How do I talk to family or friends about my eating disorder or food issues?
If you’ve got struggles with food or have an eating disorder, whether that’s been diagnosed or not, it can be pretty scary thinking about opening up and talking to people around you.
Sometimes it’s easier not to talk about it, and then you’re carrying around this great big weight on your shoulders. That’s how it feels isn’t it? It’s a big weight. It’s a big burden. It’s with you all the time from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. it’s just all consuming.
But if you can share that with somebody it can really help. If you can talk to friends or family about your eating disorder or disordered eating it can make a real difference to how you are able to cope with it and move forward.
Here are some tips to help you to have that conversation.
Who do you talk to about your eating disorder?
You need to find somebody that you can trust, and I mean really trust. We don’t always have this automatic trust in our friends. There are people around us that we will talk to about general everyday life, but that we would not confide our darkest deepest secrets in, and that’s kind of where you want to be on this when you’re asking yourself who the right person is for you.
The person you choose may not automatically the people closest near to you, like your husband or wife, or your parents.
You are in such a vulnerable place and so compassion and care is going to be of utmost importance. Not everybody is right or deserving of the position of listening to you confiding in them.
Choose somebody who is really kind and considerate. Choose somebody who is going to take care of your feelings, not somebody that’s going to dismiss them and think it’s no big deal, because this is a big deal for you.
Try to choose somebody who is positive and somebody who’s going to be taking this by the reins, supporting you, saying “we’ve got this, what can we do next”. Your perfect person is somebody who is going to be able to be rational about it, supportive, and helpful.
If you have somebody around you that has had eating disorders or issues around food in the past, they might be a good person to go to. If they can empathize with you a little bit, you’ll have more faith that they know what you’re going through.
So choose your confidant wisely. Choose the person who is going to really help. If you’re considering somebody and you have doubts about telling them they’re not the right person for this.
Prepare for your conversation in advance
Once you’ve decided who you’re going to confide in, you can start by preparing for that conversation. Talking about your eating disorder is going to be a really emotionally charged situation so preparing in advance can help you to get the most out of it.
- Write notes.
- Write bullet points.
- Write an essay if you want to.
- Write down your thoughts and your feelings.
- Write down how long your eating disorder or food issues have been troubling you.
- Write down the way that it troubles you.
- Write down what triggers you, what your reaction is.
You could potentially sit down to talk and you’re so overcome with emotion that you just can’t get the words out, or you’re so nervous that it just doesn’t come out how you want it to. You can’t find the words and you don’t really know how to explain how you feel. So get it all out onto paper, and then if when you come to talk to your chosen person and you can’t physically say the words, you can give it to them and ask them to read it.
But the intention is that you actually talk to your friend or family member, so having it all there in front of you would will ideally serve as useful prompts for the conversation. If you feel like you’re losing your way, or you don’t know what to say next, if you’ve got it on paper in front of you it makes it easier to get back on track.
Rehearse what you’re going to say. There’s nothing wrong with your notes and rehearsing how you’re going to bring this message across to somebody.
This is all about you. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s normal to still stumble through it, but rehearsing it will help you to prepare for the real conversation.
Be honest about your disordered eating behaviours & your feelings
Try to be as honest as you can be in this conversation. Once you have the floor and they’re listening, that is your time to explain to them everything that’s going on for you. Tell them as much as you are comfortable with, but be honest so that they know what you’re going through. Now is not the time to be covering up feelings and thoughts and giving them half a story.
If you are really struggling then you are, of course, welcome to stop. Don’t force yourself to go through a traumatic experience of talking to somebody if you’re really struggling, but if you can, give them as much as you can. If you can do that, they’ll have a fuller understanding of everything you’re going through.
Where and when will you meet?
So you’re all prepared. You’ve chosen your person. You know what you’re going to say. You’ve got an idea of what you’re going to explain to them, and you’ve got an idea of how they can help you. Now you’re going to choose the where and when.
Choose a time and a place where you know you’re not going to be interrupted. Choose a nice calm setting and a time where there won’t be interruptions. You don’t want to do this when they’re in the middle of cooking dinner and there’s kids running around your feet and you just can’t think straight.
Allow enough time. You need to allow enough time to have the conversation and you time to collect your thoughts after. You need time to appreciate what you’ve just been through and to relax for a bit.
Set the date and time in advance. Tell your person that you’d like to confide in them about something, and that you’d like to do it when there’s not going to be any interruptions, and then you can pick a time between you the works for you both.
