While eating disorder awareness has improved in the United States, there still seem to be many misconceptions regarding the “types of individuals” who have an eating disorder. Many individuals usually think of eating disorders as a “heterosexual Caucasian female” problem, and as a result, males, people of color and individuals in the LGBTQ community are less likely to be diagnosed and are more likely to face significant barriers to eating disorder treatment.

Eating Disorder Symptoms Are Similar for All People

Here’s the truth: all individuals regardless of their race, gender, age or sexual orientation share the same eating disorder signs and symptoms, even if their risk factors differ. People of color and individuals in the LGBTQ community face unique challenges that may put them at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), research reveals that beginning as early as 12 years of age, gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers may be at higher risk of binge eating and purging compared to their heterosexual peers. Statistics also show that African-American and Hispanic teenagers have a higher prevalence of disordered eating patterns compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

Even if the incidence and prevalence of eating disorders were equal across the board for all individuals, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, the risk factors, stereotypes and stigma attached to minority populations in regards to weight, body image and diet would contribute to these minority individuals experiencing hurdles in overcoming an eating disorder.

Barriers to Eating Disorder Treatment for Minorities

Stereotypes regarding eating disorders create an increasing stigma and heighten the barrier to treatment, as many marginalized individuals are too scared to speak out because they “may not fit the mold for anorexia or bulimia” and as a result, feel that others may not take their illness seriously.

Unfortunately, health professionals are also blinded by the stereotypes associated with eating disorders, which can vastly affect the quality of treatment and referrals to eating disorder specialists. People of color with self-acknowledged disordered eating patterns and body weight concerns are significantly less likely than white individuals to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms, despite similar rates of eating disorder symptoms across all ethnic groups. Yet, providers struggle to adjust to the fact that many minority people of color and individuals in the LGBTQ community still face significant barriers to recovery.

Making Eating Disorder Treatment Accessible for All People

Here at Center for Discovery, our mission is to make effective eating disorder treatment available and accessible to all people, no matter what their lifestyle or background is like. Eating disorders are serious, complex illnesses that require specialized treatment. If you’re ready to learn more about treatment options, please reach out to us today.

This article is part 1 of a 2-part series. Read the next installment here.

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