If you’re bisexual, turns out, you’re more likely to have an eating disorder than gay or straight men.
That’s according to a new report from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, that suggest bisexual men are even more susceptible to some unhealthy eating habits, despite numerous studies that show gay men are at increased risk for disordered eating — including fasting, excessive exercise and preoccupation with weight and body shape.
In the study of over 4,500 LGBTQ adults, 25% of bisexual men reported having fasted for more than eight hours to influence their weight or appearance, compared to 20% of gay men. About 80% of bisexual men also reported that they “felt fat,” and 77% had a strong desire to lose weight, compared to 79% and 75% of gay men, respectively.
Of course, not everyone who diets or feels fat has an eating disorder, said a co-author of the study, Dr Jason Nagata, a professor of pediatric medicine at UCSF. “It’s a spectrum — from some amount of concern to a tipping point where it becomes a pathological obsession about body weight and appearance,” Nagata said.
Of all the respondents, 3.2% of bi males had been clinically diagnosed with eating disorders, compared to 2.9% of gay men. That stacks up to 0.6% of heterosexual men, according to research from the Yale University School of Medicine.
Nagata said the discrepancies highlight the need to conduct eating disorder research on various sexual identities independently. “Prior studies on eating disorders in sexual minority men have grouped gay and bisexual men together, so it was difficult to understand the unique characteristics in bisexual men.”
Several factors may be at play, he said, including “minority stress,” the concept that the heightened anxiety faced by marginalized groups can manifest as poor mental and physical health outcomes.
“LGBTQ people experience stigma and discrimination, and stressors can definitely lead to disordered eating,” Nagata said. “For bi men, they’re not just facing stigma from the straight community but from the gay community, as well.”
The bisexual advocate and author Zachary Zane said this “double discrimination” often leads to loneliness, depression and a fear of coming out.
“We face ostracization from both sides, or if we’re embraced by the LGBTQ world, it’s because we’re hiding our authentic selves,” Zane said. “When you feel everything is out of control, [food] is something you can have control over. I can understand how that would be appealing.”
About 30% of bi men in the survey reported being afraid of losing control of their eating, and nearly a third said they had difficulty focusing on work or other activities because they were thinking about food, eating or calories.
While binge eating was similar among gay and bi men in this report, a 2018 American Psychiatric Association study of university students found that bisexual men were three times as likely to binge eat as their gay classmates and five times as likely as heterosexual male students.