How to Talk to Your Family About Your Eating Disorder

Woman crying on her mother's shoulder

An eating disorder is a serious condition that usually requires treatment to resolve. An eating disorder can have devastating health consequences, and professional help is essential for getting to the root of the issue.1

Hiding an eating disorder from your family takes an additional toll on your mental health. The secrecy can cause a great deal of stress, and you may be struggling with feelings of guilt, self-hatred and other negative emotions that only make the eating disorder worse.

The best thing you can do is talk to your family about your eating disorder and ask for help. Here are some tips for how to talk to your family about your eating disorder in a way that opens the door to recovery.

Arm Yourself With Information

Whether you’re suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, gathering some facts ahead of time will help you educate others about your disorder. The National Eating Disorder Association is a good resource to find information about eating disorders, including how common they are, how they’re treated and the common underlying causes of eating disorders.2

Choose the Right Time to Talk to Your Family About Your Eating Disorder

Talk to your family about your eating disorder when they aren’t busy and can give you their full attention. Tell them you have something serious you need to discuss with them, and ask if it’s a good time.

If there never seems to be a “right” time, or if you don’t know how to approach them, consider putting it all in a letter and let them take it from there. If you think it would help to have a supportive friend or other family member sit in on the conversation, doing so may make talking about it easier.

Lay It out Clearly

When you talk to your family about your eating disorder, whether in-person or in a letter, be honest and direct. Tell them you think you have an eating disorder. Explain your eating behaviors, and point out the facts about eating disorders that you learned in your research. Explain that you need help recovering.

If you’re also suffering from anxiety or depression or have suicidal thoughts, let them know. These commonly occur with eating disorders and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Be Prepared for Anything

Ideally, your parents will understand that you need professional care and a high level of support from them. Sometimes parents’ reactions may not be what you expected or hoped. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand eating disorders, and they may not realize that treatment is essential for helping you recover.

Parents may react in a way that creates more stress and guilt. They may not take your eating disorder seriously. They may try to place blame where it’s not due, or they may offer well-meaning advice that misses the mark.

If your family doesn’t respond the way you were hoping, it may help to point them to resources that explain the seriousness of eating disorders and the importance of medical and mental health care in treating them.

Getting Help Is Essential

Your well-being depends on getting help for your eating disorder. Treatment is crucial, and it works. It helps you address the issues underlying disordered eating, and it helps to improve your self-esteem and establish balanced eating and self-care habits. Treatment can dramatically improve your quality of life in many ways.

Chances are, your parents will be concerned and supportive, and they’ll see to it that you get help for your eating disorder. But if not, talk to another trusted adult, such as a teacher, school counselor or other relative who can help ensure you get the help you need.