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Bisexual men more likely to develop eating disorders, study finds

Bisexual men experience eating disorders at higher rates than gay men and heterosexual men

weight, scales, diet, food
Photo: Samuel Ramos / Unsplash

A new study by the University of California San Francisco has found that bisexual men are more likely to experience eating disorders than heterosexual or gay men.

That’s according to a study published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, based on sampling more than 4,500 LGBTQ adults.

Prior studies have already found that gay men are at a higher risk of suffering from an eating disorder such as fasting or an obsession with weight, but bisexual men are apparently at an even greater risk.

In the study, bisexual men reported higher rates of fasting for more than eight hours in order to change their weight compared with gay men, 25% to 20%. More bisexual men also “felt fat” (80% versus 79%) and had a strong desire to lose weight (77% versus 75%) compared with gay men.

Speaking to NBC News, Dr. Jason Nagata, professor of pediatric medicine at UCSF and coauthor of the study, said that eating disorder is a “spectrum” ranging “from some amount of concern to a tipping point where it becomes a pathological obsession about body weight and appearance,” and noted that feeling fat doesn’t necessarily mean a person has an eating disorder.

Bisexual men were clinically diagnosed with eating disorders at slightly higher rates than gay men, 3.2% to 2.9%. That figure drops to 0.6% percent for heterosexual men, according to Yale University School of Medicine.

Thirty percent  of bisexual men also reported a fear of losing control of their eating patterns, while almost a third said that thinking about food and their eating habits had led to them struggling to focus on work or other activities.

Nagata told NBC News that the differences between gay, bisexual, and straight men supported the need for eating disorder research to be conducted independently for sexual identities, saying that grouping gay and bisexual men together made it “difficult to understand the unique characteristics in bisexual men.”

Part of the discrepancy between bisexual and gay men could include “minority stress,” Nagata said, noting that “LGBTQ people experience stigma and discrimination, and stressors can definitely lead to disordered eating.”

But for bisexual men, discrimination can be twofold, according to Ngata: “For bi men, they’re not just facing stigma from the straight community but from the gay community, as well.”

Zachary Zane, a bisexual author and advocate, told NBC News that bisexual men face “ostracization from both sides.”

“When you feel everything is out of control, [food] is something you can have control over,” he said. “I can understand how that would be appealing.”

Zane also supported analyzing bisexual men separately from their gay counterparts, saying, “When researchers lump bi and gay men together, it not only contributes to bi erasure — implying that bi men have the same struggles and identity as gay men — it also leads to ineffective treatments.”

He added: “If the goal is to actually help bisexual men, then all research needs to parse them out from gay men, period.”

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