LGBTI people struggle to get help for eating disorders because of stereotyping

LGBTI people struggle to get help for eating disorders because of stereotyping
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Rian began developing anorexia at the age of 16. They believed it stemmed from their anxiety to want to perform well at school.

It got worse during their A Levels but things spiralled very quickly once they started university.

‘I was determined to be self-catered to have full control over my food. I’m not sure how I got through university first year achieving what I did, as I was so limited in what I’d eat,’ Rian said.

‘I restricted more and more, purged more frequently, weighed everything, visited friends just to use their bathroom scales, hoarded recipes I’d never allow myself to cook, timed my cooking to avoid my flatmates so they wouldn’t see my very particular ways of having to prepare meals.’

Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people are of low weight due to limiting their energy intake. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background. As well as restricting the amount of food eaten, some do lots of exercise to get rid of food eaten.

a black and white close up shot of a person with glasses and medium length hair. their hair is tilted to the side and smiling. they are standing on a beach, the photo is black and white

Rian is now an advocate for people with eating disorders | Photo: Supplied

Rian’s road to recovery

The situation then got even more serious. The doctors told Rian if they lost any more weight, they’d end up in hospital for six months.

Motivated to avoid that and get back to university, Rian engaged in therapy for two year and began to restructure their thoughts around food and their body.

During therapy Rian began to realize they were attracted to men and women. But the problem was doctors were quick to pin their eating disorder on their sexuality. This complicated their recovery but Rian advised other LGBTI people to seek out medical health professionals knowledgeable about LGBTI people.

The LGBT community and eating disorders

Rian’s story is not uncommon in the LGBTI community.

A 2017 YouGov survey of more than 5,000 LGBT people in the UK found 12% of people had suffered from an eating disorder in the last year. About 24% of non-binary people who reported having experienced an eating disorder in the last year. More than 22% Black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people 19% of trans people (19%) reported experiencing an eating disorder in the last year.

But a more recent study found stereotypes about who gets an eating disorder are preventing LGBTI people from seeking and getting medical treatment.

The UK’s eating disorder charity Beat commissioned the study and say this delay could make it harder for LGBTI individuals with eating disorders to recover.

Beat’s YouGov poll found 37% of LGB respondents said they would not feel confident seeking help, compared to 24% of straight people.

But the problem is LGBTI people are at significantly higher risk of eating disorders.

‘It is sadly not surprising that stereotypes about who gets an eating disorder are so widespread, but it is very worrying that those misconceptions are preventing people from seeking help,’ said Beat’s CEO Andrew Radford. said

‘Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. We have to challenge the stereotypes and raise awareness so that everyone who needs help can get it quickly.’

Rebecca’s story

For Rebecca, suppressing her bisexuality ‘fuelled’ her anorexia. The now 29-year-old had anorexia and bulimia for 10 years before seeking treatment.

 ‘I didn’t reveal my bisexuality until I was 25, even though I knew I was attracted to women from a young age,’ she said.

‘This suppression, a result of seeing homophobia and wanting to avoid stigma, fuelled my eating disorder, as my struggle with expressing my identity led to a feeling of failure.’

‘The stigma against LGBTQI+, as well as the stigma towards eating disorders, can create a destructive cycle of secrecy and self-hatred that can only be broken when you see yourself reflected and accepted in society.’

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Author: Shannon Power