Navigating Eating Disorder Treatment as a Nonbinary Queer Person: Partnering Toward LGBTQ+ Inclusive Care

By Eric Dorsa

LGBTQ+ individuals face unique stressors and challenges in eating disorder treatment. Here’s how mental health providers can support the community.

This World Eating Disorders Action Day, I am calling all providers to join me in building more inclusive and affirming eating disorder treatment for LGBTQ+ people. I’ve partnered with Project Heal and Eating Recovery Center to share with you my experiences as an LGBTQ+ person in recovery and invite you to attend the Out Loud Pride Summit happening virtually on June 9, 2023.

Three years ago, I founded the Out Loud Pride Summit to begin addressing the inequities in research and treatment for LGBTQ+ persons with eating disorders. I am so grateful to be able to bring this event to life again this year. This summit is designed to educate, elevate and advocate for the voices of all LGBTQ+ people seeking eating disorder recovery. Each event is free to attend and offers continuing education opportunities for professionals coupled with real lived experiences for all.

Why I founded the Out Loud Pride Summit

When I was first diagnosed with anorexia at age 12, there were no resources available to me as a child assigned male at birth. Now, over 23 years later, there are still limited resources when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusive eating disorder treatment and mental health care.

So often, we as LGBTQ+ people are quoted and even used for statistics; however, when it comes to actually addressing inequity in the eating disorder field, I find that there is still so much work to be done.

Recovery from an eating disorder is an arduous journey that requires unwavering commitment and support. As someone who identifies as nonbinary and queer, I can attest to the unique challenges faced by individuals within the LGBTQ+ community seeking treatment, including judgment and rejection from my family and lack of affirming mental health resources. Unfortunately, many traditional treatment approaches still fail to recognize and address the diverse experiences and identities within the LGBTQ+ community.

What LGBTQ+ inclusive care in eating disorder treatment looks like

  1. Validating our identities: Recognizing and validating our identities is crucial in eating disorder treatment. Many LGBTQ+ individuals face unique stressors and challenges that can contribute to the development and perpetuation of disordered eating behaviors. When providers fail to acknowledge our experiences and identities, it can perpetuate feelings of invisibility, shame and isolation.
  2. Addressing body dysphoria: Body dysphoria is a significant concern for many transgender and nonbinary individuals. Eating disorders often exacerbate these feelings of discomfort and distress with our bodies, creating a vicious cycle. LGBTQ+ inclusive treatment should incorporate strategies specifically designed to address body dysphoria and promote body acceptance within the context of our gender identities.
  3. Challenging heteronormative assumptions: The heteronormative lens through which eating disorders are often viewed can undermine our experiences and hinder recovery. Traditional treatment models often assume that eating disorders primarily affect cisgender women, excluding or overlooking the diverse range of individuals who struggle with these illnesses. By broadening the scope and understanding of eating disorders, providers can better address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals.

How mental health providers can support us when families are unsupportive

  1. Cultivating a safe and affirming space: Mental health providers should strive to create an environment where we feel safe, respected and affirmed. This includes using inclusive language, displaying LGBTQ+ affirming symbols and being knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ issues. When we feel validated and accepted, it fosters trust, making it easier for us to open up and engage in the recovery process.
  2. Educating ourselves and our families: Providers play a vital role in educating themselves and advocating for our needs, especially when faced with unsupportive families. By actively learning about LGBTQ+ identities, mental health disparities and intersectionality, providers can empower themselves to advocate on our behalf. They can also provide resources and education to our families, promoting understanding and acceptance.
  3. Tailoring treatment approaches: Providers should be flexible and adaptive in their treatment approaches, recognizing that the LGBTQ+ community requires tailored care. This includes addressing the impact of heteronormativity, exploring the intersectionality of our identities and offering specific strategies to address body dysphoria, trauma and societal discrimination. By understanding the unique challenges we face, providers can offer more effective and supportive treatment.

This year’s Out Loud Pride Summit

An incredible lineup of speakers will discuss the following topics at the upcoming Pride Summit (1.5 CE credit hours each):

  • Using emotion-focused family therapy to foster alignment with caregivers around gender-affirming care
  • Expanding understanding of eating disorders and body image in LGBTQ+ masc communities
  • Understanding grief in the LGBTQ+ community

For a full list of LGBTQ+ resources, as well as a link to past Out Loud Pride Summit continuing education courses, be sure to check out Eating Recovery Center’s new LGBTQ+ resource page.

Eating disorder treatment must evolve to meet the needs of the diverse LGBTQ+ community. As LGBTQ+ individuals, we deserve care that recognizes and validates our identities, addresses the unique challenges we face and supports our recovery journey. Mental health providers have a crucial role to play in creating inclusive spaces, advocating on our behalf and offering tailored treatment approaches.

By prioritizing ongoing education, diverse representation and the implementation of LGBTQ+ inclusive policies, providers can help bridge the gap between the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and the care available to us. Together, we can work toward a future where all individuals, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, receive the compassionate and effective support they deserve in their journey toward full recovery from eating disorders.

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This content is reflective of this individual’s lived experiences. It is intended for informational purposes only. This piece is not intended to provide medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical diagnosis or treatment.

Clinically reviewed by Maggie Moore, MA, LMFT, National Family Outreach Manager, on May 22, 2023.

Written by

Eric Dorsa

Eric Dorsa is an LGBTQ advocate, actor, comedian, and drag queen currently living in Chicago, Illinois. As an advocate for the LGBTQ community, Eric travels around the country sharing their…

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