Distorted Self Images

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Sadly, the LGBT community suffers higher rates of suicide attempts, depression and anxiety than the general population. We are also at higher risk of disordered eating. Fortunately, those struggling with food or body-related issues or who know someone who does, there’s a place in Middle Tennessee that can help.

Founded in September 2002, the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee (EDCT) is the Southeast’s first statewide nonprofit to advance eating disorder awareness, education and prevention. It offers various support groups and has a statewide speaker’s bureau for schools, college campuses, churches, or any other group that wants information on disordered eating. It teaches people how to deal with negative body image and runs forum training for clinicians. It also provides counseling and group work and can do referrals anywhere in the country.

Courtney Cuden, director of programs & outreach for the EDCT says, “Research has shown an increase in reported cases of bulimia among homosexual men and that this population is particularly vulnerable to body dissatisfaction and poor body image.” Research also shows that, although heterosexual women are usually thought to be at the highest risk for disordered eating, lesbian women who identify as feminine have just as high a risk of developing an eating disorder as their straight counterparts.

Courtney Grimes Headshot edit.jpg Triggering pressures can come from outside the community, but can come from within it, as well. Studies show that the younger generations within the LGBT community are narrowing their concept of which body image is most appealing, and their rates of disordered eating are much higher than in older generations.

Why are eating disorder rates so high within the LGBT community? Cuden says that, “Eating disorders are often linked to identity issues, which would make a lot of sense.” Many LGBT individuals face rejection, discrimination, gay bashing, bullying, homelessness and other trauma related to our identity. Cuden continues, “Eating disorders are self-harming behaviors which often times stems from very low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, self-loathing. Among the LGBT community, the issues are obviously going to surround sexuality – stigma and acceptance…. Eating disorders seem often to show up to manage the anxiety surrounding identity and sexuality.”

Cuden, who recovered from an eating disorder, points to a few key factors in recovery. “I am a strong believer that eating disorder recovery is completely possible. People can be recovered, period.” When asked about the difference in recovery between food addictions and other addictions, such as alcohol, cocaine, or heroin, Cuden explains, “The difference between something like eating disorder treatment and treatment for other addictions is abstinence. Food is something that people have addictive and obsessive compulsive behaviors with and around. You’ve got to have it. You can’t avoid it. You’ve got to learn to manage food to stay alive. You have to become friends with it, which often times will land people in a place to be recovered because it becomes so manageable.”

When asked if being out makes a difference for LGBT people, Cuden exclaims, “Absolutely! I feel like the closeted mentality promotes shame and self-loathing and drives home and reinforces all these core beliefs of being worthless and unlovable. When someone does make some peace and come to terms with who they are as a sexual being and are brave enough to seek support and let others know who they are authentically, most folks in my experience and observation are surrounded with more love and support than they ever thought was possible. From that community and acceptance, I see depression and anxiety rapidly decline. Behaviors that show up to manage that anxiety ebb tremendously.”

If you suspect someone has an eating disorder, how you approach them can make the difference between a positive reception to your concern or being pushed away. “Coming at them with judgment or any kind of disdain is only going to cause them to shut you out,” cautions Cuden. “Always approach with love. Always approach with questions. Get the person you are concerned about to start talking about their experience.”

For more information on support groups or other resources offered through the EDCT, please visit www.edct.net or contact them by phone at (615) 831-9838. All groups are completely confidential.