Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors in the LGBT population: a review of the literature

Why is this research important?
While research over the past few decades has expanded our insight into eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming (LGBT+) individuals, significant gaps in the literature remain. An emerging evidence base shows that LGBT+ individuals are at higher risk of developing disordered eating or an eating disorder, with several unique risk factors that are important to consider across the spectrum of eating disorders prevention, early intervention, and treatment. This study reviews empirical literature regarding the rates, types of, and risk factors for eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours in LGBT+ adults and adolescents using a minority stress model to uncover unique distal and proximal stressors.

Several of the studies reviewed demonstrated that distal stressors, such as stigma and discrimination, and proximal stressors, such as internalized homophobia or transphobia and concealment of sexual or gender identity, were linked to increased risk of eating pathology, but that these were not uniform across all subgroups.

These results highlight that clinicians working with LGBT+ identifying individuals must thoroughly assess for disordered eating behaviours, in addition to any proximal and/or distal risk factors present for eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours. It also underscores the importance of clinicians becoming skilled to respectfully interact with the LGBT+ population so as not to perpetuate the stigma that so many people have already experienced and to foster a safe and supportive therapeutic environment.

From a prevention perspective, it demonstrates why educators and school administrators should receive education regarding the risk factors for individuals within the LBGT+ community and to seek to provide an accepting environment for individuals from sexual and gender minority groups. Future research is required to further examine the role of the minority stress model in the development of eating pathology in sexual and gender minority groups, and to support the development of prevention and treatment interventions that are better tailored to the needs and experiences of the individual.

Authors: Lacie L. Parker & Jennifer A. Harriger


Background: According to past research, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals experience a higher prevalence of psychopathology, which is attributable to the increased stress (i.e., stigma and prejudice) that they experience, as detailed by the minority stress model (MSM).

Main: This current literature review examined the empirical literature regarding the rates and types of, and risk factors for eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors in LGBT adults and adolescents, in addition to each individual subgroup (i.e., lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals).

Conclusion: LGBT adults and adolescents experience greater incidence of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Additionally, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults and adolescents were all at increased risk for eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors. Mixed results were found for lesbian adults and adolescents. Results are discussed within the framework of the MSM.

Access: Open


Citation: Parker, L.L., Harriger, J.A. Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors in the LGBT population: a review of the literature. J Eat Disord 8, 51 (2020). 

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