Four Ways to Support LGBTQ Youth During National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

by HRC Staff

From February 25 through March 3, the National Eating Disorders Association hosts its annual NEDAwareness campaign.

Trigger warning: This post includes mention of eating disorders.

Post submitted by Children, Youth and Families Program Coordinator Sula Malina

When I came out at 17, the notion that I had an eating disorder was the furthest thing from my mind. I was a queer, trans, non-binary, masculine-presenting person and, as far as I knew, eating disorders were about conforming to beauty standards. I did not identify with the popular narratives I saw in media; in my mind, I was controlling my weight to reduce the appearance of my hips, chest and cheeks -- all of which translated as “feminine” to me.

As a non-binary person, losing weight was my own dangerous form of self-controlled gender transition; I wanted to appear “androgynous” at any cost. In reality, there is no such thing as “looking androgynous.” The idea that such a singular image exists is rooted in fatphobia, transphobia, transmisogyny and racism. It is no accident that the few examples we see of non-binary identity in popular media are consistently thin, white, transmasculine and hairless.

It took years of therapy with mental health providers who were competent in transgender identities and eating disorders before I came to terms with my reality. I was diagnosed with the most common eating disorder: Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder. Finally, I began the lengthy and ongoing process of recovery. For me, this meant not only engaging in conventional methods of eating disorder recovery, but also recognizing eating disorders as a social justice issue, confronting my unconscious biases and pursuing safe methods toward physical transition.

HRC Foundation and the University of Connecticut’s 2017 survey of more than 12,000 LGBTQ youth revealed sobering statistics around the prevalence of disordered eating behaviors among those in the community.

  • Sixty-six percent of LGBTQ youth reported skipping meals and/or eating very little food within the past year in order to lose weight or prevent weight gain;
  • Twenty percent had made themselves throw up;
  • A staggering 80 percent of LGBTQ youth reported eating because they felt depressed or sad. This is not a narrative that we share often; few people are aware of the dangerous rates of eating disorders among the trans population in particular.

From February 25 through March 3, the National Eating Disorders Association hosts its annual NEDAwareness campaign. This year, the theme is “Come as You Are.” This NEDAwareness week, here are some steps you can take to support LGBTQ youth, whether or not they are vocal about struggling with disordered eating behaviors.

  1. Examine your own tendencies to talk about calories, weight loss or exercise habits. For those struggling with disordered eating behaviors, these topics of conversation can be triggering. We already live in a culture that normalizes weight loss trends to a dangerous degree. Avoid bringing these things into everyday conversations and consider speaking to a mental health professional about your own behaviors.
  2. Be a vocal ally. Several researchers cite minority stress and discrimination as a major cause of eating disorders among the LGBTQ community. HRC’s own data around mood-related eating indicates the importance of allyship and a commitment to bettering the all-around mental health of LGBTQ young people.
  3. Help trans and gender-expansive youth access gender-affirming health services. Studies indicate that disordered eating behaviors among trans people decreased once they were able to access safer forms of physical transition, including hormones and surgeries.
  4. Use your platform -- whether it’s social media or something larger--to celebrate a diversity of LGBTQ bodies. From the movies you watch to the music you stream to the people you follow on Instagram, we make choices all day about what types of people receive our attention. Next time you’re scrolling through Instagram, consider following and sharing content from LGBTQ, Black activists, including Ericka Hart, Roxane Gay and others.
LGBTQ+ Youth