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How to tell your loved ones you have bulimia

Telling your loved ones or family members that you struggle with 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 BN 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.

 minute read
Last updated on 
October 25, 2023
October 25, 2023
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In this article

Helpful tips for talking to your loved one about eating disorders

Important conversations can be tricky – especially when it’s something so personal as an eating disorder, it can feel so emotional. That’s why, when thinking about how to tell someone you have bulimia nervosa, a little bit of planning can go a long way.

The National Alliance for Eating Disorders has a number of recommendations for talking to someone an eating disorder and “what to say” and “not say.”1

Arrange a time and place to talk

First, finding  a specific time and place to have the discussion. This not only gives you the chance to prepare for the conversation, but can let your family member or trusted friends know that there's something serious on your mind.

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

Factors to keep in mind


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 BN 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 family’s  help in finding eating disorder treatment?) 

Your family or friends may bring up questions or concerns during the conversation, you might want to consider a few questions, like:

  • When did you start having different thoughts about yourself, food, weight, or exercise? What were the thoughts?
  • What stressors, triggers, or events were going on in your life when you started changing your eating habits?
  • Are any of your feelings impacted by being bullied or unduly influenced by social media, etc?
  • When did you start experiencing disordered eating 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 honest and thoughtful. You can even say that you’re scared or sad about having this conversation.

Practice what you want to say

Once you have a good idea of what you want to say, you might also want to practice saying it out loud. Difficult conversations can become emotional, and you may feel scared, forget what you want to say, or get pulled off track.

Practicing can help ensure you feel confident, speak in a sensitive way, and 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.

It may also be helpful to identify your support network. Consider who among your family and friends would be most understanding and supportive, or a good person to confide in. Start by talking to those individuals before discussing with others who might be more difficult to approach.

Talking to your family or friends about your mental health, including with bulimia nervosa, is hard, but being as open and honest as possible can help this difficult decision to bring you the help you need.

Two people having a cup of coffee

Prepare for possible reactions

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

Expect mixed reactions; people may react differently to the news. Some may be supportive and understanding, while others may seem shocked, confused, or even upset. Be prepared to handle various reactions with patience and empathy.

It may be difficult for your parents or loved ones to understand that you are experiencing BN 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 situation, so let your loved ones know how they can support you.

Stay centered, and stay positive

It’s hard to predict just how your family or loved ones will respond to this kind of 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 an important step.

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.

Make it clear what kind of support you need from your loved ones, and be prepared to set boundaries if necessary. Consider offering your loved ones resources to help them better understand bulimia nervosa, such as educational materials, websites, or support groups.

Get help for bulimia

At Within Health, we specialize in a number of different therapies and offer personalized care plans to help you ensure you get what you need. Our knowledgeable staff can help you go over your options, and determine what the best plan is for you. Get started today.

Call us today | (866) 293-0041

After the Conversation

After you’ve had the conversation, it clears the way to start considering treatment options. Typically, this process starts with your primary care provider or a therapist, who can then refer you to available programs or therapists in the area.3

Before making an appointment, you or your family might want to do some research. There are many different types of programs and therapies that may be able to help with bulimia nervosa, and looking into them beforehand means you'll be able to ask your provider any questions that may come up.

Struggling with BN is an incredibly tough experience, and can even be life-threatening if not addressed. But sharing what you’re going through and reaching out for help can make the burden that much less and help you start the journey toward healing.

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.


  1. What To Say to Someone With an Eating Disorders. (n.d.). National Alliance for Eating Disorders. Accessed August 2023.
  2. Eating disorder treatment: Know your options. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Accessed March 2022. 
  3. Concerned About Eating Disorders? (n.d.). The University of North Carolina of Chapel Hill. Accessed August 2023. 


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Further reading

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