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I have a lot of (mental) health issues and I know my mother is often worried about me. One of the things that worry her is how poorly I eat (I told her that I basically eat the same thing at every dinner).

I just recently realized that I have anorexia: a lack of appetite caused by other (mental) health issues. Not to be confused with anorexia nervosa. Every night I struggle to eat. I'm disgusted by most foods and, sometimes, I will eat breakfast (chocolate cereal) at dinner or just some bread with butter because of that.

I want to tell my mother about this. I hope that, if she knows, she will stop shaming me for eating the same thing every night and not eating healthy (eating my favorite thing every night is the way I found to still be able to eat something on a daily basis).

However, I would like to avoid worrying my mother too much. So, how can I tell my mother that I have anorexia without worrying her?

Notes and clarifications

  • I already have a doctor who follows me for my other mental health issues (my mother knows that), so finding support for my anorexia won't be an issue.

  • I don't have any official diagnosis yet, but I'm planning on having one soon.

  • I have tiredness issues that prevent me from cooking and my mother knows about that, but she doesn't know that my relationship with food otherwise remains complicated.

  • I'm in my twenties and I don't live with my parents anymore (it's only been a little more than a year, though).

  • I'm planning on telling my mother about my issues as soon as this comes up in the conversation. I don't expect to have the official diagnose when I will do so.


PS: I don't have ARFID, stop trying to diagnose me. Also, stop sending me scaring link that said that anorexia is dangerous. I'm well aware and those links are only making things worse for me.

  • 18
    Note: We've deleted several comments saying 'this doesn't sound like anorexia'. Please note there's a difference between anorexia and anorexia nervosa, even though the latter is often informally referred to as anorexia as well. OP here is using the scientific term for a lack of appetite that can be medically dangerous, but isn't tied to a desire to be thin/fear of gaining weight/deliberate food restriction. – Tinkeringbell Sep 12 at 11:43
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    We've also deleted multiple comments now talking about people having health issues linked to poor diets. Please don't add more of those, OP has said it makes things worse - they've already explained in the question they are going to consult with a doctor, let's leave the discussion of OP's health to the professionals :) – Em C Sep 12 at 17:18
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If you want to talk to your mother about the issues you're facing right now, I would not advise you to use the word anorexia.

Please be assured: I am not questioning your diagnosis in any way. I recommend not to use the word "anorexia" because it comes with a lot of stigma and misconceptions and she might picture your situation in a biased way.
A few years ago I suffered from depression. I had disclosed my issues to my mom and she tried her best to make me feel better (she thought I was "simply" going through a rough time). But as soon as I was officially diagnosed with depression and told her about it, she started to hold on to fantasies she made up with her own prejudices about the disease. I felt dismissed, unsupported and alone in a time where I really needed to be believed and loved by my relatives. Parents usually have a really hard time bearing their children's pain, and they may either dismiss your condition (because they can't deal with the idea you're hurt so they reassure themselves by telling themselves that you're okay) or panic about it (because they don't want you to suffer and they want to do everything they can to prevent you from being more hurt). My mother is from the first category, and even if I don't know if your mother falls into one of these two, I think it may be helpful to announce your issues by mentioning facts only and not using words that carry a lot of stigma.

You say she's already worried by your condition. I think a way to reduce the shock of your announcement is to mention it in a neutral way, and to possibly tell her how you've planned to tackle the issue as well. That way, she'll know you acknowledged something she already noticed (you say she told you she was worried by the fact you eat the same food every day): acknowledging is the first step towards healing, and she'll be reassured by that. You may want to talk about it after some banter or casual conversation, so that it shows it's not that worrying (some people may think it's insensitive of you to announce something bad in a light way though. I advise you to adapt the context depending on you and your mother's personalities).
Something along the lines of

[...] by the way, I wanted to tell you. You've told me before you find it weird that I always eat the same thing. I've been thinking about it, and I think it may be a problem that I'm not interested in eating anything else. I already planned an appointment with [professional health practician name]. (Thanks for pointing it out to me!)

could do.

A few things to consider:

  • I'm not suggesting you lie about an appointment. I think seeking professional healthcare is very important in your situation (please do so!), both because mental health issues are serious and need support to be dealt with, and because your mother will be reassured if she sees that you're trying to address these issues.

