Research suggests that pairing science-based treatment with an affirming environment can lead to recovery for anyone in need of help.
How Common Are Eating Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community?
While research on the topic is relatively new, some studies have started to uncover the different ways eating disorders impact the LGBTQ+ community.
One 2018 survey found that more than 50% of participants between ages 13-24 who identified as LGBTQ+ had also been diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their lives. An additional 21% “suspected” they had an eating disorder. 
Still, certain patterns of disordered eating behavior have also emerged among certain groups within the LGBTQ+ community.
Gay men represent only about 5% of the total male population, but an estimated 42% of men within that group report having an eating disorder at some point in their life, according to one survey. 
Women who identify as lesbian or bisexual also experienced an increased likelihood of struggling with disordered eating behavior.
The same survey found that people in this group were twice as likely as other participants to have partaken in a binging episode within the last month. 
Another set of studies found similar struggles within the transgender community.
One 2015 survey of transgender college students found them to be four times more likely than their cis-gender female counterparts to experience behavior related to anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. A 2013 survey of transgender high school students saw similar results. 
Eating Disorder Risk Factors for LGBTQ+ People
People can develop eating disorders for any number of reasons, most of which are extremely intimate, personal, and complex.
But there are some experiences that people in the LGBTQ+ community tend to go through, which can lead to additional risk factors for developing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors around food.
Body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem are underlying causes of nearly all eating disorders. But these types of struggles may more deeply affect some in the LGBTQ+ community.
Those who identify as transgender may feel a disproportionate amount of anxiety, dissatisfaction, or other negative feelings about the bodies they were born into. These feelings can then lead to disordered eating behaviors, whether used intentionally or as a maladaptive coping mechanism. 
For example, transgender people may use restrictive diets to reduce secondary sexual characteristics, such as large hips or breasts, that are incongruous with their identified gender.
People in LGBTQ+ communities often face additional stressors around the issues of their identity and sexuality, including:
- Gender concealment
Increased rates of bullying and harassment and the stress around coming out or living openly as their preferred identity have all been suggested as potential eating disorder risk factors for people in the LGBTQ+ community.
These added pressures may be a part in triggering disordered eating behavior or maladaptive coping mechanisms expressed as eating disorders.
Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions
Certain mental health conditions are also known risk factors for eating disorders, and many of these same conditions are common among people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Within the LGBTQ+ community, studies have found: 
- 73% of people report symptoms of anxiety
- 58% of people report symptoms of depression
Depression and anxiety are also two of the highest co-occurring mental health conditions with eating disorders.
One study found an overlap rate between anxiety disorders and eating disorders around 66%. Another projected the comorbidity rate with depression and eating disorders as anywhere from 50%-70%. [6, 7]
Previous trauma is another experience that’s unfortunately commonly shared between people struggling with eating disorders and people who identify as LGBTQ+.
Nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ+ people have experienced violence due to their sexual orientation, according to one survey. Specifically, the study found: 
- 9 in 10 experienced verbal abuse
- 3 in 10 experienced physical violence
- 2 in 10 experienced sexual violence
And while “trauma” represents a broad term, it has also been commonly linked to a number of different eating disorders, with studies showing high overlap rates between eating disorders of all types and a history of abuse or PTSD.
Common Barriers to Eating Disorder Treatment
On top of these additional risk factors, many people in the LGBTQ+ community also face common barriers to seeking treatment for their conditions.
Obtaining treatment for eating disorders can be costly, and this can represent a burden for many people who struggle with these conditions.
Yet, around 30% of all LGBTQ+ people faced difficulties accessing necessary healthcare in 2019 due to cost issues. Among the transgender community alone, more than half faced this particular hardship. 
Health Care Discrimination
While all people should be entitled to fair and robust medical treatment, it’s an unfortunate reality that those in minority groups still sometimes face adversity in this field.
Medical professionals are still human beings, and they bring their own set of biases and blind spots to the table, whether these are conscious or not.
In fact, as many as 30% of transgender patients reported having to teach their doctors more about transgender individuals. And 15% of all LGBTQ+ people said they postponed or abandoned medical treatments altogether after experiencing discriminatory behavior. 
Treatment Options for the LGBTQ+ Community
While LGBTQ+ patients benefit from the same types of therapies that help most people struggling with an eating disorder, there are some unique challenges facing this group that could be helpful to address in treatment.
Many people who identify as LGBTQ+ struggle with feeling misunderstood or lonely. But research has shown that a feeling of connection to a larger community can help ease signs of disordered eating. 
Treatment programs can use formal support groups to help connect people in the LGBTQ+ community who struggle with eating disorders. And smaller programs can help people find safe spaces to meet others like them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a list of hotlines, referral services, and LGBT-friendly health clinics located around the country. If you’re seeking qualified care from someone with specific sensitivity to LGBTQ+ issues, this could be a good place to start. 
Don’t be afraid to ask questions; if you can, tour the facility before enrolling. Take your healthcare and your journey seriously, and you’re likely to find the right kind of help for your eating disorder.
- National Survey Finds That Over 50% of LGBTQ Youth Have Eating Disorders. (2018, March 8). Duke Integrated Pediatric Mental Health. Accessed January 9, 2023.
- Eating Disorders in LGBTQ+ Populations. National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed September 20, 2022.
- Harvey, R. (2019, March 28). Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate: Trans Teens Face Greater Risk. Accessed January 9, 2023.
- Arcelus, J., Fernádndez-Aranda, F., Bouman, W. P. (2018). Eating disorders and disordered eating in the LGBTQ population. Clinical handbook of complex and atypical eating disorders; 327–343.
- 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. (2022). The Trevor Project. Accessed September 20, 2022.
- Kaye, W. H., Bulik, C. M., Thornton, L., Barbarich, N., & Masters, K. (2004). Comorbidity of anxiety disorders with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. The American journal of psychiatry; 161(12):2215–2221.
- Comorbidities in Eating Disorders. (2021, March 22). Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology. Accessed January 9, 2023.
- LGBTQ+ Facts and Figures. (2016, March 8). Stonewall. Accessed September 20, 2022.
- The State of the LGBTQ Community in 2020. (2020, October 6). American Progress. Accessed September 20, 2022.
- LGBT Health Services. (2022, July 21). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 20, 2022.