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How to tell your parents you have bulimia

If you've been struggling with eating, binging, and purging behaviors, or a poor body image, you may have an eating disorder like bulimia nervosa (BN). It's so easy to get stuck in feelings of guilt and shame surrounding your binging and purging behaviors. This may make you feel like you do not deserve help and support and/or too embarrassed to speak out about your feelings. But it's not true—you deserve love, and help is available

Your eating disorder can distort your thoughts and cause you to believe your binging, purging, and other eating behaviors are not really a problem, and if you wanted to, you could stop at any time. While you may justify your behaviors to yourself and think it's no big deal to conceal your issues surrounding body image and food, the reality is, you need help and support.

The sooner you get help for an eating disorder, the better. You don't have to live in pain or shame. Not only that, but you may find that your condition will significantly impact many aspects of your life, such as school and social life. This can cause feelings of isolation, which may improve with recovery from an eating disorder. 

It's natural to feel apprehensive about telling your parents or other family members you have bulimia nervosa. Still, the sooner you do, the sooner you can seek professional help and start your journey to recovery. You can live a happier and healthier life with treatment.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
February 9, 2023
Telling your parents you have bulimia
In this article

Tips on how to talk to your parents

Starting a conversation with your parents about such a sensitive topic, like your eating disorder, may feel overwhelming. You're probably asking yourself questions like how will they react, or will they be understanding of your disorder? The fear of not getting the answers you want to these questions and the support you hope for can make you feel intimidated—you may even be feeling guilty—but consider the alternative of not speaking up. Acknowledging you have a problem with disordered eating is the first step towards recovery from an eating disorder.

Choose a safe space

If you're going to be nervous speaking to your parents about bulimia nervosa, you might feel more comfortable choosing a place to talk where you feel safe. This could be on the sofa together in the family room, at your favorite nature spot or quiet park, in your favorite bookstore/coffee shop, or at a restaurant you all enjoy. Whatever quiet place (where you can get their undivided attention) makes you feel supported, safe, and comfortable to speak freely is the one that might feel best for this conversation. 

Choose a place free from distractions where you can have some privacy.

It doesn't have to be face-to-face

The first time you disclose your struggles with disordered eating behaviors to your parents may feel daunting even if you want them to know. If you don't feel like you can do it face-to-face, there are things you can do while still being open and honest:

Go for a drive together 

Suggest going for a drive with one of your parents. You can sit side by side, both looking straight ahead as you talk.

Go for a walk together

The same is true if you go for a walk at your favorite nature spot. When you don't have to look your parents in the eye, you may feel that you can be more honest and open.

Write them a letter 

It might be easier the first time to write them a letter and pass it along to them directly. You can also read the letter out loud if that feels comfortable. It might be easier to have your thoughts down on paper first. 

Write an email or have a phone call

Every family is different, and parent-child relationships can be complex and challenging. You might not live with your parents or be in a space where you can face them, so an email or phone call are also great options to share this with your parents from a safe distance if you want to tell them about your eating disorder. 

Get the timing right

Talking about eating disorders can be a difficult conversation. It shouldn't be rushed—you want to take your parents' feelings into account and give them enough time to process the information.

Perhaps choose a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when no one has prior engagements.

Figure out what you want to say beforehand

You may feel ready to talk to your parents about your eating disorder, but you have difficulty describing it to them. You might find it helpful to write down the main points and the most important details you want to get across.

Remember, you don't need to share everything in all one go, only what you're initially comfortable with. Some of the things you might consider sharing include the following:

  • Your thoughts and behaviors around food and your body image
  • How often do you act on the behaviors you use 
  • The types of purging behaviors you engage in.
  • How long have you been struggling with bulimia
  • If you're experiencing any health complications, such as fatigue, dental issues, etc.

Prepare for difficult questions and emotions

Most parents are sure to have questions for you about your bulimia nervosa and your disordered eating behaviors. While you may be able to answer some of their questions, others might not be ones you are ready to answer. In either case, it's best to be honest instead of saying something you think your parents want to hear.

