Eating Disorders & the LGBTQIA+ Community
By: Hannah de Groot MEd.
June is one of the best months of the year - the weather is warming up, school is out, and most importantly, it is PRIDE MONTH! Pride is a time to highlight and celebrate self-affirmation, equality, and visibility of our LGBTQIA+ community members. It is also time for heterosexual, cisgender people to celebrate our friends, family members and neighbors in the LGBTQIA+ community by advocating for their equal rights and protection. At Recovered and Restored Therapy, we are honored to support our LGBTQIA+ clients by affirming their identities and advocating for social justice. As heterosexual, cisgender providers, we acknowledge our unearned priviledges and admire the courageousness and bravery of our queer clients. It is our duty to show up for all of our clients in meaningful ways, and promote love and acceptance to everyone, despite differences in gender identity or sexual orientation.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community face unique challenges that may increase their risk of developing eating disorders. This might look like discomfort in one’s body, increased amounts of bullying and discrimination, and inability to meet body image ideals, among other reasons. Not to mention the barriers to treatment that they may face, such as non-affirming providers, lack of support from family and inaccessibility to treatment. Furthermore, the mental health community as a whole is behind on research centering LGBTQIA+ people, specifically their relationships with eating disorders. The vast majority of research done on eating disorders focuses on heterosexual, cisgender women, despite the fact that people of all identities and backgrounds can be impacted by eating disorders. Not only does this prolong stigmas about who can be impacted by negative body image and eating disorders, but it also hinders training and education of providers. It is also important to note that research often lumps all LGBTQIA+ individuals into one category rather than examining variables by sexual orientation or gender identity; not all transgender indiviuals identify as gay! Flaws like this make research unreliable and create barriers for healthcare workers to provide affirming care.
Transgender individuals face an even higher risk for mental illness and barriers to treatment. Trans people sometimes feel uncomfortable in their bodies and confusion about how they should look based on societal expectations. A recent study of 3,000 college students found that trans students were more than four times more likely than their cisgender counterparts to report eating disorder beheaviors, and twice as likely to engage in compensatory behaviors. Some clinical studies suggest that trans women often engage in restricting, purging and excessive exercising to lose weight and achieve a more feminine body. Trans men might use the same eating disorder symptoms, but for the purpose of suppressing secondary sex traits like growing breasts and having menstruation.
Additionally, trans folx face heightened levels of poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and abuse. Lack of support from families creates an additional barrier towards recovery and proper treatment. Trans individuals of color, specifically Black trans women, face greater adversity, abuse and violence than almost any other demographic. The average lifespan of a trans Black woman is 35 years, and in 2019, 91% of the killings of trans folx were trans Black women. Eating disorder symptoms in trans Black women are influenced by cultural expectations for what Black women should look like. As cisgender individuals, we must use our voices and unearned privileges to protect our trans brothers and sisters from violence, provide them with resources and advocate for their needs.
If you are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, please know that we love you, we support you, and we work hard yearlong to ensure that we can provide you with the best care possible.