Health Mental health Body Image & Eating Disorders Eating disorders “Some LGBTQ+ people are at a high risk of experiencing an eating disorder” Eating disorders are mental illnesses where people experience extreme feelings about food and eating. Symptoms can include eating very little, or far too much, though really it’s more complicated than that. These issues around eating can massively interfere with someone’s ability to live their life, and in some cases, can cause long-term damage to their health. What causes eating disorders? When it comes to this question, we’re not exactly sure. Eating disorders are complex, and likely the result of a bunch of biological and psychological factors. What we can do is identify risk factors: things that increase the chance someone will develop an eating disorder. Things like low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, pressure to achieve, and unhealthy dieting can all increase the possibility of an eating disorder. When it comes to LGBTQ+ people, and why we’re more likely to experience these issues, there are a few factors that might contribute: Experiences of violence and negative beliefs developed from abuse Exposure to extreme body ideals in LGBT media and on the scene Pressure of remaining in the closet or fear of coming out Bullying in early life Unsafe environments that stop us expressing our gender identity Daily experiences of discrimination So what are they exactly? Well, eating disorders don’t come in one type. There are some common symptoms which we can group-up and give specific names to, but as with any mental health problem, each case is individual. Here’s how most eating disorders are categorised: Anorexia Nervosa – where people attempt to keep their weight as low as possible by eating very little food, and possibly over-exercising. They may also occasionally binge by eating large quantities, and then purge by being sick. Bulimia – in this condition people lose control and binge-eat, and then attempt to compensate by purging (being sick), as well as taxing laxatives, over-exercising, or not eating. Binge Eating Disorder – In BED people binge-eat excessively in an out-of-control way, and then experience guilt and shame afterwards. (OSFED) Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder – this term is used to describe other eating disorders which don’t easily fit into the above categories, but could be just as serious. These disorders affect more than just eating habits. The knock-on effects to physical and mental health can be extremely severe and have a massive impact on someone’s life. For instance, according eating disorder charity Beat, anorexia has the highest rate of all mental illnesses. What are the signs I have an eating disorder? Problems around eating differ from person to person, but if you’re concerned about yourself or someone else, then there are some signs to look out for. Below is a list of behaviours taken from Mind’s website that you, or someone else might experience if they have an eating problem. You may: Restrict the amount of food you eat Eat more than you need or feel out of control when you eat Eat a lot in secret Feel very anxious about eating or digesting food Eat lots of food in response to difficult emotions (when you don't feel physically hungry) Only eat certain types of food or stick to a rigid set of diet rules and feel very anxious and upset if you have to eat something different Do things to get rid of what you eat (purging) Stick to rigid rules around what you can and can't eat and how food should look – and feel very upset if you break those rules Feel strongly repulsed at the idea of eating certain foods Eat things that are not really food Be scared of certain types of food or eating in public Think about food and eating a lot or all the time Compare your body to other people's and think about their shape or size a lotcheck, test and weigh your body a lot – and base your self-worth on how much you weigh or whether you pass your checks and tests. Who gets them? You don’t have to be a teenage girl to experience an eating disorder. They affect people of all colours, sizes, genders, ages, and sexual orientation. It’s estimated that around 11% of people with eating disorders identify as male, but that number may actually be much higher. LGBTQ+ people are at particular risk of developing an eating disorder. It’s thought that the risk for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people rises from as young as 12. Transgender people are especially likely to develop some form of eating disorder, with extremely high rates reported in many reputable studies. How common are they? Let’s take a look at a recent survey from The Trevor Project, an American-based charity. The youth-focused survey showed that: 54% of LGBTQ+ people who responded had been diagnosed with an eating disorder A further 21% suspected they had one 71% of transgender people who identified as straight had been diagnosed with an eating disorder In short: if you think you’ve got an eating disorder, you’re not alone. Especially within the LGBTQ+ community. What Next? Support Whether you think you have an eating disorder, or whether it’s someone you know – don’t panic. There are loads of places to find support, and you’re far from alone. First, it might be best to talk to someone you know, and tell them how you’ve been feeling, and what you’re worried about. Getting it off your chest to a trusted friend, colleague or family member might immediately give you some relief.We’re gonna be honest: there’s not a huge amount of eating disorder support specifically for LGBTQ+ people, but there are a lot of great organisations that can still help: First and foremost, your GP should be able to refer you to a local NHS service which can help you manage your eating disorder. Beat has a fab website that’s filled with information, support groups, one-to-one chat and a helpline you can call on 0808 801 0677, or its youth helpline on 0808 801 0711. The National Centre for Eating Disorders has a tonne of information on eating disorders and links to counsellors and therapists that can help. Overeaters Anonymous is allows you to find a support group near you.