While many people believe eating disorders predominately affect teenaged, straight, cisgender females, disordered eating is a disease that can affect anyone, at any age and from all walks of life. This includes any race, socioeconomic status, as well as any gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact, research has consistently shown that eating disorders disproportionately impact the LGBTQ+ community. Gay males are thought to represent only 5% of the total male population, but among males who have eating disorders, 42% identify as gay.
The reasons individuals develop eating disorders are multifactorial and complex. So why does disordered eating permeate every segment of the LGBTQ+ community? According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), LGBTQ+ identified persons experience unique stressors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
Some of these societal factors include:
- Bullying, harassment and other negative messages that members of the community face
- Fearing rejection, or being rejected by family, friends or co-workers for coming out
- Experiencing violence and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which research shows increases vulnerability to an eating disorder
- Internalized negative messages/beliefs about oneself due to sexual orientation
- For transgender individuals, there can be the additional challenge of gender dysphoria that can result in efforts to change one’s shape
In addition to all these challenges, LGBTQ+ individuals may also face barriers accessing the right treatment and support. It is more difficult to find culturally-competent treatment, which addresses the complexity of unique sexuality and gender identity issues, and sometimes insufficient education among LGBTQ+ resource providers. There can also be a lack of support from family and friends.
Being part of the solution and helping shift the way in which members of the LGBTQ+ individuals are treated can diminish the potential impact of these societal factors. An ally is an individual who is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, and there are many ways you can show your support through action!
Here are a few ways you can become an ally for a family member or friend in need:
Explore your own implicit and explicit beliefs, biases, and stereotypes. In order to set the stage to be an effective ally, it’s important to explore any beliefs, biases, or stereotypes you may have about the LGBTQ+ community. Honestly acknowledging any beliefs, biases, and stereotypes is the first step in initiating change.
Learn about the LGBTQ+ community. Take time to inform yourself about current events impacting the LGBTQ+ community, notable LGBTQ+ figures, historical events that have impacted the LGBTQ+ community, and terminology relevant to the LGBTQ+ individuals.
Create an affirmative environment. Consider whether your home and your workplace send the message that LGBTQ+ individuals are welcome. Even subtle visual cues, like stickers, mugs, or books that send a positive message about the LGBTQ+ community can have a powerful impact.
Don’t make assumptions and be open to feedback. Use language that reflects that you aren’t assuming that the individual with whom you are interacting is cisgender or heterosexual. It is also important to be receptive to feedback if you may have misunderstood something about an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
Speak up! Be brave in your support of the LGBTQ+ community. Actively intervene when you witness discrimination, stereotyping, or humor at the expense of the LGBTQ+ individuals. Share information that you have learned when misconceptions of LGBTQ+ community are expressed.
Support causes that support the LGBTQ+ community. Patronize businesses that are visible in their support of LGBTQ+ individuals and get involved in events that support LGBTQ+ causes in your community.
At Veritas Collaborative, we are committed to improving and advancing treatment options that are personalized and tailored to the needs of every individual. We want to increase access to culturally competent eating disorder treatment for members of the LGBTQ+ community who are affected by these illnesses. By offering provider trainings, community presentations and similar outreach efforts, we are constantly sharing our knowledge about eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community. Paying attention to language and giving clients a safe space to self-identify is important and our compassionate support team provides safe and reliable feedback to individuals who are struggling. Join us in our journey to create a world in which all individuals have access to best-practice care and hold hope for a cure!
About the Writer
Alyssa Kalata, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and Center Trainer for Veritas Collaborative. Alyssa firmly believes that all individuals and families have the right to competent, compassionate care and her approach to treatment is one that balances understanding and validation with a focus on cultivating change.