I’m often asked, “What should I not tell my mental health professional about my disorder?” This is a common concern because we are trained to spot things that might point to other more serious mental health issues. However, there are a few things that you shouldn’t tell your therapist, even if they are your doctor. Here’s what you should tell your therapist if you suspect that you have an eating disorder:
*When do you eat? The only time that most people with these disorders eat is while they are awake. For instance, a person with binge eating will typically eat shortly before going to sleep at night. They’ll eat several small meals during the day, snacking every couple of hours. If you experience this behavior, or if it’s associated with other symptoms such as mood swings or depression, then you should call your doctor or a counselor immediately.
*How many times do you eat? Your patterns in food intake may be changing. People with one eating disorder often change their behavior when they start feeling hungry. On the other hand, people with more than one eating disorder tend to continue to eat excessively long after they’re full. If you consistently over-eat but not excessively, then you should notify your therapist of this so that he or she can help you determine whether your levels of emotional highs and lows are consistent with a true eating disorder.
*What types of things should I not tell my mental health professional about my disorder? Although you shouldn’t expect your therapist to know everything that your doctor knows about eating disorders, your therapist should have a general understanding of what foods lead to emotional highs and lows and how different foods affect different people. However, don’t give specifics or name brands. Your therapist should know which brands you should avoid because each brand may contribute differently to your problem.
* What should I not tell my friends and family? Although it’s often a good idea to tell close friends and family about your treatment methods, you should keep it to yourself. Unless someone is also suffering from an eating disorder, they probably won’t want to hear a detailed description of what you did. Also, if someone in your circle of friends has been through treatment, they likely won’t want to hear any bad news about how they were treated. It’s okay to admit that you need support and understanding, but don’t share too much personal information.
* What should I not tell my family and friends? You should definitely share positive information about your disorder with your closest friends and family. However, you should only share negative information about your disorder with these people. Avoid telling them things about your eating disorder that will make you feel better (if that’s possible) or will convince you that you’re just being self-depreciatory. Unfortunately, many people who have eating disorders don’t feel much like themselves after telling someone about their problem.
* What should I not tell my therapist? If you are going to be seeing a therapist for months, years, or decades, then you should be able to share some information without worrying that it will make you look weak or give the therapist grounds to start asking questions or suspecting a myriad of other things. You may want to bring up things that might be making you feel uncomfortable, such as feeling anxious over your food every time you see a dessert, but you should do this very carefully.
It’s important to find out what you can and cannot share with other people, because that’s part of how you get better. Unfortunately, not all of us have perfect mental health, and there will be times when we share information with our therapists that makes them suspicious or think that they need to investigate further. If you feel like you’re getting closer to a diagnosis with a particular eating disorder but don’t know what to say anymore, then remember that you don’t always have to hold back. Sometimes it’s better just to let people know that you’re taking care of yourself, and that you feel like you need help to get back on track. Whatever you decide to tell your therapist, make sure that you feel comfortable with it and don’t let others use you as a guinea pig.