How to Tell Someone You Have an Eating Disorder

Telling someone about an eating disorder can feel like a daunting step to take, but people often find it a relief to tell someone. We have put together some tips that can be useful when thinking about telling someone.

Prepare

  • Decide who you feel most comfortable talking to. For instance, a friend, family member or a professional, such as a doctor or counsellor. If you wanted to find a local counsellor in your area, you could use Beat's HelpFinder or look at the BACP It's Good to Talk website or, if you are a young person, visit The Mix or Youth Access.
  • Beat’s message boards are useful to find out about other people’s experiences of telling someone.
  • Having some information about eating disorders can help you to explain what you’re going through. You could use some of the information on this site, or download some of our resources, such as our booklet “Eating disorders: a guide for friends and family”, or our guide to help you at a GP appointment. Take a look in our Beat’s leaflet libraryNHS Choices is another good source of introductory information.
  • If you wanted to practice what you are going to say, you could contact Beat's Helpline Services
  • There is no right or wrong way to start a conversation but things you may want to include when the eating difficulties first started or what the eating difficulties mean for you in terms of feelings, thoughts and behaviours. Perhaps you would like to tell them what the impact of the eating difficulties are for you. 
  • You may also want to let someone know how they could best support you, for example in helping you to find treatment, spending quality time together, focusing on how you are feeling rather than your weight.

Having the conversation

Most people have times that feel more ‘right’ to talk than others. Use your judgement, or ask for a quiet block of time when you can speak to whoever you decide to talk to about something important.

Decide how you would like to tell someone – perhaps you would like to write things down, or you may feel more comfortable talking about things out loud.

There may be a whole range of reactions from people. They might be pleased that you have been able to share with them, but they may also appear to be upset or dismissive. Sometimes people need time to think things through, they may fear saying the wrong thing or making things worse. Remember, however they respond, this is not your fault and you do deserve support.

Be pleased that you have been able to share with them how things are for you now but they may also appear to be upset or dismissive. Sometimes people need time to think things through, they may fear saying the wrong thing or making things worse. Remember, however they respond, this is not your fault and you do deserve support.

Talking to your doctor

You may feel very nervous or fearful about seeing the doctor. There are some things that can help people feel more confident about talking to a doctor:

  • Our “First Steps” leaflet, available in our leaflet library, is specially designed to help you prepare for a GP appointment. You can take it with you to refer to it throughout the appointment, and use it to help you get a referral to a specialist.
  • It may be that there is a doctor who specialises in mental health at your surgery. Perhaps you could ask the receptionist or check the surgery's website if they have one. There may also be a nurse practitioner at your surgery who you could talk to as a first step.
  • Perhaps there is someone, such as a friend, who could recommend someone they have seen before or you know a doctor at your surgery who you felt listened to you and was supportive when you have seen them before.
  • You might feel more comfortable taking along a friend or family member for support. They could sit in the waiting room with you or come into the appointment, either to provide support or to help you explain to the doctor what is happening. You might prefer to go on your own. The important thing is to decide what is right for you.
  • If after speaking to someone, you have not felt heard or supported, do not be afraid to ask to see a different doctor. Finding the right doctor can make a huge difference.
  • Perhaps you could write the doctor a letter or take along some bullet points. Here are some things you might want to include: 
    • When you think your eating difficulties first started.
    • Your thoughts, feelings and behaviours around food.
    • The physical and emotional impact of your eating difficulties, including how it impacts you on a day-to-day basis, for example in social situations or in terms of your relationships.
    • How you have been feeling more generally.
  • It may be that there are things worrying you about seeing the doctor. For example, you may be worried about confidentiality. It is okay to go and talk through any concerns you have before speaking to them about your eating difficulties.
  • It may help to book a double appointment to give you a bit more time to talk about things.
  • If you have seen the doctor and come away with additional questions or feel that there are other things you would like the doctor to know, don’t be afraid to go back. It can take time to feel comfortable with the doctor.
  • In addition to our “First Steps” leaflet, the DocReady web app can be a useful tool in preparing to talk to a doctor. It has information on going to the doctor, as well as a checklist builder that you can print out to take with you.