LGBTQ+ community faces increased risk of developing eating disorders

John’s therapist Dr. Omara Naseem discusses the risk of LGBTQ+ people developing eating disorders (Picture: METRO)

Life has changed for us all post pandemic and we are now adjusting to a world where online meetings, socializing and relaxing all involve online screen time.

This increased time spent on social media has shown to have a negative impact on mental health for us all and in particular the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer young community leading to an increased risk of developing eating disorders and body image issues.

Research shows that the LGBTQI+ communities increased use of social media together with the exposure to highly visual and appearance focused content has shown a link with poorer body image. 

Gay, bisexual and queer men are at a higher risk of negative body image and this is linked with negative mood, sexual and health outcomes.  

What’s been shown to help lead to improved body image satisfaction is talking about body image concerns and insecurities and normalising them for gay, bisexual and queer men. 

Over the last several decades, the image of the idealized male body has shifted towards a more muscular physique – bodybuilders, male action toys and models all have more muscular body types. 

Today we are constantly bombarded with these images on social media and advertising, movies and TV which further reinforces this as the ideal body type. 

This has also been linked to body image disorders and the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids in men.  

Research also shows higher rates of EDs in gay men compared to straight men but not in lesbian women. 

For the transgender community, pressure to conform to a gender different to their body has been a precipitative factor for body image dissatisfaction and an ED as a consequence. 

For gay men trying to conform to specific roles, the effect of the media has shown to negatively impact on body image.  

This links with concurrent mental health difficulties such as depression, low self-esteem and interpersonal difficulties in the LGBTQI+ population which may make them more vulnerable to developing eating disorders. 

While stigma may be an eating disorder and body image issue risk factor that is particularly relevant to sexual minority and gender diverse populations, self-compassion appears to serve as a protective factor for mental health. Self-compassion is positively related to well-being in gay men and transgender and gender non-conforming people. 

Going forward addressing issues around healthy social media use, fears of rejection and personal and societal acceptance along with improving interpersonal skills would lead to improved body image and better mental health.

What is body dysmorphic disorder? 

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder related to body image. People with BDD experience obsessive worries about one or more perceived flaws in their physical appearance, which cannot be seen by others or appears very slight and they develop compulsive behaviours and routines. People with BDD may: 

  • check their appearance in a mirror or reflective surface a lot
  • Seek reassurance about their appearance
  • Wear heavy makeup to camouflage perceived problems with appearance
  • Change hair styles a lot
  • Pick their skin to make it smooth
  • Use social media excessively and compare negatively with others
  • Complain of lack of symmetry in the face
  • Engage with cosmetic procedures often to change a perceived defect (especially with the rise of online calls post pandemic)
  • Experience the drive for increased muscularity or leanness aka muscle dysmorphia 

These obsessions and behaviours cause emotional distress and have a significant impact on a person’s ability to carry on with daily life. In this way, BDD is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. They are serious mental illnesses affecting people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds. People use disordered eating behaviour as a way to cope with difficult life events or feelings. 

This behaviour can include limiting the amount of food eaten, eating very large quantities of food at once, purging through unhealthy means (e.g. being sick, misusing laxatives, fasting, steroid abuse, misusing insulin or excessive exercise), or a combination of these behaviours.

It’s important to remember that eating disorders are not all about food itself, but about feelings. The way the person behaves makes them feel more in control and able to cope. Often people feel they aren’t “unwell enough” to warrant getting help however this is a myth and it’s important that anyone experiencing any of these behaviours should immediately get professional help.

How can I help improve my relationship between mental health and body image? 

1. Seek professional specialist help via your GP or privately

There are also many national and local charities offering support. Treatment involves specialist psychological therapy such as CBT (for BDD or EDs) or the Maudsley Model for Anorexia combined with dietetics, medical monitoring and possibly medication.

2. Seek support  in friends, family, teachers, colleagues anyone who you trust

Shame and stigma allows these issues to thrive so please reach out. 

3. Refocus your attention using mindfulness

Training attention to observe thoughts versus getting caught up in them is a powerful tool. Refocusing attention on the present moment takes time to learn and with daily practice has huge mental health benefits. This can be in the form of mundane task focusing or more formal meditation (using an app is a helpful way to start). 

4: Practice Self Compassion

Cultivating self-compassion encompassing three elements: self-kindness [i.e., “extending kindness and understanding to oneself rather than harsh judgment and self-criticism”, common humanity [i.e., “seeing one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating”], and mindfulness [i.e., “holding one’s painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them” ]. 

5. Daily journaling

Help reframe thoughts and increase body acceptance and emotional awareness.

6. Join a Support Group

If you know anyone struggling with these issues try to avoid colluding with the issues or giving reassurance around perceived flaws but instead offer empathy, understanding and general support as this is the best help you can provide. Don’t struggle in silence, recovery is possible.


If you suspect you, a family member or friend has an eating disorder, contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 or at [email protected]uk, for information and advice on the best way to get appropriate treatment celebrates 50 years of Pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

MORE: Find all of’s Pride coverage right here

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, we’ll also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

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