National Eating Disorders Association

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What do I do when she purges?

She doesn't care. My mom and I will sit three feet away while she vomits loudly and repeatedly in the bathroom. She used to at least try to hide it by doing it at night, but since we found out she's just given up hiding it. I don't know what to do. I feel so useless. Sometimes we try to talk to her through the door, sometimes we try to open the door (but it's always locked) -- but mostly we just pretend like it's not happening.

What do I do? She's already getting help. She's already got fifty therapists and a special eating disorder program she blows off repeatedly. I know what to say and what not to say, and she's already talked to us very openly about it and her feelings and anxieties. But when she's in there, throwing up, what do I do? Keep ignoring it, feeling shitty and useless and terrified? Yell at her more through the door?

I don't know how much longer we can handle this. I work as much as I can with school, and my mom does everything she can to support us, but we can't afford her binges -- we never have food. The bathroom always smells like vomit -- both of them, because she uses whichever's closer to her. It's loud and awful and it makes me nauseous just having to listen to it and I just -- I don't know what to do --

Please, anyone, anything; I just want to know how I can make her stop, maybe for a night or two.

Thank you

I'm so sorry!

Hi petty102!

Welcome to the NEDA online community forums! We are so glad that you have come here for some help and support! I am so sorry to hear that you're going through a difficult time right now with your sister. That definitely sounds like a difficult situation for you and your family to go through. Coming from my own personal experience with an eating disorder and having a sibling who had to watch from the outside, I think it's okay for you to feel "useless." After being in recovery for a long time now, my older brother has told me that he experienced very similar feelings at one point during the worst part of my eating disorder. What does her therapist she sees say about the situation? Honestly, it's hard to know exactly what kind of advice to give you but I know that you and your mother need to take care of yourselves if she doesn't want to get better, as hard and difficult as that might be. Have you and your mother set boundaries with your sister? We also have the NEDA Helpline phone number, where you can talk to trained volunteers that can help you and your family access different resources for treatment in your area! The phone number is 1-800-931-2237. It's available Monday-Thursday from 9:00 am - 9:00 pm and Friday from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm.

Please feel free to continue posting on here! You always have a listening ear here on the NEDA forums! I will be thinking of you and your family and keep us posted if you can!

Erin_Patricia1 <3

re: What do I do when she purges?

Hi petty102. I first wanted to say welcome to the forums--I'm so glad you're reaching out for support. It sounds like you're in a really tough situation right now and it's so great that you're seeking advice about how to approach your sister's ED.

I'm so sorry your family is having such a hard time, and I'm sorry to say I don't have an answer for you. As a former ED sufferer myself, I do want to just say it's not your responsibility to make your sister stop purging or exhibiting other ED behaviors. I know how exhausted and frustrated you must feel as someone who lives with her and must witness her constantly hurting herself--I remember my own mom looking so helpless when I'd come up from the basement bathroom after a purge. None of that ever made the slightest dent on my ED, though--even if a family member had been able to convince me to stop for a night or two, it wouldn't have been a long-term solution because the impetus would have been guilt rather than a self-motivated desire to recover. Just remember that this is nobody's fault, including you and including your sister--ED is a mental illness and unfortunately any progress or steps toward recovery need to come from your sister first.

Have you talked to your sister about any strategies she may have developed with her therapist for avoiding ED behaviors? When I was living with my family and had binge/purge urges, it was sometimes helpful to participate in group activities (playing a game, watching a movie, going for a walk, getting out of the house). But again, I think any involvement on the part of you and your mom should probably come at your sister's request--I remember when my family would try to help with the best of intentions, and I would shut them out just because ED was telling me to isolate myself. Regardless, you should never feel like it's your responsibility to save your sister from herself. I totally agree with Erin_Patricia1 that it's important for you and your mom to not lose sight of taking care of yourselves during this tough time, too. Do you two have a support system in place for dealing with all the heavy stuff that's going on with your sister?

No matter what, remember you're not alone and that recovery is possible! I hope you continue to find support on the forums and that you're having an OK night.

Same question

I just read this thread because I have the exact same question. What do you do when you know your family member is purging? Do you knock? Check on them? Ask if their okay? Encourage them to stop? Or ignore it? Do you address it later? Do you tell them everytime you hear it? Struggling with this exact thing and haven't seen a direct response yet so thought I'd ask it again. Thank you all!

re: Same question

Hey cat975--hello and welcome to the forums! I'm sorry to hear you're struggling with supporting a family member who is suffering from an ED. You're taking a great first step by reaching out on the forums for guidance.

Before offering insight about any of your questions, I think it's important to know some additional context about your situation. Has your family member received an ED diagnosis? If so, are they currently receiving treatment for their ED? Are they in therapy? Are they currently communicating with you or any other family members about their problem? Or are they under the impression these behaviors are a secret? Have you tried talking to them about it outside the context of hearing them purge--maybe in a space or time that feels a little safer/less vulnerable to them?

Lots of questions, I know--unfortunately there's just not a clear-cut answer to this question. So much depends on the situation, because ED affects everyone differently and support/treatment/etc. varies significantly person to person. That said, though, I did want to point you to a great NEDA resource: It's called the Parent Toolkit, but it's not just for parents! It's designed to help anyone who wants to understand more about how to support a family member or friend affected by an eating disorder. You can find additional helpful resources here:

Please keep us posted on how everything's going. Thinking of you!