How to tell someone you have an eating disorder

To live with an eating disorder often means to live with a very big secret. This secret can keep us feeling incredibly isolated, unseen and cut off from even our closest family and friends. We hold the secret close to us because the prospect of something or someone challenging it can feel incredibly threatening.

It’s threatening because the eating disorder tends to serve some sort of purpose. For many, this purpose might be a sense of safety and control, perhaps it helps to distract us or keep us feeling independent and ‘self-contained’.

So the prospect of that being challenged can be terrifying. As such, when someone makes the courageous decision to reach out for help – we must recognise the bravery and respect the step they’ve taken towards recovery.

If you’re reading this and aware that you need help but don’t know how to communicate this, here are our tips:

Recognise your bravery and that you’re ready for recovery

Recovery can feel like such a daunting prospect, but ultimately at this point it means that you realise you deserve and want something different (and better). Sometimes we have to reach a point where we realise that our problems are bigger than ourselves, and that we need assistance with change. That is incredibly brave, and this need deserves to be met with such respect and compassion.

Consider your person

Mental health is extremely personal, as such we need to handle our process sensitively and ensure we pick someone that we trust to speak to. Perhaps a parent, partner or close friend feels safe. Others may prefer to speak to someone more with more of a distance, like therapist, GP or distant relative.

Plan your approach

One of the daunting things about disclosing something personal is that we often cannot control the outcome. However, we can mitigate the unpredictable with our own preparation. Pick a time when emotions aren’t running high and perhaps plan what you want to say in advance. You might want to write notes on your phone, or even write a letter if speaking face-to-face feels too much. Writing things down can be particularly helpful if you’re visiting a doctor and have limited time together. It can be really daunting taking that first step, and we can often underestimate our ability to cope. Trust your instinct if you feel it’s time for help. People can and do get better

And lastly, go back to kindness…

No matter what happens, return to kindness and self-compassion. If things don’t turn out the way you hoped, know that you can return to the conversation as many times as you need. Keep holding on to the part of you that wants change and trusts that you deserve something different.

Curated by

Ellie Parkins
Ellie is an experienced mental health writer and communicator, and psychotherapist. Starting her career at a global communications marketing firm straight out of university, Ellie found herself drawn to the mental health sector early on, and specifically to the field of eating disorders where she holds a particular passion and interest. To Ellie, inspiring hope that recovery is possible is a huge motivator for her work. Having found so much expression and healing through the written word herself, knowing that they can make such an impact is what gets her out of bed in the morning. Outside of work and studies, Ellie enjoys the simple pleasures of hanging out with her partner and pug, and meandering about East London.