Talking about your eating disorder is emotional
We can’t take away the fact that this is a really emotional topic. You’re talking about something super personal to yourself and so you can expect for it be difficult.
You’re probably going to be quite but try and be calm. You’ve chosen this person for a reason so they’re hopefully going to be responsive to this conversation. Remember, this person will just want to be there to listen. They’ll want to be there for you.
It’s okay to be upset. You don’t have to apologise if you end up in tears or if you can’t quite make it through what you want to say. It’s perfectly normal because this is a big deal for you.
If you’re really struggling, give them the piece of paper that you prepared earlier and ask them to read it. It’s so much easier sometimes, because you don’t have to actually say the words. Actually getting those words out of your mouth is a real mission sometimes. Maybe they can read the words start the conversation.
Bear in mind that your person may even had an idea that you were struggling. Maybe they have already noticed some of your behaviours. Maybe they’ve already picked up that there wasn’t something quite right. You see, when we are going through these things, we think that nobody will notice. We think that our behaviours are very secretive, but actually people around do pick up on it sometimes.
Your person may really appreciate that you are finally saying something and giving them a chance to have a conversation with you. Maybe they’ve been wondering how to raise it with you, and now you’ve given them that opportunity to talk about it.
How can they help?
Explain to your person how they can help. Be prepared for them to ask how they can help and be ready to answer it. After all that is the purpose of having this conversation. It’s so that you’ve got somebody by your side who can help you when things are challenging you. So having an idea of how they can help, what they can do for you is going to be really helpful for them.
Maybe you could tell them what they can do when you are having a time of disordered eating habits. Maybe you need some help to seek services that you can access, or help with finding information for you. Maybe you could ask them to accompany you to an appointment with a medical professional. Whatever it is, ask them for that help.
If you have a plan of what you’d like to do going forward, then tell them. Tell them what your intentions are. If you don’t have a plan, then that’s fine too.
If you have information already and if you’re already started looking for treatments, for support services, for any kind of information around what you’re going through, it can be helpful to have some of that at the ready. Let them take it, read it, and absorb it.
What if the conversation doesn’t go well?
We do have to accept that as much as we would love this conversation to go really well sometimes you can get a reaction that you’re not expecting from a person. If that happens there’s a few things to remember.
Firstly, that’s not your fault and not your burden to carry. It is likely that they’re shocked or they’re upset for you. Maybe they’re confused about the situation and they just don’t understand it.
Eating disorders make us behave in ways that we wouldn’t if we didn’t have these issues around food and our body. Disordered eating behaviours can be really hard for some people to understand, So they might just be confused why you’re doing the things you’re doing.
That’s not to say that you should have the reasoning to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. You don’t have to feel that you have to provide them with the explanations.
Also, you’ve been living in this situation for some time. This is the first time they’re here, so give them a little bit of time to absorb it, and then maybe you can come back to it another day. Also, these people are not professionals and won’t have experience or knowledge in this area. It can be quite a big thing for them to try and take in and understand it, especially if they weren’t aware that you were struggling.
Don’t feel bad that that’s the way it’s been left. It’s not a closed door. You can pick this up again. So, if you don’t get the positive response that you’re looking for, just know that that’s not necessarily the end of the conversation.
For many people, they do get a great response from the people when they’ve chosen carefully, who they’re going to confide in.
Who else can I talk to about my eating disorder?
Not everybody has somebody that they can confide in, or they try to confide in them and it doesn’t really go to plan. There are always charities and healthcare professionals around that can help you, that you can talk to, and that you can have that conversation with. In addition, sometimes it’s easier to talk to somebody that we don’t know before we even talk to our family and friends.
Here are some links to organisations within the UK that can help you, and can also provide support to your family and friends to help them to support you:
Beat : https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
National Centre For Eating Disorders: http://eating-disorders.org.uk/
Men Get Eating Disorders Too: http://mengetedstoo.co.uk/
And for my American readers, NEDA: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
(I’m sorry that I can’t cover areas outside of the UK more in order to recommend more resources.)
You will be amazed at the relief that comes from talking to somebody, so when you are ready I would suggest confiding in someone you trust.
Good luck. Get yourself prepared, go through all those steps of really preparing for the meeting before you even got to it, and I wish you the very, very best of luck.
Don’t underestimate how difficult this is. I’m really, really rooting for you. Be brave and be really super proud of yourself for taking that step.
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