Gender dysphoria and vulnerability to eating disorders
Gender identity; at some point we all have a question of gender and sexual orientation. For some this is brief, for others this question is long and sprawling or leads to the conclusion: I do not identify with a gender or my gender and my assigned gender do not match.
This is called gender dysphoria, and for some this results in making changes to their bodies so that their body does match their gender. Being transgender and making changes to your body does not always resolve feelings of dysphoria but it can go a long way to making individuals feel more comfortable in their own skin.
Unfortunately, gender dysphoria comes hand in hand with body dismorphia which in turn is very interconnected with eating disorders of all types.
There can be many reasons for this, including but not limited to:
- The desire to suppress (or enhance) sexual characteristics
- Feeling uncomfortable in own skin
- Wanting to take control of something related to their bodies
- Enhanced feelings of dissatisfaction with own body, sometimes coming from feelings of estrangement between body and mind
Individuals afflicted by an eating disorder or gender dysphoria engage in certain behaviors to achieve their desired appearance. However, this is where the similarities between the two end and it if important to draw a distinction between them. A large distinction is the support provided. The goal in treating an eating disorder is to discourage the disordered behavior and encourage healthier eating habits and a more positive body image. Affirming the identity of someone with an eating disorder can be deadly, as it could encourage more disordered eating. In contrast, affirming the identity of someone with gender dysphoria through social transition, cross-sex hormones, and/or surgical reassignment is life-saving and therapeutic.
LGBTQ+ suffer higher rates of eating disorders and body dismorphia
Individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ experience unique stressors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. There is still research to be carried out on the correlation between sexuality, gender identity, body image, and eating disorders but what we do know is that eating and body image difficulties disproportionately affect the LGBTQ+ community.
Potential factors that may play a role in the development of an eating disorder may include:
- Fear of rejection/ experience of rejections from loved ones
- Internalised negative beliefs due to sexual orientation, non-binary gender, or transgender identity
- Experiences of violence and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which greatly increases likelihood of developing an eating disorder
- Dissonance surrounding biological sex and gender identity
LGBTQ+ individuals also experience increased risks of homelessness or unsafe home environments:
- Up to 42% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+ identifying
- 33% of individuals are homeless or in the care of social services after experiencing a violent assault when they came out
Challenges accessing support
- A lack of awareness in treatment
- An inability to address the complexity of unique sexuality and gender identity issues
- Lack of support from family and friends
- Insufficient eating disorders education among LGBTQ+ resource providers.
Facts and figures
- In one study, gay and bisexual boys reported being significantly more likely to have fasted, vomited, or taken laxatives or diet pills to control their weight in the last 30 days
- Gay males are thought to only represent 5% of the total male population but among males who have eating disorders, 42% identify as gay
- Gay males were seven times more likely to report binging and 12 times more likely to report purging than heterosexual males.
- Compared with heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men had a significantly higher bulimia presentation.
- Females identifying as lesbian, bisexual, or mostly heterosexual were approximately twice as likely to report binge-eating at least once per month in the last year.
- Elevated rates of binge-eating and purging by vomiting or laxative abuse was found for people who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or mostly heterosexual in comparison to their heterosexual peers.
- Black and Latinx LGBTQ+s have at least as high a prevalence of eating disorders as white LGBTQ+s.
- 71% of transgender individuals have experienced an eating disorder.
- In one survey it was identified that 58% of LGBTQ+ participants who were diagnosed with an eating disorder said they had also considered suicide.
- A survey of nearly 300,000 college students found that transgender college students had over four times greater risk of having been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and two times greater risk of eating disorder symptoms such as purging compared to their cisgender female peers
As you can see there is a huge issue of eating disordered behaviour and body image difficulties for people who are LGBTQ+ and it is largely unrecognised and under-managed due to issues with education and resources.
The Acacia Dreams support groups welcome ANYONE and we will offer any services and support that we can without discrimination.
If you would like to get in contact please do!