling myths and educating people about the unique challenges LGBTQ+ individuals face. The book ‘Eating Disorders Don’t Discriminate’ is great reading for anyone interested in this topic as it displays the diverse range of experiences of eating disorders. 

 

Promote Inclusivity and better Training in Healthcare

Ensure that healthcare providers are trained to offer compassionate, culturally competent care to LGBTQ+ individuals. This includes recognising the specific needs and risks associated with eating disorders in this community. There’s a great resource called ‘A Clinician’s guide to Gender Affirming Care’ That I encourage health professionals to familiarise themselves with. 

 

Support Affirming Environments

Create safe, affirming spaces where LGBTQ+ individuals can express themselves without fear of discrimination or judgement. Schools, workplaces, and community organisations play a critical role in fostering these environments.

 

Advocate for Policy Changes

Support policies that protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination and improve access to mental health and eating disorder treatment.

 

Encourage Peer Support

Facilitate peer support groups where LGBTQ+ individuals can share their experiences and support one another in a safe, understanding environment.

Conclusion

 

Eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community are a significant and pressing issue. By raising awareness, promoting inclusivity, and providing robust support systems, we can make a meaningful difference. As we celebrate Pride Month, let’s commit to creating a society where everyone, regardless of their identity, can live healthy, fulfilling lives free from the shadows of eating disorders. Both during the month of June and beyond. 

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We are here to help: Our Commitment to Inclusivity and Support

 

At our online dietetic clinic, we are dedicated to providing inclusive and supportive care for everyone, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We understand the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals and offer tailored support to help you achieve a healthy relationship with food and your body. Many of us have taken additional courses in gender affirming and inclusive care. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to us for compassionate, expert care.

 

 

Blog written by Sophie

Sophie is a Specialist Eating Disorder Dietitian passionate about delivering great quality care and advocating for her clients. Sheis naturally curious and driven for continued learning both within the profession and outside of it. Sophie founded Mental Health Dietitians in 2024 to be able to work in a way that is value-aligned and makes a difference to the individuals in her care, as well as the wider profession. She currently supports international clients 1-1 in her online clinic. 

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