Transgender Youth at Higher Risk of Eating Disorders

By May Wilkerson 03/09/16

According to a recent study, transgender youth are four times more likely to report a diagnosed eating disorder than their cisgender peers.

Transgender Youth at Higher Risk of Eating Disorders
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When you think of someone with an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia, you may imagine a woman who is young, straight, cisgender (which means identifying with the gender associated with your biological sex), white, and middle or upper class.

But that’s often not the case. Though young, white, straight, cis women with eating disorders may get the most media attention, new research suggests that transgender youth are actually significantly more at risk of developing eating disorders than their straight or gay peers.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, transgender youth were four times more likely to report a diagnosed eating disorder than their cisgender, female peers. And they were twice as likely to report abusing weight loss pills or self-induced vomiting.

Researchers attribute this increased risk to stress related to gender identity, having to come out to family and peers, potential transphobia and harassment, social stigma, and unstable home environments which may not foster acceptance for transgender teens.

“Eating disorders among transgender and gender-variant individuals might be connected to types of oppression such as sexism, racism, and classism that a transgender individual with intersecting identities might face,” said Dr. Swapan Banerjee.

Transgender youth may also use food or weight loss in attempts to stop themselves from developing physical features that don’t match their gender identity. Many transgender teens, though not all, also suffer from “gender dysphoria,” which is defined as “strong, persistent feelings of discomfort with your assigned sex.” This includes identifying with a gender that does not match the gender you were assigned at birth, and may cause “significant anxiety and stress.”

"Gender dysphoria is overwhelming and emotionally challenging,” said Dr. Judith Brisman, founder of the National Eating Disorder Resource Center. “To combat these intense emotions, disordered eating and starvation can be immediate, but problematic, attempts to handle these difficult feelings. With the cultural standard of ‘thin is good’ and a pressure to be the ‘right’ look and body type, the result can eventually turn into disordered eating in a scramble to solidify the confusion about one’s self.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.