Your family may feel several emotions and even say something that isn't helpful or comforting. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, so it is somewhat expected that parents may feel upset. If it all gets too much, take a break until you feel ready to open up again. Don't push your own feelings aside.

You can prepare for this challenging conversation by leaning on your support system and community outside of your parents ahead of time. This might look like letting a therapist or care provider know you'll be having this conversation, so they can help guide you and be aware of the support that may be needed afterward. Or it could look like letting a friend know you're having a hard conversation with your parents and letting them into your support system. 

Keep both your feelings and your parents' feelings in mind.

Tell them what you need from them

While your parents may have noticed you were struggling, disclosing your eating disorder symptoms may catch them off-guard. As a result, they may go into overdrive trying to help you so they don't feel helpless in the healing. If this feels overwhelming, don't be afraid to tell your parents what you need for them. Setting boundaries around what you'd like support in and when may be helpful to all of you. 

On the flip side, if you need things like financial support or would like them to help you find treatment, be sure to ask them for their support.

Common questions about disclosing your eating disorder

Eating disorders are serious mental health issues, so it's common to be feeling nervous

What if my parents react badly to my bulimia disclosure?

You can't control how someone reacts to your bulimia disclosure. A negative reaction from your parents doesn't mean that you were wrong to share your worries about your bulimia or that you're not worthy of or in need of help.

It takes remarkable courage to reveal that you're living with an eating disorder. But being open and honest with your parents is something to be proud of and is a good thing. Having an eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of at all. And sharing your life with those you love is an important part of existing in this world. Just because your parents react badly, it doesn't mean the next person will. 

Your parents may not react positively at first, but that doesn't mean they don't care.

What if my parents blame themselves?

Your parents may blame themselves for your bulimia, which may be difficult for you, stirring up additional feelings of guilt and shame. It's essential that all of you know that your bulimia is no one's fault, and how someone reacts to what you have to say is definitely not your fault. Set healthy boundaries. It's not your responsibility to carry your parent's guilt, worry, or fears around your eating disorder. Your parents can lean on their own support systems to work through their feelings about your bulimia, but you need to focus on your healing. 

What are the next steps?

Disclosing your struggles with bulimia is the first step, but you might be worried about what happens next. 

Hopefully, the ultimate aim is to seek treatment and recover from your bulimia, but first, both you and your parents might find it helpful to learn more about the eating disorder. There are some excellent resources about bulimia nervosa on our website. 

With your parents' support, the next step is to speak to your doctor. Your doctor will be able to talk to you about what bulimia is. If they don't know about eating disorders, they should refer you and your family to a doctor who specializes in them. 

We know how daunting this is, but getting help early is one of the most effective actions for long-term recovery from bulimia.

Getting Additional Support

With the remote care options for bulimia that Within Health offers, your parents can be with you on every step of your recovery journey. You'll have access to your clinical care team at your fingertips throughout your recovery from the comfort of your own home.

At Within Health, remote care still means complete care. A dedicated care team is chosen based on your specific needs and includes a nurse, registered dietician, food specialist, psychiatrist, and whatever else you need. Your team won't change, so you can build strong, lasting relationships that are dedicated to supporting you.

You can also rest assured that your parents will also get the support they need. The Within program also includes education and support for your parents and other family members, who play a crucial role in your recovery.

You will have support from your parents and care team and group support from your peers to remind you that you're not alone. You'll be connected with others who have had similar experiences with bulimia and will support you on your journey to recovery. 

Receive treatment for bulimia in the comfort of your home
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Final Thoughts

Although telling your parents you have bulimia can feel like a scary experience, keep in mind you are making a step towards recovery when you tell a trusted family member about your struggles, which is powerful. Support and connection from others will truly make all the difference in the eating disorder recovery process.

Before you disclose your eating disorder to your parents, make a plan for how and what you will tell them, and try to choose a place where you'd feel most comfortable opening up. 

If you don't have a good relationship with your parents or have any parents in your life, we still encourage you to open up about your bulimia. Talk to someone you trust. It may not be comfortable, but it is the first step in the recovery process.

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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