Telling Someone You Have An Eating Disorder

A difficult first step to take when a person has an eating disorder is for that person to recognize and understand that they are unwell and in need of help in order to get better. This is difficult because eating disorders emerge progressively over a long period of time, and for this reason many sufferers do not fully recognize that their behaviors around food have changed, and that their body may have changed also.

There is often an element of self denial present in people who suffer from eating disorders. Once a sufferer has began to understand that they need help, the next step is to find someone that they trust in order to tell them and ask for assistance. Since many people with eating disorders feel embarrassed and ashamed due to the negative and often misinformed stereotypes that surround eating disorders, the thought of telling someone can be terrifying.

If you believe that you may be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important that you tell someone about it. When taking this step, be sure that you chose to approach someone whom you trust and feel comfortable talking with. Many sufferers start by telling a close friend or their family doctor. If you can open up to your family, you may chose to tell your spouse, a parent, a sibling, an aunt, etc. first. If you have a hard time opening up to your family but want to tell them, you can always have a friend or therapist with you when you tell them.

How Will They React?

When you first tell someone, there is usually an initial reaction. The person may be surprised, shocked, upset, or worried. There is also often relief, as you may find that your family or friends have been worried about you but have felt unable to approach you. When telling someone, it is important to bring information about eating disorders to give to that person. That way they can have the chance to read and educate themselves about what eating disorders are and how to be helpful to you.

Parents sometimes have a hard time accepting the fact that their child has an eating disorder. Some people are still under the misguided impression that eating disorders are caused by parents. For this reason some parents can also be in denial about a child having an eating disorder because they fear that it be their fault and that they did something wrong. It can sometimes take family members a while before they can accept the eating disorder and be helpful and supportive.

How To Tell Them

There is not any one way to tell someone about your eating disorder. Sometimes just sitting down with someone and saying, “I have an eating disorder and I want to get help”, is one way of getting it right out in the open. If you find it too difficult to say it verbally, you can always chose to write a letter to the person you want to tell and let them know that way. If you have decided to first tell a therapist, you can always chose to have the therapist present with you when you decide to talk to family members and friends. That way, the therapist could be there to answer questions, explain what eating disorders are, how they can be helpful to you and you may also feel more safe and comfortable having the therapist with you to support you in this step.

Here is one girls story of how she told her parents she was bulimic.

Some people have no choice but to go outside the family to receive the help and support that they need during the recovery process. Some sufferers may believe they can overcome their eating disorder on their own, however due to the advances in recent treatment approaches it is much more efficient to seek experienced and professional assistance.

In some instances, a sufferer may find that being open about their eating disorder actually makes a lot of social situations much easier. It is much more common these days for eating disorders to be understood as complicated mental disorders. As more people are educated to the seriousness and complexity of eating disorders, the negative stigma is decreasing. As this continues to happen, it is hoped that sufferers will feel less reluctant to seek help. Telling someone that you have an eating disorder may be the first step that you take towards recovery.


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Additional Reading:

Navigating Eating Disorder Treatment
Importance Of Getting Help And Being Honest In Medical And Therapy Appointments
Types of Eating Disorder Treatment Professionals
How Eating Disorders Affect Family
Eating Disorders Statistics



Updated by Tabitha Farrar – 2014
Written by Colleen Thompson – 1998