How To Talk to Your Parents About Eating Disorders

If you have been struggling silently with an eating disorder, it’s time to seek help. What does seeking help look like? For a lot of us it means talking to our parents, which may be an intimidating prospect. The truth is, however, that your parents have access to a lot more resources than you would if you tried to face your problems alone. If you’re not sure how to approach this conversation with Mom and Dad, we’ve come up with a few ways you can go about that conversation.

How to Bring Up Eating Disorders with Your Parents

Getting a hard conversation started is the hardest part, so set yourself up for success. Don’t try to bring this up in the middle of a busy moment, because your parents won’t be able to give you the attention this subject deserves. Choose a time when you know your parents won’t be distracted or ask them in advance if you can have a talk with them about something important. Here are a few things you could say:

  • “We had Eating Disorder Awareness Week at school, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Do you think we could talk later? I need your support figuring some things out.”
  • “Could we set aside some time to chat this week? I have an important thing to run by you, and I don’t want us to be distracted.”
  • “Do you have a second? Would now be an okay time to talk about something important?”

Once you have your parents’ attention, it may be tough to figure out how to jump into the subject of eating disorders. First, take a deep breath. What you’re doing is brave, caring, and necessary. Try saying something like this:

  • “So I’ve been learning a lot about symptoms of [the eating disorder you think you have], and I think I have it. I think I’ve had it for a while now, since [the first time you noticed your symptoms]. Can we talk about what to do next?”
  • “I’ve been [list some of your symptoms]. I think that could mean I have [your particular eating disorder]. It’s gotten to the point that I feel like I need your help. Can we talk about it?”

Take another deep breath. The hardest part is over! Getting help for an eating disorder is a process, but telling someone is a great first step. 

How to Address Your Parents Questions

It’s a hard thing to hear that someone you love is struggling, so don’t be surprised if your parents have a million questions after you tell them you’re battling an eating disorder. It’s tough to answer a bunch of questions when you’re going through a hard time, so don’t be afraid to let your parents know that you’re overwhelmed. You can say something like this:

  • “I know you have questions. I do too. Can you slow down and just give me a hug right now? I don’t have a lot of answers for you, and I’m scared.”
  • “All the questions are a little overwhelming right now. I came to you for help because I’m not sure what to do next. Can we do the research together?”
  • “I feel like I’m in trouble for struggling because of the interrogation. Can we go through your questions later? It took a lot for me to come to you today, and I’m feeling tired.”

When you’re ready to listen to your parents’ questions, you can be prepared for them to be curious about what your symptoms are, how long you’ve been experiencing this problem, and where you think the cause of the problem comes from. While it’s an extremely vulnerable thing to share these kinds of details, this is the kind of information that’s important when it comes to figuring out the next steps for treatment. Take some time to prepare for this part of the conversation. You can start with some of the following phrases:

  • “The symptoms that make me feel like I have this eating disorder are ____, ____, and ____.”
  • “The first time I remember having any of these symptoms was ____.”
  • “I’m not sure exactly why this started, but it seems like ____ and ____ are factors.”

It’s also completely acceptable if your answer to some of their questions is “I don’t know.” You aren’t suddenly an expert in eating disorders just because you’re experiencing the symptoms, and part of recovery is learning everything you can about the disorder. When it comes to the questions you and your parents both have, let them know that there are plenty of resources available for eating disorder education. You can start with this list, but be sure to consult a professional to get recommendations specific to you:

Ask Your Parents for What You Need

The whole point of going to your parents about your eating disorder is to get help! Once you and your family have had a conversation and explored some research about the topic, make sure you ask them for the specific kinds of help you’re hoping to get. Let your research guide you here if you aren’t sure what you need, and when in doubt, seeing both a mental health professional and your primary care physician is an excellent first step. Try expressing your needs to your parents in the following ways:

  • “I came to you because I want to find help. I think the first step is to see my doctor and get evaluated for an official diagnosis. Can we make an appointment soon?”
  • “I think something that would really help me would be to see a therapist or counselor. Can we look for somebody nearby who I could talk to about this?”
  • “I know mornings/evenings are really busy for our family, but I could use some accountability when it comes to breakfast/dinner. Can I ask that someone share those meals with me so that I’m less tempted to skip or binge?”
  • “My body image is something I am really sensitive about, so it would be great if we could make a family rule not to comment on each other’s bodies, clothes, or appearance.”
  • “It would help me feel supported in this if you would commit to seeking counseling with me. Sometimes disordered eating runs in families, and I’m a little nervous about going to therapy by myself.”

Don’t feel the need to ask for the above things if they don’t sound right for you, but we encourage you to seek an official diagnosis with your doctor. Treatment for eating disorders varies based on which one you have and the severity of your symptoms, so the best way to ensure that you get the right kind of help is to discuss your struggle with a physician. Your parents should be able to help you get an appointment and accompany you if you want.

There is Hope

Nobody has a perfect relationship with their parents, but hopefully you feel that they can be there for you when something as important as your health is concerned. If, however, your parents respond to this conversation in a way that doesn’t make you feel supported, or if you don’t feel safe talking to them in the first place, you’re not alone. You can reach out to TheHopeLine to talk to someone who will offer you unconditional support and even help you get connected with resources that can assist you with your journey to recovery. We believe that you deserve to feel hope, love, and peace as you bravely pursue recovery from disordered eating, because you were created by a God who sees you and knows your struggle. 

Do you find yourself obsessing over what you see in the mirror? Here are 6 ways how to not obsess over appearance

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