How to Tell Someone You Have an Eating Disorder

Telling someone your concerns about the eating disorder and about recovery can be daunting. This page aims to help you have conversations that will give you the encouragement and support you deserve on the path to recovery.

How do I make sure I talk to someone who is understanding?

If you’re not sure who to speak to, think about who you could potentially talk to: trusted friends and family members, healthcare professionals, even teachers or colleagues.

  • Is there anyone you’ve discussed mental health with before, or heard talking about mental health or other difficult subjects in a sensitive way?
  • Is there anyone who might have some personal understanding of eating disorders or other mental health issues, and would be able to talk with you about what you’re going through in a positive way?
  • Is there anyone you’ve been able to confide in before?
  • Is there anyone with whom someone else you know has discussed similar issues?

Thinking about these things might help you identify the best person to tell. If no one you know seems quite right, the Beat Helpline is open from 3-10pm every day – our trained advisors will listen to you without judgment. They can help you think about who might be appropriate to approach next, and what you might want to say. We also run online support groups every evening, where you can talk to people in similar situations and find out what worked for them.

If you’d like to speak to a counsellor or therapist, you could also use Beat's HelpFinder, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website or, if you are a young person, The Mix or Youth Access.

How should I start the conversation? What should I say?

Before you talk to someone, you could prepare by writing down what you want to say. It might be helpful to think about:

  • The thoughts and feelings affecting your eating.
  • How long the eating difficulties have been going on.
  • What the person you’re talking to could do to support you in getting appropriate help.

If a chat in person works for you, that’s great! If it doesn’t, you could write what you want to say and read it aloud, send the person an email, phone them, speak to them using text or online messaging… Each way of starting the discussion has its pros and cons – it’s about what feels comfortable for you and how you think you’ll have the most productive conversation.

It’s normal to feel scared at the idea of telling someone about your eating disorder. But we hear from so many people who say that, while it was difficult, it was also a big relief to have someone else know what they’re going through.

What if I talk to someone and they react poorly?

If you’ve summoned the courage to tell someone how you’re feeling and they aren’t supportive, it can make you reluctant to tell anyone else. Please don’t take a poor reaction to mean you aren’t actually ill, don’t deserve treatment, or were wrong to share. How others react is not your fault.

If you’d still like to speak with that person, this door isn’t necessarily closed – they may be reacting out of fear, shock, or confusion, and be more willing to talk once they’ve moved past this initial response. You could consider directing them to some more information so they can learn more – the Beat website has lots of resources, and our Helpline is available from 3pm-10pm daily.

However, you deserve help and support now, and you shouldn’t have to spend lots of time and energy convincing someone if it doesn’t feel like they’re listening to you. Think about whether there’s someone else you can talk to – remember, if one person reacts badly, that does not mean the next person will.

Sometimes someone may say something that is well-meaning but isn’t helpful to you. It’s okay to let them know what you do and don’t find helpful – you could say something like “I don’t feel it’s useful to talk about x, but I’d find it very helpful to talk about y with you” to help get them on the same page as you. Encouraging them to learn more via our website and Helpline can also increase their understanding of what you’re experiencing.

Often people are just worried about saying the wrong thing – again, directing them to Beat’s website can clear up misconceptions they may have and give them a better understanding of eating disorders so they feel more confident in supporting you.

If you’re struggling, the Beat Helpline is available every day. We’ll listen with compassion and understanding and help you figure out your next steps.

What if the person I tell blames themselves for my eating disorder, or needs support themselves?

You deserve support from people around you, and the people who care for you will want to give it. However, it’s important that they can look after their own wellbeing as well. If they’re not familiar with Beat’s resources, there’s lots of support that we offer to those caring for someone with an eating disorder.

  • We run online support groups, including the Aviary, which runs each evening and is for anyone supporting someone with an eating disorder.
  • Our Helpline is available daily from 3pm-10pm via phone, email, and one-to-one chat to anyone affected by an eating disorder.
  • They may be able to find face-to-face support in their local area through our support services directory, Helpfinder.
  • www.feast-ed.org is an international resource for family members of people with eating disorders.

What if I don’t feel my treatment is working?

Some treatment takes a little while to have a positive effect. That said, if you don’t feel you’re seeing results from your treatment, let the healthcare professionals managing your treatment know as soon as possible.

Again, writing down what’s troubling you will let you figure out your thoughts in your own time and ensure you don’t miss anything during the conversation. You could also talk to someone else in your support network, such as a family member, so they can help you talk to your healthcare team.

Saying you don’t think your current treatment is appropriate can be difficult because it might feel like you’re being critical. Remember your honest thoughts on how well your treatment is working will be helpful to the team handling your care. You deserve treatment that is right for you.

If you need to make a complaint about the treatment you've received, the mental health charity Mind has some useful information.

How can I talk to someone if I’m struggling to let go of the eating disorder?

We often hear from people who feel conflicted about their recovery. Please know you’re not alone in finding it difficult to let go of the eating disorder, and even if it means you slip a little in your recovery, this is not a sign of failure or that you’re back to where you were. The fact that you’ve recognised this feeling is important. Equally important is ensuring you’re supported to move forward in your recovery.

Be honest with the people supporting you about how you’re feeling – if they have been supportive this far into your treatment, they are going to want to help you recover fully. Ultimately, they will much rather you tell them you’re struggling than keep it to yourself. If you can think of what would help you stay engaged with your treatment, let them know – for example, it might help to have them regularly check in with how you’re feeling, talk with you about your reasons for wanting to recover, or explore different treatment options with you if you don’t feel your current treatment is effective.

Issue date: February 2018  Review date: February 2021 Version 2.0 Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.