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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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How to talk about bulimia nervosa

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When you’re living with an eating disorder, like bulimia nervosa (BN), you can get stuck in feelings of shame and despair, believing you’re not worthy of support or even that you deserve to feel the way you do. It may be difficult for you to figure out how to explain bulimia to your peers. Additionally, your disordered patterns of thinking may have you believing that your eating behaviors are not a problem or that you could easily stop whenever you wanted to.

The reality is that you’ll need understanding and support, not only to aid in your recovery but to also help to get your life back. All aspects of life - family, friendships, work, education, relationships, and more - are all impacted by your eating disorder, and the longer you stay silent the stronger the grip your bulimia nervosa has on you and the greater the impact on your life.

This article aims to help you have honest and open conversations about your BN and answer any questions you may have.

 minute read
Last updated on 
December 7, 2023
In this article

How to explain bulimia nervosa: advice and tips

“I’m embarrassed about sharing that I binge with them”, “Will they be disappointed in me?”, “Will they take me seriously?”, “Will they be angry with me?”. These may be some thoughts you may be struggling with as you decide whether or not to confide in others about your struggles with BN. 

Talking to anyone about your bulimia nervosa can feel so difficult. No matter how supportive your family, friends, loved ones, and colleagues are, you may still be terrified about raising the issue with them.

Here are some tips on how to explain bulimia nervosa that will help you to open up to others, while still holding space for yourself and not feeling like you have to share more than you're comfortable with.

Pick a safe space to talk

Choosing a place where you feel comfortable enough to talk is really important as it will help you feel a little more at ease when speaking with someone. Think of somewhere calm and quiet where you feel at home, this could be somewhere in your own house, your favorite coffee shop, or even out in nature.

Find a way to talk that suits you

Talking about something that affects you so deeply can be incredibly daunting, and doing so face-to-face and seeing someone’s reaction can make it feel all the more difficult. If you can’t quite bring yourself to talk face to face, but are ready to open up, there are other ways to go about it:

  • Instead of sitting opposite who you want to talk to, try sitting side by side or going for a walk through your favorite park while you discuss your troubles with bulimia nervosa 
  • Write it in a letter and ask that the person reads it while you’re out of the room, put your feelings in an email, or connect with them via a text messaging platform, what matters is that you share in a way you feel comfortable.

Decide what to share

What you’re willing to share may depend on the person you’re talking to and the closeness of your relationship. For example, with your boss and colleagues, you may only feel comfortable sharing that you have an eating disorder and will be taking time away to seek treatment. 

However, with family and close friends, you may feel more comfortable going into detail about the thoughts you have about your body, what you feel before you binge/purge, and how often you engage in eating disorder behaviors and what they are.

Remember, you’re under no obligation to share more than you feel comfortable with. You may feel ready to share more about your struggles in the future, but there is no pressure to share everything right away. 

Be ready for questions and emotions

The person you’re opening up to is likely to have some questions for you about what you’re going through. While you may feel able to answer some questions, if you don’t feel ready to address some queries, it’s best, to be honest about it. 

Hearing that you’re suffering is probably going to be hard for the person you’re talking to, particularly if you have a close relationship. They may even blame themselves for your eating disorder , and this can be difficult for you. Therefore, it’s important to remember that your bulimia nervosa is no one’s fault and how someone reacts to what you have to say is definitely not your fault.

Stop when you need to

Your confidant might go into overdrive trying to help, and there might be a lot of questions and emotions involved. This is coming from a good place, but it can be a lot to manage, so don’t forget to make space for yourself when you need it.

If you feel like it’s all getting a little overwhelming, share that with the person you’re talking to and tell them you need to take a break and suggest doing something else until you feel ready to talk again.

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Questions you may have

How do I know someone I talk to will be understanding?

If you’re in a place where you feel ready to share your struggles with BN , but aren’t sure who you’ll talk to will be understanding, consider opening up to someone you trust. This doesn’t have to be friends or family members, it could be a teacher, colleague, or healthcare professional who has supported you in the past.

  • Is there someone you’ve previously spoken to about mental health or heard discussing mental health, or other difficult subjects with compassion and sensitivity?
  • Is there someone you have been able to confide in before about other personal issues?
  • Do you know anyone - such as a teacher or healthcare provider - that may have some understanding of eating disorders, who would be able to talk to you about bulimia nervosa in a non-judgemental and supportive manner?

Thinking about these things may help you identify the best person to talk to - the person you know will listen to you and support you, now and in the future.

How do I start the conversation?

Where do you even begin when it comes to talking about something as significant as your issues with your eating disorder? It can be so easy to get your thoughts all muddled together in your head, so it might be helpful to write down what you want to say, considering:

  • Your thoughts and behaviors around food, such as binging and purging
  • How long you have been struggling with eating disorder behaviors and how often do you engage in them
  • What support are you hoping for and are you ready to get professional help

What if I tell someone about my bulimia nervosa and they react poorly?

It could have taken you a long time and a lot of courage to tell someone how you’re feeling and if they’re not supportive or empathetic, it can make you reluctant to open up to anyone else.

Don’t take a bad reaction from a person to mean that you were wrong to share, that you aren’t actually ill, or that you’re not deserving of help. How other people react to your bulimia nervosa is not your fault, none of what you’re going through is.

Remember, just because one person reacts poorly this doesn’t mean the next person will. It’s okay to let someone know that if what they’re saying to you isn’t helpful by saying “I don’t feel it’s useful for me to talk about ‘X’, but find it really helpful to talk about ‘Y’ with you”.

Main takeaway

It’s natural to feel scared at the idea of telling someone about your eating disorder. But sharing what you’re going through, although difficult, is sure to be a big relief being the first step on your way to recovery.

Before you have a talk with someone, figure out what would be most comfortable for you, giving you the best chance of having a productive and fulfilling conversation.

During the conversation give yourself space if you need it, and don’t feel pressure to answer questions you’re not ready to. 

Remember, if a person doesn’t respond in a way that you hoped, that isn’t your fault and you shouldn’t let this prevent you from opening up to others in the future.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.



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Further reading

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