Eating disorders can affect any person at any age, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristics. However, certain groups of people have a higher prevalence of these disorders than others. One such group is the LGTBQ community. In fact, according to NBC news, eating disorders in LGBTQ youth are particularly prevalent, with more than half of these youth carrying an eating disorder diagnosis. LGBTQ eating disorders cause the same basic symptoms as eating disorders in other communities. However, treatment for disorders should be customized to meet the unique needs of this population.
LGBTQ Community Eating Disorders
NBC News reports that a large portion of LGBTQ youth surveyed reported having been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder at some time during their lives. Half of those who said they hadn’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder stated that they suspected they may have an undiagnosed eating disorder. This means that more than 3 in 4 of those surveyed believed they had an eating disorder at some point in their lives. This rate is much higher than that of the general population.
According to this report, there may also be a link between eating disorders and risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth. Approximately 66 percent of those surveyed who had considered suicide had also been diagnosed with an eating disorder. In addition, more than 90 percent of those who had been diagnosed with bulimia nervosa admitted that they had considered suicide.
Among LGBTQ eating disorders, anorexia nervosa was the most commonly diagnosed. The most common disordered habits among LGBTQ youth with eating disorders were eating restricted amounts of food, skipping meals and fasting.
LGBTQ and Eating Disorders: Why Are Rates Higher in this Community?
LGBTQ individuals experience unique stressors that may make it more likely for them to develop eating disorders. For example, unlike the general public, LGBTQ individuals must face the pressures of “coming out” in school, with family and friends, in the workplace and in the community as a whole. LGBTQ individuals also deal with higher rates of harassment at work and in school. Furthermore, body image standards imposed on members of this community tend to be more strict and rigid than those imposed on the general public. All of these factors can come together to raise the individual’s risk of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. In many cases, the individual may turn to unsafe coping mechanisms, such as restricting food intake, excessive exercise or substance abuse.
Treating Eating Disorders in the LGBT Community
Because of the unique stressors and situations that affect members of the LGBTQ community, it is important for any member of this community who has an eating disorder to seek customized treatment. Eating disorder treatment for LGBTQ individuals needs to focus not only on the disorder itself but also on the unique underlying factors that led to the development of the disorder in the first place and continue to exacerbate it. For example, treatment programs for LGBTQ eating disorders should include therapies designed to help these individuals develop better coping skills so they can experience less anxiety after treatment, even in the face of harassment or other stressors. Treatment programs for eating disorders in the LGBTQ community should also incorporate education intended to help these individuals develop a more positive body image so they can maintain their recovery even when faced with unrealistic standards in the media or among peers.
At Oliver Pyatt Centers, we understand the complex relationship between people who identify as LGBTQ and eating disorders. We also understand that these disorders affect every individual differently. For example, LGBTQ eating disorders for transgender people may not need the same style of treatment as eating disorders among gay or lesbian individuals. We customize all of our treatment programs to meet the needs of each individual, and we offer a variety of different options to maximize the effectiveness of our programs. Both residential and day treatment programs are available for LGBTQ community eating disorders. Please contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs.