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

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

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


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 and 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:

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.

If you are interested in learning more about treatment options at Timberline Knolls, give us a call or complete a web form.  We look forward to hearing from you!


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.