National Eating Disorders Association

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15+ years of not talking about

My older sister has suffered from an eating disorder for over 15 years, both bulimia and anorexia and my family refuses to talk about it.
When we were growing up she had major anxiety and would often get into clashes with my parents and sometimes me. My brother and I are much closer in age and were closer while growing up, while my sister always seemed to be on the perimeter of the relationship.

When she got into high school her disorder got really bad. She would also openly binge in front of family, cooking strange elaborate dishes, that were practically inedible, but she would gorge herself on them. My parents have never been good at dealing with bigger issues as a family and during her high school years we never discussed what was going on. She would call my mom and me fat, and say nasty and scathing things to both of my parents.

She then went onto to college. I will never forget the first Thanksgiving she returned, she was so skinny. My parents never addressed it with my brother or myself. I know she saw a therapist, but that is literally the extent that I know about her treatment. She continued to struggle and have blow-up fights with my family. Sh transferred colleges twice, ending up at a local state school, where she met a boy and started a seemingly healthy relationship. She eventually dropped out of college, but she seemed to be living a more normal and stable life. She had a job, lived with her boyfriend, and had a normal relationship with my parents. She was still extremely thin, but again we never talked about it as a family.
A few years later, I moved back home, along with my brother. My sister was living with a different boyfriend and seemed to be at a healthy weight, had a good job, and even got her degree.

A little over a year ago though I noticed a dramatic shift. I was planning my wedding, trying to get into shape for it, and I introduced her to running and a workout class I love. I’ve never known my sister to workout so it was exciting to see her get into it. A few months before the wedding she broke off her long term relationship and her boyfriend moved out. Her weight loss was gradual at first, or maybe I didn’t want to admit it, but fast forward a year later and she looks almost emaciated. I realized that as her eating disorder has gotten progressively worse, so has her dependency on my parents. It’s like she’s reverting back to childhood, and they just let her. I’ve also seen a major shift in her personality in the past year as well. When anything goes wrong, or people are upset with her, her immediate reaction is to break down and scream and cry. It’s terrifying.

I said something to my parents about her weight after I heard her purging at their house the other day. They admitted they were concerned too, but said when they brought it up with her she said she’s just been working out more. Which maybe true, but wouldn’t cause this sort of weight loss.

And here is the big thing I’ve realized. It makes me SO MAD. It makes me mad at my parents who I feel like enable the behavior (and won’t admit that her behavior has had a huge negative effect on my brother and I), it makes me mad at her who refuses to admit she has a problem, it makes me mad at myself for NEVER saying anything to her. I have never had a conversation with my sister about her eating disorder. So instead I become stand offish and I just get upset and I'm mean to her.

My parents have tried to foster a dialogue between us, to mend our relationship, but whenever I try and bring up things from the past I’m told that it’s off limits and I’m just being mean by doing so. It's almost like if no one says the words eating disorder, it won't be true and we can go on being a normal, happy family.
The whole thing makes me so upset that I don’t want to be around anyone from my family. I finally said something to my brother about it and he said he feels the exact same way.

So what do I do?
Do I avoid my family?
Do I say something to my parents? My sister?
Ultimately I know I need to be compassionate and come from a place of love, but I can’t right now.
What do I do?

We are so glad you are here!

We are so glad you are here! Asking for help is the first step!

I don't have siblings, so I can only imagine how difficult the situation is for you and your family. Sadly, she is a grown adult and given the nature of eating disorders, she has to want to get better. While you can't force her to stop participating in eating disorder behaviors, you can make steps to be there for her. If you don't have a therapist or counselor, I would recommend contacting NEDA and their trained staff can help you find a therapist or counselor (to work out how you can cope with the situation and continue to be part of your family, despite your sister's choice to continue her ED).

Keep us posted on how you are doing! Don't forget - we are here for you!

