By Natalie Leibowitz
The impact of homophobia and transphobia, in addition to cultural factors within LGBTQ communities, may lead to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating as common concerns in this population. Gay and bisexual men may find that there are strict body standards within the community. Gay, bisexual, and transgender men have an elevated risk for developing eating disorders, largely due to higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, low self-esteem, and higher body dissatisfaction. One study found that gay and bisexual men may have a rate of eating disorders 6-9 times that of straight men (Feldman and Meyer, 2007).
There is conflicting evidence as to whether there is a higher rate of eating disorders among lesbians compared to straight women. However, studies have shown high levels of body shame and dieting among lesbian-identified individuals. Many LGBTQ individuals live in poverty, impacting their food security, access to resources, and access to healthcare. This increases risk for poor mental health, including development of disordered eating. Trans individuals are at a particularly high risk for poverty and mental illness due to the social isolation and discrimination many face.
A sense of connectedness to the gay community, and the community at large, has been demonstrated to be a protective factor against development of poor mental health for this population. Creating a culture of support in our families and communities can have a positive impact on the mental health of LGBTQ individuals. It is important that health care professionals be sensitive to the particular needs of LGBTQ communities, so that early intervention and appropriate treatment can be sought for eating disorders and related concerns.
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) shared on their own blog the trend of “Pride dieting” and why it is important to promote positive body messages when celebrating Pride.
Happy Pride Week everyone! Let’s celebrate diversity and acceptance within our communities.
For more information on LGBTQ health topics, visit Rainbow Health Ontario (www.rainbowhealthontario.ca)
1. LGBTQ People and Body Image presentation by Loralee Gillis and Kinnon Ross McKinnon at the NEDIC 2015 Body Image and Self-esteem Conference.
2. Rainbow Health Ontario. LGBT People and Eating. March 2014