Gay Men at Higher Risk for Eating Disorders; See the Signs and Seek Help
Coming back from summer break during my college years, I was shocked when I saw my close friend. He had gone from being overweight—by medical standards—to being as thin as a rail. I wanted to help him, but I didn’t know how. Now, working with Eating Recovery Center (ERC), I realize that my biggest hurdle to intervening was that I didn’t know this important fact: men can have eating disorders and gay men are at a higher risk.
October is LGBTQ history month.
As we celebrate LGBTQ heritage, let’s also help those who are held back from achieving their full potential due to these life-threatening illnesses. Here’s what you need to know about gay men and eating disorders:
- 42 percent of men who have eating disorders are gay*
- Gay and bisexual men are seven times more likely to binge, and twelve times more likely to purge than heterosexual men*
- Many people who suffer from eating disorders battle with co-morbidities, such as substance abuse, and may engage in risky behavior. In fact, up to 50 percent of individuals with eating disorders abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, compared with just nine percent of the general population**
Who had ever heard of a man suffering from an eating disorder?
Certainly not I, at the time. The media then had me believing that eating disorders only affected young, middle-class Caucasian women. I wasn’t aware then that eating disorders do not discriminate based on age, gender, orientation or race.
But eating disorders can affect anyone.
My friend and I became roommates and were nearly inseparable. I observed his eating habits and noticed that he went out of his way to eat as little as possible. As not to reveal details that may be triggering to others, I’ll simply say that his means of avoiding calorie intake were extreme. His disordered eating didn’t come out of nowhere, either. A painful break up that summer sent him into a tailspin.
While I thought his weight loss was driven by seeking a visual aesthetic, I now believe that these signs of a possible eating disorder were likely triggered by stress.
I’ve since learned that eating disorders have deep genetic roots, and can be brought on by factors like a bad breakup. My friend also engaged in risky behavior, including drug and alcohol use, and unsafe sex.
Tragically, I have to describe all of these things in past tense — because he’s no longer with us. After a fight with a boyfriend a few years later — while intoxicated — my friend committed suicide. It was all so confusing then, but I now know that his many behaviors weren’t random. They hint at a possibly deeper, underlying and complex mental health situation, common for those with eating disorders.
What happened? What did I do wrong? Did I fail him as a friend?
I cannot judge the situation objectively, but I don’t believe that I did anything wrong. I believe instead that I lacked the knowledge needed to understand how to get him help. It wasn’t widely known then that gay men are at a higher risk for eating disorders; I would not have even believed that men could be affected. But, through working with Eating Recovery Center, I’ve learned a lot and found peace by knowing that I can help others, if not my friend, and that’s something I believe he would be proud of too.
ERC did not exist when my friend was alive. However, if I knew then what I’ve learned since, and if ERC had been around, I would have immediately reached out to them for help.
If you’re in a similar situation, please take action. Recovery is possible and the first step is realizing you need help, whether you’re battling the eating disorder yourself or are concerned about a family member or friend.
Visit www.eatingrecovery.com for more information, to find ERC’s phone number, or to sign up for a free consultation.
*National Eating Disorders Association ** National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2003). Food for thought: substance abuse and eating disorders