Men's Health Week: Eating Disorders
Publish Date: 08/06/2012
To coincide with Men’s Health Week The Lesbian & Gay Foundation (LGF) will be running a series of articles on the most prevalent health conditions that are affecting gay and bisexual men. Today’s article is focusing on Eating Disorders.
Men’s Health Week: Eating Disorders
There is conflicting evidence relating to the prevalence of eating disorders within the LGB community. For example, some research suggests that lesbian and bisexual women are at greater risk of developing eating disorders, whereas others fail to conclude whether rates are higher than in the wider population.
Despite this, there are some elements of the risks for developing eating disorders in the first place that may be important to consider when working with LGB individuals.
Causes and links
Problems with food and eating can begin when a person uses it as a way of coping, when faced with some form of trauma or life issue. Issues commonly faced by LGB individuals such as low self esteem, coming out, homophobia and abuse can contribute to the onset of damaging eating habits. It is often the case that the eating disorder is the only way a person can stay in control of their life – and this can quickly spiral into the person losing control and the eating disorder taking over.
Amongst those with eating disorders, many are thought to have little or no sense of self – a loss of identity which they may then try to build by being defined by their eating habits. One of the most difficult parts for a person coming to terms with their sexual orientation can be accepting it as part of their identity.
Internalised homophobia, or a hatred of one’s own sexuality can cause feelings of repulsion, shame and loss of control.
Amongst the sparse evidence relating sexual orientation to eating disorders is the idea that the trauma and rejection a person experiences because they identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are sometimes dealt with by regaining a sense of control using food and exercise.
This may not necessarily mean undereating though. Some of the evidence which makes links between sexual orientation and eating disorders shows that LGB people may also be more likely to over-eat, binge, purge and exercise excessively compared with their heterosexual peers.
Impact/evidence on LGB people:
- Gay men are at significantly higher risk of developing an eating disorder (Russell & Keel, 2001).
- Homosexual men have greater body dissatisfaction and higher levels of bulimic and anorexic symptoms, compared with heterosexual men (Russell & Keel, 2001).
- One in five lesbians and bisexual women report having an eating disorder (four times as likely as the general population) (Hunt & Fish, 2008).
- Lesbians are 2.69 times more likely to be overweight and 2.47 times more likely to be obese than heterosexual women (Boehmer et al, 2007).
- Gay men and lesbians tend to report higher levels of psychological distress (King & McKeown, 2003).
How is your GP?
The LGF is currently running a survey on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual peoples experiences of their GPs. What we aim to build with your help through this survey is an accurate picture of current healthcare provision by GPs for LGB people which will then form part of a strategy to make sure that GPs are better equipped to acknowledge the needs of their LGB patients.
If your are LGB and live in the UK please take 5 minutes to complete this survey by visiting lgbt.foundation/gpexperiences
Referrals/support organisations for Eating Disorders
The Lesbian & Gay Foundation
Number 5, Richmond Street
0845 3 30 30 30
B-eat (National Eating Disorders Charity providing helpline and group support)
Helpline for ages 18+ 0845 634 1414
Youthline for ages 25 and under
0845 634 7650
Further information on Eating Disorders
Eating disorders require specialist treatment which the LGF is not always able to provide. The LGF counselling service can support lesbian, gay and bisexual people on life issues, such as coming out, bereavement and relationship difficulties. If you are unsure if our counselling service is suitable for someone, do get in touch.