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The Prevalence of Eating Disorders in the LGBT Community

Often times when people think about eating disorders, they associate them with young, straight, white females as that seems to be the stereotype. However, just like drug or alcohol addiction, eating disorders affect all walks of life; especially the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Because of the stress due to discrimination, bullying, and harassment, these factors directly correlate to the many mental health issues plaguing the LGBT community. These issues include:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicide Attempts
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the LGBT community is at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder (such as anorexia and bulimia) which is associated with the likelihood of past trauma and difficulties they might have when they decide to come out. These risk factors include:
  • Fear of rejection
  • Discordance between one’s biological sex and gender identity
  • Unsafe home environment or homelessness (up to 42% of homeless youth are LGBT-identified)
  • Discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Experiences of violence which could contribute to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Internalized negative beliefs about oneself due to sexual orientation
Research has shown that gay and bisexual men are at a greater risk of developing an eating disorder because of the cultural pressure that comes along with hoping to attract another man. Similarly, this is the same pressure that also affects heterosexual women. It is true that lesbian women experience less body dissatisfaction according to research, however, studies reveal that beginning as early as 12, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens may be at higher risk of binge-eating and purging than their heterosexual peers. Gay and bisexual boys reported being significantly more likely to have fasted, vomited, or taken diet pills and/or laxatives in order to control their weight within the last 30 days. In addition to that, gay males were seven times more likely to report binging and 12 times more likely to report purging than their heterosexual counterparts. While only 3% of men identify as being gay or bisexual, studies show that up to 42% of men who present with eating disorders identify as being gay or bisexual. Transgender people have a significantly higher risk of developing an eating disorder as minority stress is considered a major contributing factor. Transgender people often experience more pressure from society to conform to what many consider “normal” standards of femininity, and so their risk of developing an eating disorder in order to suppress or accentuate gendered features is a lot higher than other members of the LGBT community. It seems that many studies have shown that those members of the LGBT community who identify as feminine are at a much greater risk of developing an eating disorder than those members who identify as masculine. It’s imperative that we increase our efforts to educate the LGBT community and work with them to help lower their risk of developing an eating disorder by giving them the skills they need in order to help protect them from media and social influences that are toxic.