  • Thanks for pointing it out to me! -> This is optional and depends on your and your mother's personality. If you're both comfortable with such expressions, it may show love and gratefulness to your mother and make her realize you listen to her and don't want her to worry about you.

  • eating disorder already is a word that comes with its share of prejudices, but it's easier for people to picture what could be an eating disorder whereas most people think anorexia only is about eating lettuce once a day and forcing yourself to throw up. It's an understatement that reassure people but still conveys the issue.

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Some of this is similar to avazula's answer (which is great!), but I wanted to share the approach that I've used too. The main differences I think is that my mother is in the second category (tends to worry, rather than dismiss) and that I did name it and make this a serious conversation. In my case, since my mother had follow-up questions, and because she was seriously worried, I think it was good to make this a serious conversation and give her that info, instead of trying to be nonchalant and less specific.

tl;dr:

  1. Explain that you agree, what she's noticed is an issue, only that issue is anorexia (and not just being picky/unhealthy/etc.)
  2. Explain what your plan is to manage this issue
  3. Be prepared for follow-up questions, and decide how you want to talk about this in the future

My experience is with telling my mother that I have dermotillomania. The term isn't very well known in my experience (I first learned about it by chance from a comic I was reading), and the actual details of behavior, severity, and causes can vary a lot by person -- kind of like how you had to clarify here "it's not that type of anorexia, it's this other type".

In college it got pretty bad due to stress, to the point where she kept mentioning "that rash you've had for months".. but I was afraid of scaring her by explaining what it really was, so I just tried to deflect or shrug off comments. Eventually on my own I decided I needed to talk to a professional about it, and made an appointment with the counseling office at my college.

The next time I called home, I told her about making an appointment. I called because I didn't have plans to visit soon; otherwise, I probably would have done it in person, when just the two of us had a quiet time to talk.

The conversation went basically like:

Me: [finished talking about the usual random news]. Also... I wanted to let you know, I made an appointment with the counseling office.
Her: Oh.. what for?
Me: Well, you know that "rash" you've been mentioning? I, uh, actually it's this thing called dermatillomania, which is [definition, brief explanation of how it manifests in me specifically and how I realized it was an issue, etc.]

(but with some crying from my end because it was tough to say everything out loud :P)
Since you already are seeing a professional, you could instead mention your plans to talk to them about it. My mother asked a question or two, and mostly she seemed relieved to understand what was going on and know that I was seeking help for it.

As it turned out she was about to send me to a dermatologist... so I guess it was good timing. But my point is, your mother is probably already worried, since she's noticed your symptoms - so you can view telling her as a way of easing those worries, since now she has the truth, instead of leaving her in the dark to guess and come up with possibly even scarier ideas. This is also why being specific helped -- when she kept mentioning a "rash", it was because she thought I didn't notice or know what the problem was, and wanted to help. Since I told her, it reassured her that I knew what was wrong, so no need for her to keep trying to diagnose the problem.

It also helped that I didn't only say the name of my issue, but talked about how it explained my symptoms. That way, even if she looked up more info about it later, she would know I wasn't at the worst-case scenario (which can be very bad for these types of issues), it was "just" some less concerning stuff that had fairly established ways of being treated.

Hopefully, knowing this will reduce the comments she makes about your food choices. But you can still ask that directly! During this conversation I told my mother that her comments about my skin were really uncomfortable for me, and she stopped.

Also, be prepared to talk about it more than once, since after she has time to think about it she may have more questions. But if there are certain things you definitely don't want to talk about, I would mention that up front so it's clear. I didn't do this, and then she asked about my counseling sessions, which I didn't really want to discuss with her, so that was kind of awkward. This was the first time I'd really talked about serious issues with her though, so if you've already established some healthy boundaries around this sort of thing it might be less of a concern for you.

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Try discussing it in terms of your appetite being unusually suppressed.

I've dealt with medication-induced anorexia on and off for the past 15+ years, and I found out quickly that if you don't look how people assume anorexic people look, you don't get taken seriously when you use the term.

I get the best mileage with non-medical professionals (i.e. my parents) by talking about the symptoms without giving a name that may carry a lot of baggage (like "anorexia").

From the outside, "the idea of food is distressing/alien to me" and "I haven't had an appetite lately" are indistinguishable, but the latter is much easier for people to understand. Everyone has been ill and not had an appetite, but fewer people have looked at a sandwich they just made and thought "OK, now what?"

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