How can I tell my parents I think I have an eating disorder?

by TK Staff

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Since NEDAwareness Week began last week, TK has received numerous questions from young women seeking advice on how to tell their parents about their struggle with eating disorders, as well as depression, mood disorders and cutting.

Can I Possibly Talk To My Parents About This?

Whether your parents have suspected you have a problem with eating or cutting, or they are completely surprised, it will be difficult for them to hear how much you are hurting.

But having this conversation will not only help you overcome your own emotional struggles.

Most women in your situation have reported that sharing their secret and getting help for an eating disorder, self-injury or a mood disorder also brings them much closer to their family than they’ve been in years. This article contains input from multiple members of our treatment team, and attempts to answer some of the most common questions that keep young women from starting that process.

While this blog post is oriented primarily toward young women who are living at home with their parents, the principles apply to men and women of any age who need to seek support from loved ones to confront a major challenge.

 

Q: What’s the first step?

A: Consider the best way to approach your parents.

If you live with both parents, decide whether you want to talk with them together or separately.

Some young women find it helpful to write a letter or an email to one or both parents before talking in person. Writing a letter or email allows you time to include everything you want to say, so you won’t have to worry that you’ll forget something important. It also lets parents digest your message in private, and start to deal with their own feelings before talking with you. That might make it easier for them to ask questions that will allow them to help you.

 

Q: Should I talk to my parent or parents alone? If not, whom else should I include?

A: Whomever you need to make yourself feel safe and find the courage to be honest.

There is no right or wrong answer.

Asking a friend, a brother or sister, or another trusted family member or even a teacher to join you may reduce the chance that you change your mind at the last minute. It also makes sure that there will be someone in the room to support you no matter how your parents respond. They can help you remember important details or questions you want to ask, too.

 

Q: When should I talk to them?

A: If your family is busy, it may be best to ask them to plan a time a day or two in advance.

Otherwise, pick a time when neither of you will be rushed or interrupted. After dinner, a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or a day off might give you the most time.

Mornings before school or right after they get home from work are probably not the best times.

There is no perfect time: the important thing is that you start your conversation as soon as possible.

 

Q: Where is the best place to tell them?

A: Somewhere private that makes you feel safe. Picking a place where you don’t have to worry about being interrupted while you’re talking is a good idea.

Some young women feel safest in their bedroom, the back yard, or even going for a walk or to a park.

It’s probably best to avoid telling them in the car while driving, or in front of your brothers or sisters. It can also be difficult to talk in public places like a restaurant where there’s lots of noise or strangers may overhear.

 

Q: What else should I do before the conversation?

A: The most important thing is to take some time by yourself to think about what you want to say.

Make some notes about how you’ve been feeling and what you’ve done in response. If you keep a diary or journal, look back at past entries for help describing your feelings.

Consider telling a close friend or sibling that you’re going to be having this conversation, and that you’re anxious or afraid. It may make you feel better knowing that you will have someone waiting to support you after you finish telling your parents.

 

Q: I’ve tried telling them before, but haven’t been able when the time comes. What do I say?

A: Be honest about how you’re feeling at the time – it’s okay to admit you’re feeling nervous, scared, sad, or lonely. If it helps, take your notes or a letter with you when you talk.

Tell them:

  • What you have been doing and how it’s hurting you
  • You want to stop, but haven’t been able to alone
  • Eating disorders, mood disorders and cutting are medical illnesses, not choices
  • You need their help now so you don’t hurt yourself even worse
  • Young women with these problems can get better with counseling and treatment
  • You need to see a doctor, and to find a counselor who is experienced at treating eating disorders and/or cutting

If you need to take a break during the conversation, tell them. Go outside for a few minutes, or go in your bedroom or another quiet place and say a short prayer.

Remember: this is the start of a process to help you help yourself. There will be many more conversations along the way. What’s important is you get your process started today.

 

Q: Can I help my parents with figuring out what to do after we talk?

A: Yes, they will appreciate this.

Several organizations offer free, high-quality online resources for getting help with self-injury or an eating disorder. Many of them are targeted specifically for parents, such as the Parents Toolkit offered by the National Eating Disorders Association (http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-help-today/)

This page discusses options for eating disorder treatment, which are also applicable to mood disorders and self-injury.

Self-injury.net can help parents and other loved ones to better understand urges to self-harm.

 

Q: I’m worried my mom or dad will blame himself or herself, how do I avoid that?

A: By educating themselves, parents will quickly realize that eating disorders, self-harming and mood disorders are real medical diseases that originate in genetics, biology and a number of other complicated factors.

Parents do not cause them, but they do have a critical role to play if their daughter is to be successful in recovery. If your parents are feeling guilty or ashamed, the best thing you can do is point them to resources to learn more. Printing off some of the articles you’ve read might be a good start.

It’s also helpful to remind yourself that you’re not responsible for your parents’ feelings or reactions. This will be a process for them, just like your recovery will be a process for you.

 

Q: I told them, now what?

A: Pat yourself on the back. You are incredibly strong and courageous. You may not feel like it right now, but you’ve taken a HUGE step.

Sharing your feelings with others is incredibly liberating. At TK, we often say that our secrets keep us sick. Now that you’ve told one or both parents, consider whether there are other family members or close friends you would like to tell. The more people you can draw support from, the better. It’s up to you to decide how much detail you share with each person, and whether you ask them to keep what you’ve told them private.

If you feel up to it, we encourage you to come back and tell your story in a comment on this blog post. You can leave your name, or post anonymously. Posts will be moderated and screened to make sure they aren’t triggering for other readers.

 

Q: Where else can I go for support from other young women who’ve been in my situation?

A: Other websites like Self-Injury.net and DailyStrength.org have forums or discussion boards where young women can seek support from each other.

Online support should never be a substitute for connecting with others in person.

12-step support groups can be found in most places across the country and also provide support online. Some examples are:

Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (www.anorexicsandbulimicsanonymousaba.com)

Eating Disorders Anonymous (www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org)

Self-mutilators Anonymous (www.selfmutilatorsanonymous.org)

NEDA also offers a listing of support groups for both young women and parents here: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-help-today/treatment-referrals.php

Remember, you are strong, and you deserve to live a happy, healthy life. You don’t have to do it alone. Take the next step. Then, come back and share your story with others.

This article is not a substitute for medical advice from a professional. If you or someone you know may be in danger of harming themselves or someone else, please dial 9-1-1 immediately.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 1:58 am

I told my parents today about my struggles with anxiety (and my ways of coping with it including not eating and self-injury.) It was the hardest thing I can ever remember doing. But they were really great and supportive. They had some questions of course, but more than anything they just told me they loved me and wanted to help.
Thank you for this post that really helped me work up the courage to have that conversation! I know this was just one step in my journey. I hope it will help others too.

Reply

Taylor June 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm

I am going to be admitted for the first time to TK soon. I’m just hoping I can get the best out residential treatment this time.

Reply

Shaunte mosley June 9, 2012 at 3:14 pm

i hope to be admitted since i need help with eating anxiety mood and other issues, i tried counseling which didnt help
not sure how i will pay since i only have ny insurance

Reply

Cheyenne March 1, 2014 at 3:52 am

I want to tell my parents but I am really scared

Reply

builder7 March 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm

We recommend you please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Reply

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