Discussing my Eating Disorder With Extended Family as a Teen

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Determining who to tell about your eating disorder is an important and challenging decision. To share your struggles is to be incredibly vulnerable.

You need to surround yourself with people that you can trust to honor that vulnerability. Telling your parents or close friends may have felt like a no-brainer, but it’s tough to determine whether it is necessary, or wise, to share your experiences with your extended family.

Humans are social beings and have always relied on one another to survive. While some may assert that they don’t need anyone’s help in life, studies show that having the support of those around you definitely makes overcoming difficult challenges easier.

One researcher found that individuals with anorexia and bulimia nervosa report less emotional and practical support and that lack of support is actually a risk factor for acquiring an eating disorder [1].

It’s undeniable that having the support of those around us is crucial to avoiding and overcoming eating disorders.

The Benefits of Family Support

In addition to the emotional support your extended family can provide throughout recovery, their knowledge of your eating disorder can also make any circumstance that may be potentially triggering much easier.

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For example, family gatherings during recovery can be stressful, especially if there is food involved. With your entirely family aware of your situation, they are more likely to help you in planning and preparing recovery-based meals for the gathering.

Your family members may also be causing you turmoil unknowingly by making casual remarks about food rules or nutritional content or body image in front of you.

Letting them know of your experiences and triggering conversation topics ensures that they will be more aware of how they talk about food and body image in front of you. Who knows, maybe your experience will convince them to change how they talk about these topics at all times!

Even with the benefits that a supportive family can lead to eating disorder recovery, we are not always close to every member of our family. When deciding whether or not to tell extended family members, you need to consider what your relationship is with them.

Woman drinking cocoaEating Disorder Hope makes a great point of delineating the difference between a conditional relationship or one based on mutual attachment [2].

Is your connection with your extended family member(s) based on unconditional love and support or have there been past instances of this support being taken away depending on circumstances?

You only want to share the struggles and experience of your eating disorder with those who are going to support you no matter what, consider if this is the case with every person you’re thinking of telling.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] Tiller, J. M. et al. (1997). Social support in patients with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 21:1, 31-38.
[2] Rocklin-Savelle, N. (2015). How to disclose your eating disorder to friends & loved ones. Retrieved on 14 September 2017 from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/how-to-disclose-your-eating-disorder-to-friends-loved-ones.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on December 13, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 13, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com