Indirect Pathways Connecting Sexual Orientation and Weight Discrimination to Disordered Eating Among Young Adult Lesbians


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Abstract

Lesbians engage in similar or more disordered eating than heterosexual women. Yet, models of disordered eating have not been researched adequately among lesbians. Theories contend that experiencing discrimination is associated with increased risk for poorer mental and physical health. To increase our understanding of disordered eating among lesbians, we developed a model in which discrimination and disordered eating were connected via mediators of social support, affect (i.e., general negative affect and social anxiety), and weight discrepancy. We recruited a sample of 436 lesbians in the United States (18–30 years old) to participate in an online study. The majority of participants were White (77.3%), with some postsecondary education (84% had at least some college), and were fairly open about their sexual orientation (85% were mostly or completely “out”). Sexual orientation discrimination and weight discrimination were each indirectly associated with disordered eating through a network of mediators. Sexual orientation discrimination was indirectly related to disordered eating via 2 paths: (a) less social support from family and more general negative affect and (b) less social support from family and more social anxiety. Weight discrimination was indirectly associated with more disordered eating via 3 paths: (a) less social support from friends and increased social anxiety, (b) increased social anxiety alone, and (c) higher weight discrepancy alone. The results underscore the need for researchers and clinical providers to understand and assess both sexual orientation discrimination and weight discrimination among lesbians.

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