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Eating disorders represent serious struggles for many
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Joe Franco

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To many of us, the word is used casually and, in some cases, humorously. But to millions of people—many of them gay—that word is terrifying.

This is not a Netflix binge. This is not gym bunnies eating brunch and joking that they binged on cinnamon rolls. Binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa and bulimia are life-threatening eating disorders that disproportionately plague the LGBTQ community. Olga Mikhnyuk, a therapist at the Eating Recovery Center ( ERC ) in Chicago, said, "Gay men were 12 times more likely to report purging and seven times more likely to report bingeing." As for women of all sexual orientations as well as bisexual men, Mikhnyuk reported that they were "twice more likely to report bingeing." These statistics are compared with heterosexual men and national averages.

"The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder," said Mikhnyuk. Many people are familiar with anorexia and bulimia; some symptoms include preoccupations with dieting, exercise, weight loss as well as the use of laxatives and diuretics. "Eating disorders love secrecy. The more isolated a person is the more space there is for the eating disorder to thrive," said Mikhnyuk. However, she added, "Reaching out to others threatens the disorder and allows healing to begin."

The exact causes of most eating disorders is not known. "They are believed to be largely neurobiological as well as having a strong genetic component. An individual's environment, life experiences and cultures can also play a role in the onset or development of an eating disorder," said Mikhnyuk, pointing to possibly why eating disorders are prevalent in the LGBT community.

"From age 12 to 18, the disorder was a way for me to cope with an abusive home, and a sexuality that was considered "sinful" and "dangerous," said Eric Dorsa, an alumnus of the ERC program. "My eating disorder manifested because my family pressured me to lose weight. It kind of grew on its own. The binges would be compulsive making mine a double life. I would binge at school, work, diving practice and make up lies to go and purge. I would even steal my parents car to work out at 3am and 4am at a 24-hour gym."

Dorsa is not alone in his manifestation of a double life. John ( who asked that Windy City Times not use his name ) recently began treatment for binge-eating disorder with a private therapist in Chicago, and acknowledged that he also felt as if he lived a double life. "Nobody knows," John said. "I seem active but, on some days, I can sit and eat thousands of calories. I once ate a half-dozen cupcakes, a pizza, an order of Chinese food, a pie and a half-pound of chocolate in one day and that happened a few times every month."

The eating disorder itself is only part of the problem. Mikhnyuk said that "80 percent of individuals who suffer from eating disorders are diagnosed with another disorder throughout their lives. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and personality disorders." Dorsa noted that, "in 2012 I entered recovery for drug and alcohol abuse through 12-step programs. I realized that so much of my addiction and my eating disorder came from the same place—a feeling of low self-worth and negative self-image."

When asked if he believed that the ideal body image publicized in popular culture and in the LGBTQ community increased the likelihood of eating disorder development, Dorsa responded, "Gay culture is primarily focused on the male experience—particularly, the white male experience. It is also built around sexual desirability. I think the pressure to look a certain way, the desire to be seen and accepted, and the pain associated with having to come out as LGBTQ make our community vulnerable not just to eating disorders but substance abuse as well." John agreed that he felt significant pressure to be thin and fit: "We are already rejected. But then to be rejected by our own because we don't look or act a certain way is even worse."

Mikhnyuk added, "If you or a loved one is impacted [by an eating disorder], I encourage you to reach out and seek help. There are professionals in the field who will be able to recognize the uniqueness of your circumstances, needs and challenges and provide evidence-based, culturally-component and professional treatment."

She stated that eating disorders can be treated as an inpatient or outpatient though that was highly dependent on the severity of the condition, saying, "Everyone's journey in fighting an eating disorder is different yet very often by reaching out and sharing about our struggle we begin to learn that we are not alone."

Of help to those who are battling such disorders, Mikhnyuk found that "as the need for support for eating disorders in the LGBTQ community grows, online resources are becoming more available. There are several resources recommended by the National Eating Disorder Association ( NEDA ) and can be found on their website. T-FEED Closed Support Group for Gender-Diverse Folx is one of the resources available."

John still struggles with his recovery, saying, "I'm not sure how quickly I will recover but I know that since I have admitted it, I have a chance." Dorsa has fully recovered from his eating disorder but added, "I stay in the middle of my recovery. I share my experience with others because someone did that for me. Through our collective experiences we realize that we are not unique or alone. My disorder is what shamed me. Recovery is what tells me that I am always worth it."

For additional information about Eating Recovery Center, call 877-789-5758, or visit to speak with a Masters-level clinician.

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