How to Talk to Loved Ones About Your Eating Disorder

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

It’s hardest to be honest with the people you love the most, but you have to communicate with them what is going on. When I told my mom, she said she thought something was up but didn’t want to be wrong. The same was true of my peers. When I told some of my closest friends, they said they wanted to help but didn’t want to overstep their bounds.

Why talk to someone?

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Research has found that the average person thinks about 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot of ideas that could potentially control you, lie to you, or hurt you. But once you share those thoughts, they have less control over you. Even if you write them down, they can’t command you anymore.

If you share your thoughts with someone else, those thoughts take a different shape. When internalized, a lie can be a regular thought. As soon as you tell that thought out loud, it becomes what it is, a lie, and you no longer think that way.

The most significant advantage of sharing your thoughts is that your loved ones can counter them with the truth. If I tell someone: I think no one cares about me or my eating disorder, that person can say to me they would die for me. They can tell me: they want me to recover from my eating disorder and boom! My thoughts aren’t valid anymore.

To whom are you talking?

Ideally, you want to talk to a close friend or family member. Someone you trust with your life; someone you consider your person - the person you call when you just committed a crime, when a parent or grandparent died, or when you are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. We are not talking about a random person on the street. Disclose this information to a person you trust, not someone who is going to spread it around or be disrespectful and unsupportive.

I talked to my mom and a trusted friend who also had an eating disorder. (More on me and my mom’s intertwined eating struggles later.) My friend and I were in the recovery process, so we had a lot in common and much to discuss. We shared what worked and what didn’t work. Together, we held each other accountable and relied on each other through our healing journeys.

A few tips:

Know what you want to say. You can write it out if you need too, but don’t use that as a scapegoat, still speak to your person face to face. If you know what you want to talk about, you will have the confidence you need to be open and honest. And you can find the right words to say to convey the message you want to send.

You decide how much you want to disclose. You are not obligated to tell anyone everything. Your person doesn’t need to know that you have eaten food out of the trash or cleaned out a whole box of donuts. They don’t need to know the length of your longest fast or which bush you threw up in that one time. You don’t have to spill all your dirty little secrets.

They need to know you have a problem and what you want from them if anything at all. Do you want to spill your full story so that it seems more real? Do they need to know the essential parts to be your accountability partner?

I would recommend describing precisely what is wrong. For example, I binge when I’m stressed, or I have been struggling with bulimia for three years. When I talked to my friend, we talked specifically about our thoughts around food and body image. It helped to know that someone else also struggled that way.

Predict what your loved one will say and be ready for anything. You already have a relationship with your person, so you probably know what they are going to say. Are they going to be supportive? Will they ask you lots of questions? Be prepared for anything.

If you know they will be supportive, decide what you want out of them. Are they going to help you recover? Did you want to let them know what was going on? Are they an excellent resource to keep talking too? Let them know!

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, but the sun sets. In a month you are going to be in a different place than you are now. Maybe your thoughts will be lying to you differently; perhaps you are experiencing some minor victories. I would recommend keeping your person in the loop!

If they aren’t supportive, cut them out of the conversation. Some people are toxic and don’t deserve to be in your life. What happens when the person closest to you is your worst critic? They don’t get to be the person closest to you anymore. They don’t get to know what is going on in your life. If they aren’t a positive, supporting influence, they don’t get to be in your life. Find another person.

What if it doesn’t go as planned?

Maybe they are unsupportive when you thought they would be supportive; perhaps they don’t want to help when you thought they would. That’s when you go back to the drawing board. You might need to find another person or ask something different of your person. Whatever it is, start again at the top.

What if they have an eating disorder too? That changes things because the blind can’t lead the blind, but the color-blind can lead the blind. (sorry for the terrible metaphor) My friend and I were both climbing out of our eating disorder; our healing journeys were in full swing so we could help each other out of the pit.

If you are both at rock bottom, don’t try to help each other heal, because it won’t work. It’s the blind leading the blind. If you are both recovering or one is recovering, then you can help each other effectively.

I wish you the best of luck! And if you don’t have a person you feel comfortable sharing your eating disorder with, you can always contact me, and I will help in any way I can. Just use the contact form on the home page.

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