National Eating Disorders Association

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My family of bulimics

My 50 year old sister and her 47 year old husband both addicted to bulimia. They have a child 11 years old that’s following in parents footsteps.

They are hiding their bulimia from family but this Thanksgiving we definitely saw the signs. (Gorging and purging).

My mom, another sister, a niece, and me have taken approach we can’t help them. Any suggestions?

They are professionals. (Lawyer and a teacher)

It’s interesting that despite their age they care so much about their body image.


Yes, one might think that older people might not worry that much about their body image. But really, eating disorders aren't so much "about" that, in contrast to what you might think.

It's more of a control thing actually. And there is some logic to it, but it's like "eating disorders logic" instead. Which means it's logical to a point, but then it's not. Which is why it's a mental health issue. And it's also an addiction too, on top of that. So even if you realize that you are in trouble, it can be really difficult to stop.

And you're right : What can you do ? You could have some kind of intervention, but who knows how they view their situation. It's likely that they already know they've got a problem. But if they are in denial, it may be hard to convince them they do.

My sister's family and I went to a friend's house for Thanksgiving this year. She has a big house and rents out a room. The renter was invited to eat with us, and was someone I'd never met before. She ended up sitting across from me, and pretty much as soon as she sat down, I was thinking "Uh Oh". Sure enough she was right off to the bathroom after the meal.

And what could I do or say ? So I have a pretty good of how you were feeling.

One thing you might try, if you feel like you have to try something, is to write your sister a letter and mail it to her. That way you get the chance to make sure you have worded it how you want, and she'd have some time to decide how she wants to respond.

Keep in mind though, most people with bulimia feel a measure of shame about it. And although they continue with the habit, are usually not happy that that's what they are doing. So you'd need to be sensitive to that part. I mean, it's this thing that helps them feel control over their eating, but at the same time it's gotten beyond their control. So you can imagine how that sort of emotional and psychological paradox might make a person feel. Not so great. And some shame.

In any case, you might try the letter approach. But keep in mind the ways they may already feel, if you know what I mean ?

Hey Cabingal. This sounds

Hey Cabingal. This sounds like a very complex situation. I respect the care and concern you feel for your family. What stands out to me is, as you pointed out, the fact that they may potentially be having a negative effect on their child. Its interesting that they are both professionals that know a great deal about the legal ramifications of things such as child endangerment and yet they continue down the path they are on.

Since you have attempted to use the warm/interpersonal approach, perhaps another strategy might be more useful to you now. There are certain legal statutes and laws that are in place to prevent children from being harmed by their parents. I'm not saying that your sister and brother-in-law are doing so, but I feel that the situation may have potential for such.

What I'm getting at is that children are very sensitive and much more vulnerable than adults. They are still developing. Children have certain nutritional needs. And if these needs are not met, they can be developmentally stunted. And that can manifest as disorders both physically and mentally which can have effects that can last a life time.

Malnutrition is no joke. And in the worst case scenario, it could be that it gets to the point that something like your niece/nephew collapses in class and then is discovered to be undernourished. That could lead to social services getting involved and in turn could potentially lead to some very serious legal ramifications.
What I'm saying is that if something isn't done by your family it may get to a point where an outside force intervenes and things spiral out of control.

I don't mean to scare you or come off as too harsh, I just wanted to share my perspective. And I do want to mention that I am in no way a health professional. I hope this helped a bit. Best of luck.

- Adage