Eating disorders and body image issues can affect all kinds of people regardless of gender, sexuality, race, class, or physical ability. However, it is essential to recognize that certain populations may have higher rates due to unique stressors. For instance, LGBTQ identified individuals experience unique stressors from coming out and harassment in schools or the workplace which can greatly impact levels of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse. All of these conditions can contribute to the development of eating disorders. Studies have demonstrated that LGBTQ individuals may be at higher risk of developing binge-eating and purging habits than their heterosexual peers as early as age 12.1
Unfortunately, though eating disorders disproportionately affect members of the LGBTQ population little research has been done among LGBTQ individuals. Thus the The Trevor Project, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), and Reasons Eating Disorder Center partnered to create the first national survey of LGBTQ youth that focused on the relationships between sexual orientation, gender identity, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation.
The survey was approved by an Independent Institutional Review Board. Respondents were recruited through social media and the Internet to complete the 97 questions regarding demographic information, previous history of suicide or suicidal ideation, previous diagnosis of eating disorders, or engagement in disordered eating behaviors. The survey was active from January 6 to February 2 of 2018 and received over 1000 responses from individuals between the ages 13 and 24 who self-identified as LGBTQ.
The national survey results found an astonishingly high prevalence of eating disorders in young LGBTQ people from varied backgrounds. Of the LGBTQ youth surveyed, 54% have been diagnosed with an eating disorders with an additional 21% suspect they had an eating disorder. In examining the relationship between suicidal ideation and eating disorders, the survey results showed that a majority of LGBTQ youth (58%) who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder have also had suicidal ideation. Youth diagnosed with bulimia were also found to have considered suicide at higher rates than those diagnosed with other eating disorders. The study says that among females in the LGBTQ community, both cisgender female and transgender female LGBTQ youth, have reported bulimia as the most common eating disorder diagnosis.
“We were stunned by these results,” said Amit Paley, The Trevor Project’s CEO and Executive Director. “We need to do far more to help the alarming number of LGBTQ youth living with eating disorders and struggling with thoughts of suicide. We are grateful to partner with NEDA and Reasons Eating Disorder Center to shed light on this public health crisis and help save more LGBTQ lives.”2
“We are honored to partner with the Trevor Project on this critical survey,” said Claire Mysko, CEO of NEDA. “The results make it clear that troubling numbers of LGBTQ youth are affected by eating disorders and self-harm. Together, we are working to raise awareness and put live-saving resources into the hands of those in need. It’s time to get real about these issues and ensure that everyone has access to the support they deserve.”3
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.
If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the 24/7 TrevorLifeline now at 1-866-488-7386. You can also text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available Monday through Friday between 3pm–10pm EST / Noon–7pm PT.
For more information on risk factors, barriers to support and treatment, and research on LGBTQ+ individuals and eating disorders visit: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/lgbtq