Eating disorders have always been associated with straight, young, white females, but research shows that eating disorders disproportionately impact some segments of LGBT populations.
In a 2007 study of lesbian, gay, and bisexual-identified participants, which was the first to assess DSM diagnostic categories, gay and bisexual men had a significantly higher prevalence of lifetime full syndrome bulimia, subclinical bulimia, and any subclinical eating disorder.
Why Do Eating Disorders Weigh More Heavily on LGBT People?
I often wondered this as I saw my son in his twenties and early thirties vacillating between stuffing (eating beyond feeling full) and fasting, colonics, and working out at the gym for hours. He arranged the clothes in his closet by "thin" or "fat."
Potential factors that may interact with an LGBT person's predisposition for developing an eating disorder include:
Since teens are so concerned with their appearance, how can a parent know the difference between his child "looking his best" as he tries to fit in, and trying to change his body through dieting and exercise to resemble who he believes he is internally?
Signs to Watch Out For
The struggle to feel accepted and safe is a mental health condition. Over the years, gay males have been thought of as "effeminate" in nature and consequently weak. To be loved, some felt they needed to adhere to an impossible Adonis-like ideal. Bulking up may feel "more masculine," and an overweight teen may feel less lonely if he loses his girth and his insecurities.
Psychiatrist Jonathan Tobkes, coauthor of When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know, says, "I would speculate that perhaps eating disorders are higher in gay and lesbian patients because this population tends to be self-critical and, at times, perfectionistic in order to make up for what they may perceive to be a 'deficit' of their sexual orientation. In addition, eating disorders tend to be about maintaining control, especially when one experiences a lack of control in other areas of life."
Food becomes a coping tool for dealing with feelings of self-loathing and regret, unpleasant emotions or feelings of stress, depression or anxiety. Over time, people with eating disorders can't see themselves objectively. They need to rediscover who they are beyond eating habits, weight, and body image.
Ways to Combat Eating Disorders