Teenage Bulimia - Advice for parents and loved ones

Catherine Liberty's picture

It can be very difficult for someone who has never experienced an eating disorder to understand what it’s really like living with bulimia, but if you suspect that your teenage daughter or son has bulimia then I’m sure that as a parent you are willing to do anything it takes to understand and support them. Teenage Bulimia is not something to take lightly. 

Breaking down barriers is essential...

Your teen will undoubtably have a lot of barriers in place, before you can break through and really start to communicate it is vital that you start to understand their bulimia.

The most important first step for you to take as a parent has to be self education.

We recently created a great free download here at Bulimia Help - “What to do when someone tells you they have bulimia.” It is for anyone who has just discovered that someone they know has bulimia. It answers the most common questions and advises on how best to be supportive.

What can you do to help a bulimic teen?

Once you have established that your teen does in fact have bulimia there are lots of things you can do. If they haven't told you they have bulimia but you suspect it anyway then take a look at some of the most common signs of bulimia. 

You can:

  • Go to your GP and ask for help.
  • Seek support from a counselor or therapist. for your teenager.
  • Contact local and national eating disorder help lines for more support and advice.
  • Get involved with your local eating disorder charities.
  • Encourage your teen to join a local eating disorder recovery support groups in your area – many of these groups cater to the parents, families and loved ones of those with eating disorders too.

How to talk to a teenager about bulimia...

A parents role in recovery should not be underestimated, but what can you do if your son or daughter refuses to admit they have a problem and refuses to get help?

At first, if you confront your teen directly and ask them if they have bulimia their instinct will be to lie.

I developed bulimia at 14 and hid it from my own mother and family for over a decade. In many ways, as much as I would have hated it at the time, part of me wishes someone would have acknowledged my suffering. (Bulimia Help Member, 2009).


Helping a bulimic teenager will never be easy, but your support will be instrumental in their recovery.

TIP: Even if your bulimic teenager reacts badly at first, keep talking, be there for them and you have the chance to really help them to turn their life around.

Understand that recovery will be gradual and your teen will not be able to "just stop" being bulimic...

Teenagers with bulimia may think they understand everything about their eating disorder, but very few truly understand the truth about bulimia recovery from bulimia.

To understand the real ways in which you can help your loved one you will need to constantly communicate with them. Just as the recovery process will be gradual so too will the process of communication.

Building a relationship where you both feel comfortable talking about bulimia and recovery may be difficult at first, but keep at it, the more your practice talking about recovery with your bulimic teen the more natural it will become for both of you.

I was devastated when my Mom found out I had bulimia. Now I couldn’t imagine her not knowing. Recovery has it's ups and downs but she is always there for me. We’re closer than we have ever been! (Bulimia Help Member, 2010)


Persevere, have patience and don’t be afraid of reaching out to others and getting some support for yourself too!teenager with bulimia

Here are 5 great ways you can support your bulimic teenager…

1. You can help to provide a safe environment for recovery. A non-judgemental and understanding home enviromnent helps to nurture recovery. Ask your teen what practical home changes would make recovery easier.

2. You can free up more of your time. You can consider quitting or cut back on other obligations to concentrate on supporting your teenager.

3. You can educate yourself about the realities of bulimia. There is certainly a lot to learn, don’t feel bad if you don’t “get it” all straight away. You should try to learn as much as you can about bulimia and recovery.

4. You can consider becoming more “recovery friendly.” Maybe you excessively diet or talk a lot about weight, food and size. Perhaps you like to comfort eat on occasion or live by unhealthy food rules. If you don’t have an eating disorder yourself then you can consider changing your outlook on life in order to help support and re-affirm your teens recovery.

5. You can be a constant source of strength and friendship. This is what your bulimic teen will want more than anything. It’s impossible to always have the answers or to know what to do all of the time but never underestimate the
power of just being there.

A note for parents of bulimic teenagers …

Parents, you are probably the most important factor in your son or daughter's recovery. How you respond to this crisis, how you educate yourself, who you choose as support, and how you organize your home life during the recovery process will be critical.


Families often call this important role "the hardest thing I have ever done." They also, when their dearly loved child is restored and moving toward normal development and independence, report feeling well-deserved pride in themselves and their loved one for facing and succeeding in this challenge.

Parents do not cause eating disorders, but can be an important and active part of recovery.

(Feast-ed.org, 2011)



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The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.


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