Numerous findings from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) have been gathered about eating disorders in the LGBT population.
Unfortunately, eating disorders are a problem with individuals in general. In the US, 20 million women are affected and 10 million men. In the LGBT community, a reported 15 percent of gay and bisexual men reported having some type of eating disorder in their life compared to 4.6 percent of heterosexual men. A survey showed that gay men were seven times more likely to binge and 12 times more likely to purge than heterosexual men. In the LGBT adolescent group, gay and bisexual individuals were much more likely to have gone on a fast, vomited or purged in another way, than heterosexuals reported.
According to the research, lesbian women appeared to be the most satisfied with their bodies overall, but they, along with bisexual females, were at more of a binge-eating risk than heterosexual women, at approximately twice the rate. Lesbian and bisexual girls were also shown to have higher rates of laxative use and purging, or vomiting than heterosexual girls. No matter their sex, those identifying as LGBTQ were more likely to have disordered eating habits or an eating disorder than their heterosexual peers. It was not unusual for LGBT teens to have disordered eating habits when they were as young as 12.
There are some issues that may explain this big difference in eating disorders in the LGBT population, with teens in particular, including:
- Internalization of negative thoughts and messages about gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation
- Fears about rejection and coming out
- Having previous traumatic experiences related to sexual orientation
- Past experiences with discrimination or bullying
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions associated with eating disorders. For example, many people don’t think they affect men or they believe eating disorders to be lifestyle choices, not illnesses. It’s important to spread awareness of the actual truth. There is help available and everyone should feel safe seeking treatment.