June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and sexual and gender diversity. Members of the community and allies unite in pride and solidarity to recognize, honor, and uplift the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and/or questioning people.
As we honor the LGBTQIA+ community this month and beyond, we must also commit to better understanding and addressing the issues it faces. One such issue is eating disorders, which affect LGBTQIA+ people at disproportionately high rates.
In this article, we explore eating disorders in the LGBTQIA+ community and offer ways to support affected community members during Pride and throughout the year.
Eating disorders aren’t unique to straight, cisgender women. They cut across all social categories and intersections, including sexual orientation and gender identity. While the majority of the field’s research has focused historically on straight females, the studies involving LGBTQIA+ people show high prevalence rates of eating disorders.
In fact, research suggests that some LGBTQIA+ community members experience eating disorders at even higher rates than their straight and cisgender counterparts.
Like eating disorders in other populations, eating disorders in the LGBTQIA+ community are complex and multifactorial. Sexual or gender identity alone does not predict who will develop one, as other biological, psychological, and social factors also play a part. Experiences related to sexual orientation and gender identity can, however, contribute to the development or maintenance of an eating disorder.
Factors that may increase the likelihood of an eating disorder in a susceptible LGBTQIA+ person include:
Support is key to recovery for people of all gender and sexual identities. And true support means caring for the whole person instead of just their illness. When supporting LGBTQIA+ people with eating disorders, it is vital to affirm their gender and sexual identities and to recognize how these identities intersect with the experience of illness and recovery.
Here are some strategies to provide support that is safe, inclusive, and affirming for LGBTQIA+ community members with eating disorders.
Start by simply listening to LGBTQIA+ people about their relationship with food and their bodies. Remember that each person is the expert of their experience, and any support offered should respect their individuality and guidance on what is and is not helpful.
Some practical tips for actively listening and learning include:
Adopt language that affirms all gender and sexual identities.
Eating disorders can affect the LGBTQIA+ community in unique ways. Recognize that special factors may play a role in the development and maintenance of these illnesses in this population, including:
Learn more about eating disorders among lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals here, and about eating disorders in transgender individuals here.
Eating disorder recovery looks different for everyone, and several mainstream recovery messages may be particularly out of touch with the experiences and needs of LGBTQIA+ people.
When providing messages of support, be wary of:
LGBTQIA+ individuals face unique barriers to eating disorder treatment, and ensuring that the community has access to care is ongoing work.
Support efforts toward greater inclusion and diversity in the field, including:
Much like recovery itself, supporting LGBTQIA+ people with eating disorders is an active process that requires compassion and sensitivity. To be helpful is to be inclusive, non-judgmental, and culturally competent. Care must be tailored to the needs of each person, reflecting an understanding of and respect for each person’s identity and unique life experiences.
Attend our complimentary event, “Embodied Dignity: Considerations for Clinical Practice at the Intersections of Eating Disorders and the Dazzling Spectra of Sexuality & Gender Identity,” presented by Chase Bannister, MDIV, MSW, LCSW, CEDS, on June 9. Register today to learn more on this topic and earn continuing education credits.
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