Eating disorders typically arise when a person feels the stress from a combination of biological, behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors.
Some potential factors that affect the onset of eating disorders among the LGBTQ+ population are the stress of the coming out process, being bullied, body image concerns, isolation, and identity concerns.
“All of these stressors have the potential to increase the risk of the onset of an eating disorder, as well as impact levels of depression, anxiety, self-esteem,” Dr. Stephanie Setliff, medical director of the Eating Recovery Center, Dallas, says.
Because of these unique factors, the LGBTQ community is often underserved when it comes to getting treatment for these mental illnesses.
Identifying and treating an eating disorder
Eric Dorsa, Eating Recovery Center alum, first heard the term “eating disorder” when he was 12. Dorsa was hospitalized for heart failure from disordered eating. However, it wasn’t until Dorsa turned 17 that he realized his eating disorder was killing him. He also had a hard time finding a facility to get treatment.
“There were not many resources for an adolescent male with an eating disorder in 2005,” Dorsa says.
“Many insurance companies did not cover eating disorder treatment. It took months to find a treatment center that would take me when I turned 18 and that my insurance was willing to pay for.”
One of the major challenges Dorsa had to face in his journey toward recovery was coming to terms with being a gay male in a family that considered homosexuality unacceptable.
“In the beginning of my recovery, I thought the ‘gay thing’ would go away,” he says.
“I found myself desperately trying to run from these painful emotions and I began to engage in my eating disorder again.”
Dorsa says that now he knows he was running from shame. But it wasn’t until he began to come to terms with being gay that recovery seemed possible.
Eventually, Dorsa faced the reality that he needed to return to treatment to deal with the underlying emotional pain that fueled his eating disorder. “In my journey I returned to treatment two more times. I find this to be true for many individuals seeking recovery and support,” he adds.
Finding a community
Dorsa adds, though, that being LGBTQ has been an amazing blessing for him in respect to his recovery community. “It has shown me how much of my struggle to find acceptance and identity is not just a LGBTQ issue, but a human experience,” he says.
Dorsa adds that his identity also has helped him connect with other individuals who have struggled with their sexuality and gender identity.
Changing an appearance-centric community
Dorsa says it’s been difficult navigating the LGBTQ community outside of recovery. “Coming to terms with your sexuality in today’s culture can still be very painful and shameful,” he says.
“I [also] feel like there is still a lot of pressure in the gay community to look perfect and sexually desirable. This makes an eating disorder, or disordered eating, more common in the community.”
Dorsa hopes that one day, the LGBTQ community will put less emphasis on appearance. “We are already a community looking for acceptance. Many of us come out only to find rejection in many ways,” Dorsa says.
“I feel that in a community already struggling to find acceptance, the emphasis placed on body image and sexual desirability is a huge issue.”
Sharing and finding hope
Dorsa says becoming a Recovery Advocate helped him through his illness, too. “There is so much strength in the phrase ‘me too’,” he says.
Meeting people who support the LGBTQ community has brought much-needed support and happiness, says Dorsa. He adds that this support, the feeling of inclusion, and having people listen can help other LGBTQ people find their identity.
“I am not blaming my sexuality for my eating disorder,” he adds.
“But coming to terms with my sexuality greatly influenced my recovery. I could not have done this without support from inside and outside the LGBTQ community.”
For additional information about Eating Recovery Center, call 877-789-5758, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit eatingrecoverycenter.com to speak with a Masters-level clinician.
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