The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Hidden Risks for the LGBTQ+ Community, and How You Can Help

 


Every June, Pride month provides an opportunity to share awareness, knowledge and recognition of important issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a time to celebrate progress while recommitting to challenges that lie ahead. One such challenge among the LGBTQ+ community too often stays hidden: eating disorders.

While eating disorders may happen to anyone, current research suggests that those in the LGBTQ+ community may be at higher risk,1  beginning as early as age twelve.2  In a study of over 35,000 students, gay males were 28 percent more likely to report poor body image, 25 percent more likey to engage in binge eating, and 9 percent more likely to diet frequently compared to heterosexual males.3  What’s important to highlight is how outside influences can act as a trigger for these unhealthy and dangerous behaviors in marginalized populations. For example, daily discrimination among lesbians is associated with increased binge eating.

Let’s take a closer look at stressors that may be unique to the LGBTQ+ community, including those listed by NEDA (The National Eating Disorders Association)and others identified by our patients and therapists.


Unique Stressors Faced by LGBT+ Individuals

  • Fear of rejection after coming out to one’s friends, family, classmates, co-workers and the public
  • Bullying, violence or threats at school, work or online, in some cases resulting in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation
  • Hardship or stress related to identification with a gender that is different than the one assigned at birth
  • Internalized stigma where one begins to believe, internalize and/or act upon negative messages about oneself
  • Homelessness or unsafe homes occur among the LGBTQ+ population, with 42 percent of homeless youth identifying as such6
  • Unrealistic Body ideals within LGBTQ+ peers/community
  • Double minority status wherein one person experiences oppression as a member of more than one minority group (i.e. related to orientation, gender, religion, race or otherwise).


The Transgender Community

Specifically among transgender youth, a 2017 study reported that as many as one in four youths report engaging in at least one disordered eating behavior, with 35 to 45 percent engaging in binge eating or fasting. Experiences of discrimination, harassment, and violence – or enacted stigma – were often linked to greater levels of eating disorder behaviors among trans youth.7

This same study also indicated that there are some protective factors that help buffer enacted stigma from influencing eating habits in trans youth. Social support from family, friends and peers was associated with a lower percentage of trans youth engaging in binge eating. In other words, when family and school connectedness are present in the youth’s life the likelihood of binge eating decreases. In particular, the presence of family support drove the lowest probability of disordered eating.


Showing Support to the LGBTQ+ Community – 8 Ways to Help

Everyone can do their part to help lower risk factors associated with eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community. The common thread is championing less violence and discrimination and more support and acceptance. Here are eight way you can help:

  1. Know the signs and symptoms of disordered eating and be able to recognize them in a friend, family or peer. Watch this video for an example of how everyday conversations can be a chance to check in and offer support.
  2. Be a listening ear to your LGBTQ+ friends, family and peers and be someone who they can talk to when they are upset or distressed
  3. Respect identity by using preferred gender pronouns (i.e., he/she/they), name, and other terms – when in doubt, use neutral words (i.e., they, partner) or ask about preference
  4. Ask early and specifically about the presence of eating disorder symptoms if you are a health or mental health provider working with LGBTQ+ youth. Early intervention  leads to more positive recovery outcomes but many people don’t disclose disordered eating behaviors unless explicitly asked about them.
  5. Start an LGBTQ+ club at your school or workplace to demonstrate your support and to help spread awareness
  6. Volunteer for LGBTQ+ hotlines, such as the GLBT National Help Center or The Trevor Project
  7. Educate yourself on the relationship between stigma, discrimination and eating disorders and help spread the word about common myths and facts
  8. Remember the power of family connectedness as a protective factor. Create a welcoming home for your family members of all genders and orientations.

If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and you think that you may have disordered eating, or just want a judgement-free space to talk, call any of the following hotlines or visit https://www.eatingdisorder.org/letscheckin to take a free online self-assessment and get connected with treatment.


LGBTQ+ and Related Hotline Numbers

  • National Eating Disorder Hotline 1-800-931-2237
  • LGBT National Youth Talkline 1-800-246-PRIDE (7743)
  • LGBT National Hotline 1-888-843-4564
  • Sage LGBT Elder Hotline 1-888-234-SAGE (7243)
  • The Trevor Project (24/7) 1-866-488-7386
  • TrevorText (M-F 3pm-10pm) Text “Tevor” to 1-202-304-1200
  • The National Runaway Safeline 1-800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)
  • The True Colors Fund (homelessness) 1-212-461-4401

For more information about eating disorders and treatment options in Baltimore, visit eatingdisorder.org or call (410) 938-5252 for a free phone assessment.


Blog contributions by Catherine Pappano, CED Research Assistant 

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References

  1. Watson, R. J., Adjei, J., Saewyc, E., Homma, Y., & Goodenow, C. (2017). Trends and disparities in disordered eating among heterosexual and sexual minority adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50(1), 22-31.

  2. NEDA: Eating disorders in LGBTQ+ populations. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/lgbtq. Accessed June 22, 2018

  3. French, S.A., Story, M., Remafedi, G., Resick, M.D., & Blum, R.W. (1996). Sexual orientation and prevalence of body dissatisfaction and eating disordered behaviors: A populationbased study of adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 19(2), 119-126.

  4. Mason, T.B., Lewis, R.J., & Heron, K.E. (2017). Daily discrimination and binge eating among lesbians: a pilot study. Psychology & Sexuality, 8(1-2), 96-103.

  5. NEDA: Eating disorders in LGBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) populations. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/ResourceHandouts/LGBTQ.pdfAccessed October 31st, 2017.

  6. NEDA: Eating disorders in LGBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) populations. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/ResourceHandouts/LGBTQ.pdfAccessed October 31st, 2017.

  7. Watson, R. J., Veale, J. F., & Saewyc, E. M. (2017). Disordered eating behaviors among transgender youth: probability profiles from risk and protective factors. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50,515-522.