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Coping With Denial in Eating Disorders

What if the person you care about refuses to admit there is a problem? This is often the case with teenagers in general, and with anorexia nervosa at any age. Whether you merely suspect there is a problem, or you know that the problem exists and is serious, when your loved one or friend says nothing is wrong, you have a difficult situation.

The assessment of an eating disorder can be complex even for a professional. Knowing whether a disturbed eating pattern is part of a temporary phase, versus the beginning of a full-blown eating disorder, can be tricky. The best first step is to seek a professional consultation, with or without your loved one. You may start by going to a therapist without your child, loved one or friend. Do not second-guess yourself or put it off, the earlier an eating disorder has intervention, the better chance for recovery.

The worst case scenario, if you follow your instincts, is that the professional will say that they think the situation may best be handled by backing off. However, the professional will also be able to give you tools and information so that you will know what to do if things get worse.

Do not expect that your loved one will be open, cooperative or grateful to your intervention. It may feel like the hardest thing that you have ever had to do. You may worry that it will jeopardize the relationship you have with your loved one. When your loved one is in denial they are very ill. Their mind has been more or less possessed by the eating disorder and they are driven only by the fear of getting fat.

Do not personalize their irrationality or be controlled by the strong emotional displays, which are inevitable when they are taken over by the eating disorder “demon.” With recovery, gratitude often comes.

Coping With Denial in Eating Disorders

Lynn Ponton, MD

APA Reference
Ponton, L. (2018). Coping With Denial in Eating Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 19, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.