For the month of June, Alsana is focusing our #ColorfulRecovery Campaign on the issue of eating disorders within the LGBT community. The entire purpose of this campaign is to educate, inform, make aware, and ultimately make a difference—changing minds, one life at a time, and trusting that this will have a ripple effect throughout our world. There is much reason for us to raise awareness for eating disorders among LGBT individuals, as the problem is both rampant and all too often misunderstood.
Understanding Eating Disorders in the LGBT Community
The common misconception about eating disorders is that they only impact young, white, straight women. If you have read our blog even a little bit then you know that this is not the case, that in fact eating disorders can impact anyone of any age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Actually, there is ample research to suggest that eating disorders disproportionately affect those in the LGBT community.
Why would this be the case? Keep in mind that eating disorders are not really about food—not at their heart. In fact, genetics, psychological factors, social experiences, interactions and different stressors can often trigger eating disorders. Many unique stressors are experienced within the LGBT community. Just a partial list includes the pressure of coming out to family members; the fear of harassment and bullying in the workplace and in society; and different levels of social anxiety that can also trigger depression and low self-esteem.
These stressors can also drive the individual to unhealthy coping mechanisms. In some cases, this might mean a drug or alcohol addiction. In other cases, it might result in an eating disorder—a way to exert control over something that might otherwise seem uncontrollable, through the ritualization of eating habits.
Eating Disorders and Culture
To phrase all of this a bit differently, eating disorders within the LGBT population must be understood in terms of the broader context—in terms of a culture of fear and oppression. Some specific points to consider here include:
- The fear of rejection in coming out—or, in some cases, actual experience with rejection.
- Internalized negativity about oneself over non-traditional gender identification, etc.
- Harassment and abuse, whether verbal (“gay bashing” words) or physical.
- Experiences with discrimination in school, at work, or elsewhere.
- Being victimized or bullied.
- An experience with homelessness (an alarmingly high percentage of those who are homeless identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender).
Two other factors, equally serious, include the lack of proper eating disorder education within the LGBT community, as well as a gap in access to truly compassionate, understanding, and culturally appropriate medical care. Given all these factors, it is little wonder that so many within the LGBT community struggle with eating disorders—but the question is, what can ultimately be done about it?
Raising Awareness, #ColorfulRecovery
The most important thing we can do together is to raise awareness—to speak out about this issue, to educate, to break past stigma, and to debunk common myths and misconceptions. Do not be afraid to be open and honest about your own struggles, and be ready to listen to others who share their story. Be mindful that the people you encounter often have difficulties that you know nothing about. Work to spread awareness by using social media to share information about eating disorders—and more than that, be an ambassador of recovery, letting everyone know that freedom from eating disorders is possible.
Start spreading that message today, and you can help us change the culture and change the world—#ColorfulRecovery[cta] Spread the word by sharing this post on Facebook! [/cta]