Eating Disorder Symptoms and Proneness in Gay Men, Lesbian Women, and Transgender and Non-conforming Adults: Comparative Levels and a Proposed Mediational Model

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In this study we sought to compare eating disorder attitudes and behaviors, and proneness to an eating disorder (“ED proneness”), between gay men, lesbian women, and transgender and non-conforming (TGNC) adults. A further aim was to identify and compare risk and protective factors, and examine a mediational model based on the interpersonal theory of eating disorders (IPT-ED), whereby the association between interpersonal factors and ED proneness would be mediated by psychological constructs pertaining to the self and negative affect. Data was obtained from a larger national study of health risk and protective factors among sexual minority and gender diverse populations. The sample included 97 gay men, 82 lesbian women, and 138 TGNC adults. Participants completed the National College Health Assessment, Eating Disorders Screen for Primary Care, Patient Health Questionnaire Depression scale, Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7 scale, Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form, Negative Social Exchange subscale of the Multidimensional Health Profile, Interpersonal Needs Questionnaire, and Perceived Stigma Scale. There was a significant difference between groups in ED proneness, with lesbian women (66.7%) having a significantly higher percentage than gay men (47.6%). There was also a significant difference between groups in weight-based self-worth, with the lowest percentage in gay men (63%) and the highest percentage in lesbian women (82%), as well as dissatisfaction with eating patterns, with the highest percentage in TGNC adults (69.8%) and the lowest percentage in gay men (47.7%). There was a low percentage of inappropriate compensatory behaviors, with no significant difference between groups. Logistic regression analyses showed that the predictor variables of ED proneness were depression, perceived stigma, and self-compassion in gay men; depression in lesbian women; and self-compassion in the TGNC adults. Mediation analyses showed that thwarted belongingness (i.e., an unmet to belong) and perceived stigma had an indirect association with ED proneness that was mediated by self-compassion and depression (for perceived stigma alone) in gay men, depression in lesbian women, and self-compassion in TGNC adults. The interpersonal theory of eating disorders therefore extends to sexual minority and gender diverse populations; however, the results suggest a broadening of theoretical models and intervention programs to include the role of stigma and self-compassion.