Telling Your Parents You Have An Eating Disorder

There’s a natural dilemma when it comes to talking to parents about an eating disorder. On the one hand, they represent the best resource to get help and they can offer the most powerful support. On the other hand, an eating disorder is embarrassing – it feels like the furthest thing from making your parents proud. When an eating disorder is paired with self esteem issues, it’s even more difficult. But these barriers can be surmounted. Here’s how.

Getting your facts in order

The more you know about a subject, the better you will be able to say what you want to. And the first thing to understand is that an eating disorder isn’t some kind of character flaw – it’s a real medical condition, as much as an allergy or infected piercing.

But there’s more beyond that. When you have information available to give them about your disorder, you can move the conversation into a safer, factual basis instead of a possibly uncomfortable emotional one. In one scenario, the conversation is opened with the not-to-subtle, “I’ve been reading about anorexia” (or whatever fits your situation best).


Not too surprisingly, when you think about what you want to say, you can concentrate on getting your message across. This is called scripting, but it simply means rehearsing the conversation. To be useful, focus on the facts you want to cover and what you’d like from your parents. They will be anxious to act on their natural instinct to help you and having a clear path will move the conversation toward solutions, rather than just rehashing the problem over and over.

If you’ve already talked to a friend about your condition and concerns, you have an idea how it is likely to go – an initial shock and reaction as they absorb the information, followed quickly by concern for your wellbeing. You can use this pattern to your advantage and doing so will get you over the hurdle of bringing it up in the first place.

Right time

You probably already have an idea when the right time to talk with a parent is. For some families, it’s dinner. For others, time alone with a parent while driving somewhere. These are the natural breaks in otherwise busy schedules where you can have the attention you’ll need. Time is the important element. You don’t want to drop a bomb and walk away, you want some time for your mom or dad to digest and ask questions.

Don’t put it off

Sometimes, the planning-to-have-the-conversation can balloon into never having it. When you are ready, do it.

And don’t be surprised if your parents don’t already suspect something. Parents are very good at detecting changes in your behaviors. They may already wonder about what’s going on but haven’t figured out a way to talk to you. And just like anyone else, a parent can spin out a dozen different scenarios to explain your behavior. They might suspect drugs or any of a number of worries that plague parents with teens. So clear the air here and get the support you really need.

Eating Disorder Self Test. Take the EAT-26 self test to see if you might have eating disorder symptoms that might require professional evaluation. All answers are confidential.

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