Stereotypes about who gets an eating disorder are preventing LGBTQ+ people from seeking and getting medical treatment, according to research published today for Eating Disorders Awareness Week by the UK’s eating disorder charity Beat. The charity says this delay could make it harder for LGBTQ+ individuals with eating disorders to recover.
A YouGov poll commissioned by Beat found that 37% of lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents said they would not feel confident seeking help, compared to 24% of straight people. Yet LGBTQ+ people are at significantly higher risk of eating disorders.
During Eating Disorders Awareness Week, LGBTQ+ people have spoken about how stigma impacted on their illness. Rebecca, now aged 29, suffered from anorexia and bulimia for 10 years before seeking treatment. She said. “I didn’t reveal my bisexuality until I was 25, even though I knew I was attracted to women from a young age. 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.”
Rebecca added: “The stigma against LGBTQ+, 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.”
Similarly, Andy, 37, said that when he tried to explain the fact that he had binge eating disorder, he found people “thought gay men were all muscle or thin. I wanted people to understand, but they didn’t take my illness seriously. It took years to explain that I wasn’t just greedy and my problems were emotional.”
During Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Beat is campaigning against stereotypes and is highlighting the stories of those who are not normally associated with eating disorders.
Beat’s Chief Executive Andrew Radford said: “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. This means that LGBTQ+ people will get ill before they start treatment and find their recovery is harder.
“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.”
A 2017 YouGov survey of over 5000 LGBTQ+ people in the UK, commissioned by Stonewall, found that 1 in 8 respondents (12%) reported having suffered from an eating disorder in the last year. The proportion of non-binary people who reported having experienced an eating disorder in the last year was 24%. More than 1 in 5 Black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBTQ+ people (22%) and 1 in 5 trans people (19%) reported experiencing an eating disorder in the last year.