Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 28, No. 22, Ed. 1 Friday, October 14, 2011 Page: 12 of 48
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Not just a 'female problem'
Research shows that as many as
15 percent of gay, bi men have
eating disorders, but most who
do won't seek treatment
CATHERINE NORDON I Contributing Writer
I have grown uncomfortably comfortable in
the high rise lobby chair. Having spent months
and months over the course of two years sitting
in the same dull brown chair, I have claimed it as
my own personal space.
Stuck here, more than an hour away from our
small home town, I need something to call my
own as I wait for my beautiful 18-year-old daugh-
ter to finish out her day at the Dallas outpatient
eating disorder program.
As I pull my faded Converse shoes up into the
chair, my eyes are drawn to the eating disorder
recovery symbol that is tattooed on my wrist to
serve as a constant reminder of the 29 years that
I spent with an eating disorder, and where I want
There are 10 million individuals in this country
that suffer from an eating disorder, and there is
not a race, a group or a community of people that
are protected from the disease.
And because eating disorders, specifically
anorexia, have the highest morbidity rate of any
psychiatric disease, 10 million is a frightening
It has almost become an urban legend that eat-
ing disorders are a "woman's disease," because
gay men are affected by eating disorders at an
alarmingly higher rate than any other group.
Brad Kermington, LMFT, L.P.C.,is the: execu-
tive director of Cedar Springs Austin, an eating
disorder treatment center in west Austin. He be-
lieves that the gay culture — obsessed as it can be
with youthfulness, the body and physical attrac-
tiveness — plays a critical role: in the develop-
ment of eating and body image issues with gay
"The body-focused, hyper-sexualized gay cul-
ture, which places a tremendous value on a guy*!
looks, can certainly trigger body image and self-
esteem issues that can then lead to an eating dis-
order^ Kermington says.
Kennington, who has specialized in treating
male eating disorders for nearly 10 years, shared
some interesting findings:
According to a 2007 Harvard study, 25 percent
of all anorexics and bulimics are male, and 40 per-
cent of binge eaters are male.
In the general population, 5 to 7 percent of
males are gay. Studies show that up to 42 percent
of eating disordered males are gay, so gay men
are disproportionally represented in the male eat-
ing disordered population.
Research also shows that 15 percent of gay and
bisexual men have struggled with disordered eat-
Kennington explains how important the body
can be in the gay community: "One's body equals
onefe: identity. Having the so-called 'perfect' body
also gives a guy status and power in the gay
Kennington notes the vast difference in not
only the actual numbers of people who seek treat-
ment for their eating disorders, but the signifi-
cantly lower number of men that will seek
"For men," he says, "shame plays an incredible
role in not wanting to seek treatment. The myth
that eating disorders are a female problem helps
keep men and boys, who struggle with eating,
over-exercising and body image locked in a closet
of shame, not wanting to step out and ask for
help." There is a stigma associated with having
an eating disorder, especially for males. But, Ken-
nington stresses, "Eating disorders are not a fe-
male problem, they are a human problem."
When struggling with the idea of seeking treat-
ment, Kermington says all gay men need to have
the courage to ask for help.
"In some ways, it is another 'coming out'
process to admit to yourself and others that you
have an eating disorder," he says.
Kennington says he hopes that the perception
of having an eating disorder changes and that in-
dividuals will come forward and seek the help
and the peace that they so deserve. But for that to
happen, there has to be a change, not only in so-
ciety as a whole, but more specifically within the
gay community: People must retrain themselves
to have the desire to be the "most healthy" that
they can be.
Eating disorders, often co-exist with other ad-
dictions, like alcohol and drug abuse, which are
like the "gateway drugs'7 that can lead into the
development of eating disorders.
Depression and anxiety also play major roles
not only in the foundation for an eating disorder,
but in perpetuating the disease.
And if any of these struggles are left untreated,
then all of these co-existing issues can make the
eating disorder longer-lasting and significantly
worse:. Sometimes, one addiction replaces an-
other, while at other times, all addictions can
Discrimination — or at least, fear of discrimi-
nation — within hospital and treatment settings
could be one factor that keeps gay men from
seeking treatment for eating disorders.
But Jim Harris, Psy.D., the program manager
for the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas
Eating Disorder Program, promises that his eat-
ing disorder program is comfortable and familiar
with working with gay clients.
Noting how important a life partner is to the
recovery process, Harris says, "We encourage life
partners to join our weekly multi-family group
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Nash, Tammye. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 28, No. 22, Ed. 1 Friday, October 14, 2011, newspaper, October 14, 2011; Dallas, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth239189/m1/12/: accessed August 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.