For many years, eating disorders were historically associated with women who were young, straight and white. Yet, issues surrounding body image and eating behavior actually affect people from all demographic backgrounds. Healthcare professionals are increasingly aware that eating disorders are a challenging mental health condition for a wide variety of people. These mental health concerns appear among all socio-economic, sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds.
In particular, the rates of individuals who suspect that they have an undiagnosed eating disorder are much higher for the LGBTQ+ community. If one does a deeper analysis of the term LGBTQ+, transgender individuals appear to have the highest rate of eating disorders.
However, much of this population often go without professional treatment or medical care. Transgender people may forgo receiving treatment due to a lack of access to healthcare, financial pressures or discrimination. Some transgender individuals have reported negative feelings after interacting with healthcare providers. At times, there is a feeling that healthcare practitioners are not sensitive to the psychological and medical needs of transgender patients.
Recent studies are starting to indicate that transgender people, particularly the youth, are more susceptible to developing eating disorders. Researchers suggest that prejudice, harassment and unstable home environments for transgender youth are some of the reasons for the higher rate of eating disorders among this population.
Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that transgender youth were four times more likely than cisgender, heterosexual, female peers to report a diagnosed eating disorder and twice as likely to report abusing weight loss pills and engaging self-induced vomiting.
One theory for this disturbingly high rate among transgender youth is that these individuals are unhappy with their physical appearance. They have eating behaviors that are perhaps attempting to halt the development of certain physical features that do not match their gender identity.
A recent Canadian study surveyed 923 transgender youth between the ages of 14 to 25 who were scattered across the country. The survey found that, as a sexual minority, these youth experienced a much higher rate of harassment and discrimination. Also, out of the youth surveyed, there was a higher prevalence of eating disorders among individuals who had reported experiencing harassment and discrimination.
According to Dr. Judith Brisman, founder of the Eating Disorder Resource Center, eating disorders reflect how someone feels about themselves. Dr. Brisman states that transgender women appear to have more concerns with body image versus other transgender groups. Dr. Brisman agrees with previous studies that suggest that transgender youth are using restrictive eating behaviors in an attempt to control their body’s appearance in order to achieve a beauty ideal that is nearly impossible to attain.
Another study examined self-reported eating disorders among American college students and the associations of sexual orientation and gender identity. This research also discovered elevated rates of eating disorder behaviors among transgender, cisgender and other sexual minority populations.
It is clear that eating disorders impact all people. However, research indicates that the LGBTQ+ community is at a heightened risk of developing eating-related disorders. In the transgender community, especially the youth, are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders. What is needed is a safe and accepting environment that helps transgender youth feel connected to others and provides protection from harmful stigmas.
For additional information about eating disorder treatments in the LGBTQ+ community, contact the River Centre Clinic. Their medical facility provides experienced treatment options for adults and adolescents. For questions and professional help with eating disorders call 877-212-5457 or 419-885-8800.
They are located in Northwest Ohio in the town of Sylvania and provides state-of-the-art treatment location in a modern, spacious and tranquil setting. River Centre Clinic is designed to provide a safe and attractive alternative to hospital-based programs.
For online self-diagnosis, take River Centre Clinic’s EAT-26 assessment. The Eating Attitudes Test is quick and provides anonymous feedback.
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Transgender Youth, LGBTQ+, Eating Disorders
Contributor: ABCS RCM