Eating Disorders in the LGBTQIA2S+ Community
What you need to know and what you can do as an ally
Eating disorders have been inappropriately stereotyped as a disorder impacting cisgendered, heterosexual, middle-upper class white females. This is wrong.
We see eating disorders across all ages, classes, sexual orientations, and gender identities. What we have learned is that the prevalence of disordered eating and eating disorders in the LGBTQIA2S+ community is disproportionally high in comparison to other subgroups of the population. The focus on young white females created errors in the diagnostic, prevention, and treatment approaches for eating disorders.
Keep reading to find out just how prevalent eating disorders are in the LGVTQIA2S+ community, the risk factors to be aware of, and what you can do as an ally.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
The prevalence of different eating disorders do vary across gender and sexual identities. While further research is warranted, we already see some dangerous trends. For example, 20% or more of gay and bisexual men in the United States report engaging in eating disorder behaviours as a means to attempt to control their weight, while only 5% of heterosexual men report the same behaviours. There seem to be higher rates of binge eating in lesbian and bisexual women. The transgender community reports the highest rates of eating disorder behaviours, 30% or higher, when compared to any other gender or sexual demographic. Yes, this includes young heterosexual females.
Factors to Consider
Knowing the numbers can help us bring our attention to an underserved population. In addition, we explore factors that may be elevating the numbers.
The pressure to fit a body ideal is ever present and may even be heightening in this population due to body dissatisfaction or social pressure. The body image concerns can vary from those historically assumed to be a risk factor for developing an eating disorder, such as the thin ideal, and should be explored further with each individual. Additionally, transgender individuals are more likely to experience body dysphoria which is feeling internally conflicted between the physical body and the gender to which they associate.
The LGBTQIA2S+ community is more likely to experience minority stress caused by social stigmatization. Social stigma can lead to discrimination, alienation, violence, and excessive stress. Mental health plays a huge factor in the development of an eating disorder. If individuals within the LGBTQIA2S+ community are not well supported and accepted than they are more likely to struggle with mental health concerns and eating disorders.
Health Care Screening
In no way does this mean that simply because of an individuals sexual orientation or gender identity, they will develop an eating disorder. However, due to the elevated risk, health professionals should ensure to screen for the presence of disordered eating behaviours.
The challenge is for health professionals to look past the eating disorder diagnostic standards. We know that for many individuals, risk factors such as low body mass index (BMI) is completely irrelevant. Individuals who live in a larger body or who may be pursuing a bigger, more muscular body instead of a leaner body, are missed. Disordered patterns can include rapid weight changes, hyperfocus on the body, obsessive patterns with food, excessive supplement use, steroid use, or other harmful strategies to manipulate the body.
Additionally, health professionals need to recognize that gender affirming surgeries and hormone therapy can directly impact a person’s weight status, body composition, blood pressure, blood sugars, and some blood work values. These changes must be taken in context and individualized medical assessment should be completed. That means that any approach or intervention taken should align with the stage of medical transition and duration of hormone therapy.
If an eating disorder is identified, the multidisciplinary approach has been shown to be most effective. The multidisciplinary team should include a medical doctor, registered dietitian, mental health professional, support persons, and any other health professional indicated for individualized treatment.
As an Ally
As an ally, here is what you can do!
- Advocate! Teachers, parents, coaches, health care professionals, and community members will benefit from additional education and awareness related to the heightened risk of eating disorders within the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
- Engage in awareness campaigns.
- Demand more research to determine the evidence-based approaches for screening, prevention, and treatment of eating disorders within this population.
- Create an inclusive space that advertises your desire to support the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
If you are concerned about your own eating patterns, or those of someone you care about, please reach out to the qualified eating disorder dietitians at Health Stand Nutrition here as we would be happy to support you.
Looking for an Eating Disorder Dietitian that “gets it”? We can help.
If you are seeking support for an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, ARFID or disordered eating behavior we can help.
We have Eating Disorder Dietitians on our team that can help provide you with the confidential supportive care to meet you where you are at and work with you to progress recovery at a pace you can manage.
We also work collaboratively with your physician and therapist to ensure we are helping you move forward with the right type of support needed to assist you.
Looking to learn more? Check out these related articles:
Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating & Sports Nutrition
Fitness enthusiast and lover of all things food, Jana is passionate about helping her clients improve their relationship with food and their body. She is a strong, motivational leader. Jana also offers the balance of a warm, supportive coaching style to nudge her clients from their comfort zone while feeling safe and supported. She specializes in mental health, eating disorders, body image and sports nutrition.