How to tell your loved ones you have bulimia

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Telling your loved ones, family, or parents that you have bulimia nervosa (BN) can be a terrifying thought. From how they’ll react to what happens next, there’s a lot to consider, and it may be easy to focus on the downsides.

Although it can be difficult and anxiety-provoking, disclosing to your parents or loved ones that you have bulimia is an incredibly brave thing to do, and it can be an important step toward getting better.

There are a few ways to bring up the topic that might help the conversation be as effective and helpful as possible, for both you and your loved ones.

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In this article

Helpful tips for talking about bulimia

Important conversations can be tricky – especially when they can feel so emotional. That’s why, when telling your parents or other family members you have bulimia, a little bit of planning can go a long way.

Arrange a time and place to talk ahead of time

First, you’ll want to arrange a specific time and place to have the discussion. 

Maybe your family invites members to call a “family meeting” when they need to or has other times set up for everyone to get together. Either way, asking ahead of time about arranging a meeting can serve as a signal that something important is on your mind, and can help your parents or loved ones prepare for a serious conversation.

You don’t have to tell them what you want to talk about. You can simply say, “I have something I’d like to talk to you about. Is Friday at 6 p.m. okay?”

When arranging a time and place, it’s important to keep a few other factors in mind. Try to think of a time that not only works for your schedule—giving you enough time to prepare yourself for the conversation and feel as comfortable as possible about what you want to say—but for your parents or loved ones, as well. 

People are typically stressed right after they come home from work or if there’s something else going on or about to start. Try to pick a day and time when people will have a relatively free schedule, when they can take the time to sink into the conversation and be fully present.

As for setting, a private and quiet place works best. If you can’t have the conversation in your home, think of places like a quiet park or somewhere else where you won’t be interrupted or distracted by other people.

Figure out what you want to say

Equally important as picking a good time and place to talk to your loved ones is figuring out what you want to say.

Some topics to think about include what you’ve been going through, how dealing with bulimia has been affecting you, and what you hope the outcome of this conversation will be. (Do you want to seek help? Do you want your parents’ help in finding treatment?) 

To help you figure out exactly what you want to say, you might want to consider a few questions, including: (1)

  • When did you start having different thoughts about food, weight, or exercise? What were the thoughts?
  • When did you start changing your behavior? What types of thoughts were you having at the time? 
  • How are you currently feeling, physically, and emotionally?
  • What changes would you be willing to make to change your behavior?
  • How can your loved ones help you in achieving these goals? (Monitoring your behavior? Proactively asking how you’re doing, or waiting until you approach them?)

No matter what you decide to talk about, the most important thing is to be as honest as possible. You can even say that you’re scared or sad about having this conversation. 

Once you have a good idea of what you want to say, you might also want to practice saying it. Difficult conversations can very easily become emotional, causing people to forget what they want to say or get pulled off track, so practicing can help ensure you get across everything that’s on your mind. You can even write down your major points ahead of time and simply read them out loud if it makes things easier.

Talking to your parents or loved ones about struggling with bulimia is hard, and being as open and honest as possible will help ensure this difficult decision brings you as much help as possible.

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Prepare for their possible reactions

Dealing with bulimia is an incredibly complex issue—both for the people going through it and their loved ones.

It may be difficult for your parents or loved ones to understand you are experiencing bulimia and the behaviors that occur with it. They may feel upset, overwhelmed, scared, or shocked, but this is usually because they care and are worried. These intense emotions may manifest in ways that may feel inappropriate for the situations, so let your loved ones know how they can support you. It’s hard to predict just how your parents or loved ones will respond to the conversation. What’s important to understand is that you are not responsible for their emotional state, even if they say you are, and even if it feels like it. Remember, you are very brave for bringing up this difficult topic, and asking for help is always the best option.

Be as patient and kind as you can with yourself and loved ones. It may take them a bit of time to process this information.

After the conversation

After you’ve had the conversation, it clears the way to start building a treatment plan. Typically, this process starts with your primary care provider, who can then recommend you to available programs or therapists in the area. 

Before making an appointment, you or your family might want to do some research. There are a number of different types of programs and therapies to help with bulimia. Keep in mind not only if treatment addresses your specific situation, but also their costs, and whether they're covered by your insurance.

Struggling with bulimia is an incredibly tough experience. But sharing what you’re going through and reaching out for help can make the burden that much lighter and help you start the journey toward healing. Get started today.

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.

Resources

  1. How do I tell my parents that I have an eating disorder? Eating Disorder Hope. (2014, February 27). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/recovery/self-help-tools-skills-tips/telling-parents-mom-dad-about-eating-disorder 
  2. Bulimia nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 22). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/bulimia 
  3. Sharing concerns about your eating behaviors. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 22). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sharing-concerns-about-your-eating-behaviors 
  4. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, July 14). Eating disorder treatment: Know your options. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eating-disorders/in-depth/eating-disorder-treatment/art-20046234

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