Eating Disorder Treatment: How to Tell Your Parents You Need Help

mother comforting daughter

By Melissa Riddle Chalos 

We live in a media-saturated culture where we project what we want the world to see and know about our lives. But the reality is often quite the opposite. Young women and girls struggle with all sorts of insecurities and emotional wounds that impact their lives in very real ways, with side effects they don’t share on Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. 

Eating disorders impact 9% of the population worldwide. Many suffer in silence or work hard to hide their hurting. Young girls and teens often keep parents on a need-to-know basis about what’s really happening in their lives, thinking what they don’t know won’t hurt them. However, not being honest about an eating disorder will hurt you and could potentially cause irreparable damage to your body and mental health. 

Eating disorders are among the deadliest of mental health issues. They are second only to opioid overdose in terms of fatalities. 

In the short term, eating disorders will disrupt your daily routines, compound anxiety, and lead to isolation and depression. Over time and without treatment, an eating disorder can wreak havoc on your digestive tract, your skin, bones and teeth, and eventually, damage your organs. It’s not a secret you can afford to keep.  

Why It’s Important to Tell Your Parents 

As with any difficult conversation, the first and best step you can take is prepare.

Starting a conversation about anything painful is never easy. Specifically, with eating disorders, you may feel embarrassed about your struggle and the measures you’ve taken to hide it. You may also feel anxiety over how your loved ones will respond. There are all kinds of questions that may run through your mind, such as:

  • Will my parents be disappointed or angry? 
  • Will they understand me? 
  • Will they support me?

Telling your parents is important because they are the ones who know and love you best. They are supposed to be there for you. You don’t need to feel embarrassed because this is a mental health issue, something you can’t control on your own. It’s an illness that can’t be overcome without help. Your parents need to know so they can help stop the eating disorder before it stops you. 

How to Talk to Your Parents about an Eating Disorder

As with any difficult conversation, the first and best step you can take is prepare. Begin by gathering some links with good information about eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Your parents may not know what distinguishes each condition from the other, so you can help to educate them. Here are some tips to help you prepare how to talk to your parents:

1. Write Down Your Conversation Goals

Identify what it is you need. Do you need them to understand how you feel? Ask their advice? Ask for help in seeing a doctor and getting treatment? Approach the discussion with these objectives in mind. 

2. Think About Your Parents’ Response 

They’ve had more life experience than you, so their perspective will likely be different than yours. That’s OK. You’re their child, and they might express emotions like sadness, fear, or confusion. You are not responsible for their emotions, but for your own. Stay positive. Don’t argue. Manage your own emotions. Remember your goals, and give them time to process what you’re telling them. You could say something at the end like, “I know this is a lot to process. I’ll try to answer any questions you have. I really need your help.” Be open to continuing the conversation once they’ve had time to better understand your needs. 

3. Pick an Ideal Place and Time to Talk

Consider the best time of the day, given your parent’s schedule, to get undivided attention. If you have siblings and think privacy is impossible at home, suggest another location like the park or a quiet coffee shop nearby. 

4. Open Broadly and Then Give Info

Once you have their undivided attention in a private, safe space, ease your way into the conversation with a general statement. For example: “I could really use your advice about something I’m struggling with … “ Then use the term, “eating disorder” and move forward with more details such as:

  • How it started, and how long you’ve been dealing with it
  • How it is affecting your health, physically and mentally
  • How difficult it is for you to tell them and why
  • What kind of support you need

Managing Expectations 

Managing Expectations About Eating Disorder Treatment - The Meadows RanchOnce you’ve had the courage to share your eating disorder with your parents and ask for help, it’s important to manage your expectations. Emotionally healthy parents will respond with love, concern, and action. They will want to help you get the eating disorder treatment you need, and they will get involved.

But not all parents are emotionally healthy. Some may not be willing or able to give you the emotional or financial support you need to get eating disorder treatment. If this is your situation, don’t let that stop you. Reach out to a school counselor or a trusted adult within your family, school or church. Make an appointment at a clinic or doctor’s office to speak to a medical professional about your condition.

Once you’ve had the courage to share your eating disorder with your parents and ask for help, it’s important to manage your expectations.

Eating Disorder Treatment

At The Meadows Ranch, we understand eating disorders: how and why they begin, how they impact you physically and emotionally, and what it takes to heal. We have a proven track record of helping young women and girls like you work through food-related behaviors and the underlying trauma behind them.

We also treat other mental health issues that often come with eating disorders. Dual diagnoses for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma all fall within the scope of our treatment expertise at The Meadows Ranch. So, whatever you’re going through in your struggle with eating disorders, there is nothing too difficult to tackle once you get the support and treatment you need.

Ask for Help

Your life story is not defined by your Twitter or your ‘Gram. It’s also not defined by what you see in the mirror or the chapter of life you’re currently in. There are many more chapters ahead. Take courage, ask for the help you need, and turn the page.