With the recent political focus on transgender rights, as well as it being National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I thought it important to highlight that past research has indicated transgender people may have a higher risk of eating disorders than any of their peers.
In 2015, the Journal of Adolescent Health, determined that “rates of past-year [self-reported eating disorder] diagnosis and past-month use of diet pills and vomiting or laxatives were highest among transgender students.”(1) More specifically, “[a]bout 16 percent of trans respondents reported that they had been diagnosed with an eating disorder in the past year.” That’s five times more than the next highest group which was “men who were unsure of their sexuality, who reported rates at 3.66 percent.”(2)
This is an alarming study in and of itself, but there are two things that have really stuck with me since. Firstly, the study was done via a survey of 289,024 students across some 200 university campuses. So while this is just a small sample size, one must also take into account that there may have been even more students than reported who a) were, in fact, struggling with an eating disorder but hadn’t been “diagnosed” and/or b) did not want to divulge that he/she/they had been diagnosed.
The second is that this survey was done two years ago. Rendering such an alarming result I would have hoped other studies would have popped up in my research, but any article I found only referred to the aforementioned survey in the Journal of Adolescent Health. I could not find any other study. And with eating disorders at such a high occurrence rate ("The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders states that approximately eight million people in the U.S. have anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and related eating disorders."(3)), more research is absolutely vital in understanding these mental illnesses (yes, eating disorders are a mental illness), especially within the transgender community.
Now, I am cisgender, so I cannot—and will not—speak to this personally. I do feel, however, that every single person’s story and his/her/their experience with an eating disorder is vital for so many reasons. One being a stark indication of how much more attention and research must be given to eating disorders and, two, the more voices we have, the more people can start to understand that eating disorders affect everyone regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, body size, age, etc.
Now, a number of articles I read surmised possible reasons transgender people struggle with eating disorders. I’m not going to do that because I, of course, don’t know. And, also, because I do know—first hand—how individualistic eating disorders actually are. The reason(s) for one transgender person who struggles can be completely different from another, and it is not ‘always’ or ‘automatically’ related to being trans.
Dan Maldonaldo, who works at T-FFED (Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders), cautioned against lumping trans folx into these growing ‘theories’, “I think when we report eating disorders in our community to medical professionals, a lot of times there's this arrogance or conflation of gender dysphoria with body dysmorphia." Dan says. "People think that once you're able to transition that your eating disorder will disappear. This is not the case. There's a lot of reasons why eating disorders are prevalent in the transgender community, but it doesn't necessarily have to do with the fact that we are trans and we have bodily issues that have to do with our gender."(4)
In short, this is an extremely important topic which must be explored and researched further. And, specifically, one to which we all need to listen. Eating disorders affect everyone in so many different ways and for so many different reasons, we need to give everyone's story a place in which it can be told.
Eating While Transgender by Jamey Hampton
(My blog is, by no means, a hotbed of internet traffic, but if you would like to add your voice/story to this, please don’t hesitate to email me. Additionally, I encourage you to check out Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders for further resources, information, and support.)
- "Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, and Eating-Related Pathology in a National Sample of College Students". Diemer, Elizabeth W. et al. Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 57, Issue 2, 144 - 149.
- Ford, Zack. “Eating Disorders Significantly More Prevalent Among Transgender People, Study Finds”. ThinkProgress, ThinkProgress. 4 Aug 2015. Web. 28 Feb 2016.
- "Statistics: How Many People Have Eating Disorders?" ANRED, 2 Mar 2016. https://www.anred.com/stats.html
- McNeilly, Claudia. “Trans Youth Are Significantly More Likely to Have an Eating Disorder”. Health, Broadly. 1 Dec 2015. Web. 28 Feb 2016.