What’s Food Insecurity Got to do with Pride Month?

It’s hard to believe that here in Boston, the summer is upon us!

This past week we’ve had scorching temperatures, coupled with lots of very quick changes to our covid guidelines. It sure feels like a lot of changes all at once. If you’re like me or any of my clients, you might find yourself taking some deep breaths and giving yourself permission to navigate some of these shifts at your own pace.

June also marks Pride Month, which is a month here in the United States that commemorates the Stonewall riots and recognizes the important impact LGBTQIA+ people have had around the world. Also, June 6th marks National Hunger Awareness Day. So I want to take this opportunity to shed some light on how these seemingly unrelated topics – the LGBTQIA+ population and food insecurity are related.

eating disorder treatment needs to be accessible, equitable, and safe enough for everyoneWe now know that individuals who identify as being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community are at higher risk for engaging in disordered behaviors and developing an eating disorder. In fact:

  • Gay men are seven times more likely to report binge-eating and twelve times more likely to report purging than heterosexual men.
  • Transgender college students report experiencing disordered eating at approximately four times the rate of their cisgender classmates.
  • A community sample of LGBTQ+ respondents age 18–35 had significantly higher scores of eating disorder behavior, yet only 4.3% of the sample report seeking treatment.

Compounding this risk for eating disorders is the risk of food insecurity among this population. In a recent study, researchers found that:

  • More than 25% of LGBT adults (about 2.2 million people) did not have enough money for food for themselves or their families, at some point in the last year. This is compared to 17% of non-LGBT adults.
  • Food insecurity is disproportionately higher for racial and ethnic minorities within the LGBT community, and is also higher for LGBT women in comparison to LGBT men. (42% of African Americans and 33% of Hispanics were food insecure in the past year, in contrast to 28% of straight African Americans and 24% of straight Hispanics. Among LGBT adults, 31% women went food insecure this past year, relative to 22% of men).

And even more specifically, a volunteer group of participants within the LGBTQ community completed a survey regarding both eating disorder behaviors and food insecurity. The results of this study point to the complex interplay between sexual and gender identity and food insecurity. Participants reported extremely high levels of depressive symptoms and eating disorder symptoms, with 54.4% respondents reporting food insecurity. Binge eating was the most common eating disorder symptom reported. Sadly, despite these devastating numbers, 4.3% of these participants reported seeing treatment for their eating disorder.

We have a long way to go in addressing the systemic barriers that keep people unable to access adequate food and treatment. For the clinicians reading this, I hope you’ll bear this data in mind when conducting your clinical assessment and screen for potential eating disorders. And importantly, consider reading and supporting the work of advocates in this space. While I run the risk of naming names and forgetting valuable contributors, below I will note some clinicians and advocates who have been important teachers for me on this topic. This list is in no way exhaustive. And of course my clients, you continue to be my greatest and most patient teachers of all.

You can make simple and meaningful contributions by:

  • Listening to podcasts, webinars, and conferences by activists and specialists in the LGBTQIA+ space
  • Paying for and sharing the work of these activists and specialists rather than co-opting it as your own. If you benefit from less formal routes of education via social media, consider making a Venmo contribution.
  • Making a donation to organizations doing grassroots work. In that spirit, I will be making a donation to The FEDUP Collective and hope you’ll consider joining me.

I deeply believe that small and large gestures will slowly but surely change the landscape of the eating disorders field. I believe in fighting for a world in which treatment is accessible, equitable, and safe enough for everyone to get the care they deserve. All people, not just a privileged few, deserve the best possible shot at recovery. And I bet you believe this too.

Do you worry that you are not serving your clients with eating disorders? Maybe you feel sometimes that you are not sure of the ideal way to reach these clients? Seem like “something” is missing in your work with these clients?

The art and science of working with eating disorders is an ongoing journey of learning and development. This free eBook, The Top 5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Working with Eating Disorders, will get you started on a new path!