National Eating Disorders Association

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What to say


My younger sister has had bulimia for a while and is receiving treatment at a clinic. I want to help support her at home too but I'm not sure what to do or say. Really don't want to make anything worse. I often hear her purging at night (at least I hear the bathroom door opening and closing) but I don't know whether I should go and talk to her. Interrupting during her purges doesn't seem like the best option, and I'm also nervous about bringing them up with her later. I worry that if she knows that I know what she's doing she'll feel even worse about herself and do it more.
I sometimes ask her how clinic is going, but she just says something like "it's fine" and clams up.


Hi C,

First of all, thank you for coming here and asking for advice. It's amazing that you want to be there for your sister, and I applaud you for researching and doing all that you can to help her. NEDA has some great resources available to you, including the "Parent, Family & Friends Network": They also have a page on "What Should I Say" ( that I think you find to be very useful. In my experience as being a supporter for someone who has an eating disorder, I did my best to make sure that person knew I was there for them. Whether or not they wanted to open up at every moment, it was important for them to know that I was there to confide in whenever they needed someone. I'm sure your sister greatly appreciates you being there for her, and I think reminding her of that would be a great start.

I wish you the best of luck.

Hello C,

I second what Tori said; thank you for coming here and looking for information so you can do the best thing for your sister. The resources Tori shared are really great, and I would also add the NEDA Parent Toolkit to your list (it's not just for parents of people with EDs, it's for all loved ones, and it has a lot of great information to learn more about EDs): .

My younger sister has suffered from an eating disorder for many years, so I've been in similar situations many times. Always tiptoeing around, afraid of saying something that will make things worse, not sure if there's anything to do to help; it's very stressful! Like Tori said, the one thing above all else is to make it clear that you're there for your sister if she ever wants to confide in you. Asking about how treatment is going, checking in with her, and even saying "I'm here for you if you ever want to talk" or something similar can help demonstrate that you're available. I can say from experience that a lot of times you will get short replies like "it's fine" or "thanks" or "okay", but they're still getting the message, and repetition helps. Even if she isn't ready to talk right now, she might surprise you sometime.

One thing that I think helped my relationship with my sister was to occasionally take the first step and confide in my sister first: tell her I was worried about her, or that I was thinking about her, or even telling her a personal or embarrassing secret of my own. It was a slow process, but little moments of intimacy like these helped break the ice. EDs can make people very secretive, and can make people try to cut themselves off from others, so try not to take it personally if your sister isn't responsive to what you have to say. I have also found that just trying to spend time with my sister and do fun things (watch a movie, play a board game, laugh at a funny video online, etc.) is helpful for maintaining that connection. Even if we aren't spending our time together talking about deep, personal issues, I can still feel close to my sister, and this helps bridge the ED gap.

I don't know how old you and your sister are, so I'm not sure if you're living at home with your parents/family. I also don't know how involved your parents are with your sister's treatment (though I hope they are involved). If your parents are in regular communication with your sister's treatment team, it might be worthwhile to tell them about your sister's purging behaviors if you notice them getting worse or if you notice anything especially troubling. You could also contact your sister's treatment team yourself if you're worried. I was always afraid of being a "tattletale", but sometimes if things are really serious and you're concerned that your parents or your sister's doctors don't know about something she's doing, it might be better to tell them for your sister's sake.

I hope you find this helpful. Please know that you're not alone. Those of us on the forums are here for you, and we want the best for you and for your sister. Please keep us updated, and let us know if you have questions or want advice. We want to hear from you. Good luck, C!

Hi C, Tori and Kelsey gave

Hi C, Tori and Kelsey gave some great advice. People suffering from eating disorders often have a lot of shame and as a result can feel very vulnerable. As Kelsey mentioned, ED’s are very secretive and isolating, so as best as you can, try not to be offended if you get a short response. As Tori and Kelsey said, while you sister may respond with small answers, she is still listening. Being consistent and available for her is great. Kelsey made a great point - sometimes sharing a secret or something that you feel ashamed about may actually help your sister to feel less alone about her shame and in the end may lead to more openness on her part. I wish you the best! Please continue to reach out.