Helpline 1-800-931-2237
Chat at
Text "NEDA" to 741741


"The whole thing makes me so upset that I don’t want to be around anyone from my family. I finally said something to my brother about it and he said he feels the exact same way. "

Not to sound snarky, but at least you have spoken openly to your brother and that's a start. It sounds like your parents are concerned as well, but their demands that the past never be brought up makes it sound like they are not willing to be fully engaged yet. Having the family all be on the same page with this will be important, or else it will just be everyone nursing their own personal grudges. And little is likely to happen then.

So…what about family therapy ? Not necessarily with your sister to start with, but with the rest of you ? I did that once with my family, and I have to tell you, it made a big difference for me. A lot of important things were talked about, that no one had dared to talk about before. Having a therapist there to act like and observer and referee, and to make sure things stay on what's most important…that can really make an amazing difference.

Because it kind of sounds like the family needs to get things straightened out between themselves, before they approach the subject of your sister, you know ?

Because yes, you're going to have to talk with her sooner or later.

She may actually be upset that you haven't dared to.

So needed to read your post!

First, I just want to say thank you for posting and, second, I'm sorry for the pain you've endured surrounding your sibling's ED.
I have an older sister whose bulimia rocked my childhood, too. It was a horribly traumatic and cruel experience for me in which she made me guess what her issue was (I was just 9 years old) and harbor the secret for over a year until I couldn't bear it any more. Once my family was aware of her ED, she would use it to manipulate my parents and often engaged in behaviors after fights. My home became Eggshell Central when she was around. I just remember so much trauma and dysfunction. I have vivid memories of my brother taking me by the hand and pulling me away from the chaos on multiple occasions. I know my parents were out of their element and doing the best they could, but what I would do to go back and tell them I needed support, too.
Although she has since recovered from her ED, she went on to become an alcoholic (now >10 years sober) and that had a profound impact on me and my family as well. And while we're all thrilled that she's happy and healthy, I just cannot fathom how my loving and otherwise "normal" family has glossed over the fact that she spent over a decade in my family disguised as a reckless tornado. As if her recoveries have voided all the pain and burden we've all shared together and individually. So, in a different but similar way, I hear you and I feel your pain. You are not alone.
Have you thought about therapy? Perhaps a therapist could help you navigate the next steps. I guess you need to ask yourself what you want out of this, too. I recently started therapy and this was something I had buried deep down but something that has also had a surprising affect on many other aspects of my life. It's been very helpful to talk about it and I imagine your family members are harboring similar feelings and resentments. And please understand that you are entitled to feel exactly what you're feeling. I hope my message is in some way validating. It's difficult and taxing to be a silent victim. I'm here for you if you need to talk. Stay strong!

To everyone who has posted -

To everyone who has posted - thank you! I feel I relate to what you all said, and I'm hoping the best for all you and all of your families. My older sister was sick with an eating disorder and I relate to feeling angry along the course of her illness and recover. This anger was a big surprise for me- I was expecting relief and happiness, and I felt confused that I hanging onto bitterness for all of the hard times my family had been through because of the eating disorder.

23Taylor: You said, "Ultimately I know I need to be compassionate and come from a place of love, but I can’t right now." That's incredibly intuitive and I really respect that you reached out for help and are taking time to clearly think this through. Feeling angry at the havoc eating disorders create in a family is valid and natural, and for me, it has been very important to remember that none of our siblings chose their illness. They are as much a victim of their illness as we are over their illness. Take care of yourself first, and don't give up on your sister! For me, family therapy and talking to my sister was good in the long term, and I recommend having a support system available to you when you do. Wishing you the very best!


Edited Post

Hi 23Taylor. Just wanted you to know that your post was edited because it contained personal information and potentially triggering words for our other forum-goers. Please refer to our Community Guidelines (, and continue to post!

Dear admin,

Dear admin,

Sorry to hijack the thread but I couldn't find a way to restore my previously saved email nor could I find a way to PM you. Could you please help me to restore the email which I saved previously just before posting? Thanks.