The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog – You Are Not Alone: Eating Disorders and LGBTQ Youth


Posted on March 10th, 2015 by Melissa in Featured, Youth Blog. No Comments

The Wrigley Building lit in blue and green

The Wrigley Building lit up for Eating Disorders Awareness Month. Credit: Claire Trainor, “Wrigley Building,” February 23, 2015.

If you’re struggling with issues around food, weight, and eating, know that you are not alone. LGBTQ people, like anyone else, can struggle with eating disorders like anorexia or binge eating.

What Exactly Is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can fall into one of four categories:
(1)    Anorexia nervosa: An intense fear of food and weight gain and excessive dieting leading to severe weight loss
(2)    Bulimia nervosa:  Frequent binging, followed by purging (attempts to avoid weight gain, such as vomiting)
(3)    Binge-eating disorder: Eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time, feelings of a loss of control
(4)    Other specified feeding or eating disorders: Disorders that still cause distress and interfere with daily life, but don’t fit into the previous three categories [1]

Talking about eating disorders can be tricky, and these categories don’t always reflect the complexity of problems about weight and food. There are many symptoms and feelings that may not fit into a neat little package. Figuring out what you’re going through may be confusing, but it doesn’t make your concerns any less valid or serious.

Eating Disorders and LGBTQ Youth

There are a lot of myths about eating disorders. Often, they are associated with straight, young, white females. In reality, eating disorders can affect people from every race, income level, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

  • Research has found higher levels of binge-eating, purging, and diet pill use in gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth compared to straight youth [2].
  • Young gay and bisexual guys report higher rates of bulimia, dieting, and body image dissatisfaction than their straight peers [3,4].
  • In a diverse group of 65 transgender youth, 17% of participants reported having had an eating disorder [5].

LGBTQ youth may face a lot of unique challenges in life, such as coming out, bullying, and experiencing negative messages. These challenges impact emotional and psychological well-being, which in turn can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. However, many LGBTQ youth are resilient. Some studies have found that a sense of connectedness to the gay community was related to fewer eating disorders [6].

What Can I Do?

Eating disorders are difficult, and many people dealing with these issues live with them in silence. It’s not always easy to talk to family or friends about them. Even though they’re tough, these conversations are important. This can feel overwhelming, especially when combined with other stress LGBTQ youth may face, but help and recovery are possible.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) offers more information about eating disorders, help, and support.

If you need help looking for eating disorder treatment options, the NEDA Helpline offers aid Monday through Friday at 1-800-931-2237.

The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association has a provider directory to help find LGBTQ-friendly healthcare professionals.

The Trevor Lifeline (866-488-7386) is here for LGBTQ youth 24/7, if you need a safe space to talk.

Like this article? Read more on our Youth Blog and Family Blog.
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Medical Information Disclaimer: The IMPACT Program does not intend to provide specific medical advice, but we may provide website visitors with information to better understand their health and risk factors for specific diseases. The IMPACT Program urges you to consult with a qualified health care provider for diagnosis and answers to your personal health questions.

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References:

[1] American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Feeding and Eating Disorders [PDF Document]. Retrieved from http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Eating%20Disorders%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

[2] Austin, S. B., Nelson, L. A., Birkett, M., Calzo, J. P., & Everett, B. (2013). Eating Disorder Symptoms and Obesity at the Intersections of Gender, Ethnicity and Sexual Orientation: Results from a Large Sample of U.S. High School Students. American Journal of Public Health, 103(2), e16-e22.

[3] Feldman, M. B., & Meyer, I. H. (2007). Eating Disorders in Diverse Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations. International Journal of Eating Disorders 40(3), 218-226.

[4] French, S. A., Story, M., Remafedi, G., Resnick, M. D., & Blum, R. W. (1996). Sexual orientation and prevalence of body dissatisfaction and eating disordered behaviors: a population-based study of adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 19(2), 119-126.

[5] Washington State University. (14 May, 2012). Transgender research sees body dissatisfaction, eating disorders. Retrieved from https://news.wsu.edu/2012/05/14/transgender-research-sees-body-dissatisfaction-eating-disorders/#.VOduCvnF9AA

[6] National Eating Disorders Association (2015).  Eating Disorders in LGBT Populations. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/eating-disorders-lgbt-populations





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