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Eating Disorders Are More Common For Transgender Youth

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.

About us:

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.

Follow us on Twitter:  @River_Centre

Transgender Youth, LGBTQ+, Eating Disorders

Contributor: ABCS RCM

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Child looking at partial cupcake - River Centre Clinic

Childhood Eating Problems & Adolescents Eating Disorders

Many parents are familiar with children who are picky eaters. In fact, for babies, this is often a normal eating behavior. As children age, they start to develop their own personal food preferences. However, as children grow older an overly selective eating behavior could be a sign of deeper health concerns. Many people are not aware that eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in adolescents according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Since the 1950s, there has been a steady increase in the incidence and prevalence of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa as well as other eating disorders in both children and adolescents.

Data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that out of 800 public high school students, approximately 20-22 students will be impacted by eating disorders and even more will experience subclinical (not detectable) symptoms of the disease. Adolescents who have suffered from eating disorders are more likely to experience medical co-morbidities such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.

During a person’s adolescence is when many of these diseases first occur. Adolescence is a time in people’s life when a great deal of change is occurring. Body changes, confusion, social anxiety only accelerate feelings of self-consciousness and low self-esteem. The onset of eating disorders often appears during this period, but these diseases can develop at a later time in a person’s life.

Not all of these eating disorders directly develop due to body image issues. Among children, they may struggle to eat certain foods because they feel physically nauseous. This can create a lack of appetite for food, which will make it more difficult to eat. A fear of vomiting or choking makes a child avoid certain foods, which can gradually become more restrictive over time. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, this restrictive eating behavior is a possible sign of what was previously identified as selective eating disorder, but is now referred to as ARFID or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

ARFID is similar to anorexia in that both disorders involve limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve any distress about body shape or size, or fears of fatness. Although many children go through phases of picky or selective eating, a person with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly. In children, this results in stalled weight gain and vertical growth. ARFID can also result in problems at school, due to difficulties eating with others and extended times needed to eat. As with all eating disorders, the risk factors for ARFID involve a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural issues. These factors may interact differently with different people, which means two individuals with the same eating disorder can have very diverse perspectives, experiences, and symptoms.  

Eating disturbances are considered problematic when it causes the child to become upset or worry and when he or she is not eating enough to sustain proper nutrition and facilitate proper growth. Complications around eating can take many forms including but not limited to:

  • Trouble with food textures/sensory issues
  • Temper tantrums during meals
  • Refusing to eat
  • Limiting food groups
  • Choking, gagging, or vomiting after eating
  • Body image concerns
  • Anxiety/OCD

Due to the concern over the growth of eating disorders among children and adolescents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has researched this modern health concern. The CDC made the following recommendations during their 2008 national initiative. Their screening of high school students for eating disorders found that almost 15% of girls and 4% of boys scored at or above the threshold of 20 on the EAT-26, which indicated the possible existence of an eating disorder. The CDC recommended regular health screenings for high school students in order to identify at-risk students who could benefit from early intervention. Early identification and treatment of disordered eating and weight control behaviors can prevent progression of the disease and reduce the overall chronic health risk. To complicate matters, pedestrians have pointed out that some obesity prevention efforts may actually encourage the development of an eating disorder. The majority of adolescents who develop these disorders were not previously obese, but some teenagers, in a mistaken attempt to lose weight, can develop an eating disorder.

For additional information about childhood and adolescent eating disorders, please contact River Centre Clinic. Their Childhood Eating Problems Program director is Anna Lippisch, MSW, LSW. She can be reached at 419-885-8800 or by email. The EAT-26 (Eating Attitudes Test) assessment provides anonymous and instant feedback for a variety of eating-related health conditions.

Follow on Twitter:  @River_Centre

Childhood eating problems, Adolescents eating disorders, ARFID

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Childhood Eating Problems Program

The River Centre Clinic offers outpatient programming for children with eating difficulties. Childhood can be full of different phases and eating changes. Although this is fairly common behavior, it can leave parents feeling troubled. Disturbances in feeding become problematic when it causes the child to become upset or worry and when he or she is not eating enough to sustain proper nutrition and facilitate proper growth. Complications around eating can take many forms including but not limited to:

  • Trouble with food textures/sensory issues
  • Temper tantrums during meals
  • Refusing to eat
  • Limiting food groups
  • Choking, gagging, or vomiting after eating
  • Body image concerns
  • Anxiety/OCD

Although eating issues during childhood may seem to be just a frustration for parents and caregivers, there are real medical concerns including, nutritional deficiencies or a reliance on liquid supplements and vitamins. The staff at River Centre Clinic are carefully selected, not just for their experience in treating symptoms and underlying causes of eat problems, but also for their compassion and willingness to extend themselves on behalf of all clients. The staff is clinically trained in working with children suffering from:

  • Selective/restrictive eating (picky eating)
  • Food, choking, vomiting phobias (Functional Dysphagia)
  • Lacking interest in food/eating
  • Food avoidance due to sensory issues

River Centre Clinic’s outpatient therapists work with children and families to lessen the stress and anxiety surrounding mealtimes. They work closely with families to ensure that every member is part of the healing process. Many times, changes are necessary to the environment and  routine that will require the assistance of parents and caregivers.

The Clinic’s Childhood Eating Problems Program is based on well-established and evidence-based therapy models that integrate individual and family therapy. The treatment is based on applied behavioral principles, enhanced cognitive behavioral principles and directive play therapy techniques, which integrate individual and family therapy and is applied in an individualized manner for each patient. River Centre Clinic treats eating problems that may be coupled with co-occurring disorders and problems, including but not limited to:

  • ADHD
  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Behavioral Problems
  • Conduct Disorders
  • Depression

For further information about this program, or to schedule an initial assessment, contact Anna Lippisch, MSW, LSW, Director of Childhood Eating Problems Program, at 419-885-8800.

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