When Your Son Has Bulimia

Contributor: Tammy Holcomb, LPC, CEDS, NBCCH, Executive Director, Carolina House
Facial portrait of an attractive adult man

I am frequently asked for advice by parents who have a son diagnosed with bulimia. Here are some suggestions on how to be helpful.

Talk with Your Son about Privacy and Confidentiality

He needs someone to talk to, but he may be concerned that people in your life will find out his personal information. It is good to have this discussion up front to make sure you understand and respect each other’s needs.

Offer Encouragement and Support

Offer encouragement and support to help him find a treatment team that is qualified to help with his eating disorder. Even in an outpatient setting, most people diagnosed with an eating disorder require key treatment team members including, but not limited to, a therapist, psychiatrist, dietician and physician.

If your son is financially independent, he might still appreciate your assistance with finding the right people. He may be hesitant to make phone calls or share personal information over the phone.

Establish Your Own Support System

portrait of a bearded man in a rustic styleIn areas where there is an eating disorder program established, there are frequently free support groups/education classes for family members to learn more about these illnesses. It is also often a good idea to establish your own therapist who is knowledgeable about eating disorders and can help facilitate what role you can play in your son’s recovery.

There are also nonprofit eating disorder sites that provide excellent information relevant to treating men, such as NationalEatingDisorder.org or Namedinc.org.

Focus on How Your Son Is Feeling

Focus on how your son is feeling about his eating disorder and life rather than focusing solely on his food and weight. Depending on your son’s comfort level communicating with you, he may be willing to share some of the issues he feels led to his binging, purging and other eating disorder behaviors.

Practice Patience with People

Practice patience with people who do not understand that eating disorders affect both males and females. You may have to educate those in your life as you learn more. Your therapist and your son’s treatment team can help you decide the best way to do this.

Role Model Healthy Self-care and Dietary Practices

Smiling Man PortraitYour son may sometimes like you to eat with him to offer support, but it is more effective to do this when you are eating a meal or snack that is good for you. This does not always mean eating the same foods. Each of you may have different needs based on age, activity and other factors.

The important piece here is that this time be supportive rather than judgmental or stressful. Keeping the meal time safe can be especially difficult with active family schedules, but it is an important element in your son’s recovery.

Your Son May Appreciate Bathroom Support at times

He may ask you to monitor him in some form when he goes into the bathroom. This is often most helpful directly after a meal or snack. This is an area you should discuss with your son to establish whether it would actually be helpful. A third party such as a therapist can help the two of your to decide whether this type of support will be helpful to your son.

Get a Comprehensive Assessment

It is very important to make sure your son has a comprehensive assessment to determine if he has any issues around substance use or medical concerns in addition to his eating disorder. While someone’s weight might appear stable, he could still be very vulnerable to both medical and psychiatric effects from purging and poor nutrition.

Listen If a Higher Level of Care Is Needed

Sad lonely boy on a hill overlooking the seaSomeone on your son’s medical team will guide him regarding whether there is a need for a higher level of care such as an outpatient program or hospital.

Many treatment programs are limited to treating females only, so work with your son’s team to identify programs that also treat males.

Have a Family Therapist

A family therapist is often very helpful in ensuring that everyone in the family is communicating well and getting needed support. The entire family needs support and a safe place to ask questions during this time.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or a loved one experienced supporting a son through eating disorder treatment? What positive experiences and advice can you share with others?

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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 13th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com