National Eating Disorders Association

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Afraid of others getting eating disorders

About eight years ago my sister began suffering from anorexia. I was the first one to notice that she had a problem with food. Her disorder was a horrible strain on our family, as I'm sure is normal for families of eating disorder sufferers, and I think it had a big impact on my development as a teenager. Today though, thank God, she seems to be securely in recovery, and is at a healthy weight. However, despite the fact that my sister and the rest of my family seem to have moved on, I have struggled with this. I live in a different state from my sister and family now, and every time I visit them I find myself having to fight to not monitor every food my sister eats and every time she exercises. Even worse, I struggle to not monitor the food habits of basically all of my friends. Every time I see someone exhibiting an unhealthy attitude toward food, dieting, or exercising, I panic and want to lecture them on creating a healthy relationship with food. And unfortunately, most women in their early twenties don't have a perfect relationship with food, which means I am panicking a lot. Has anyone else experienced this, or does anyone have advice for how to cope with this?


Dear SH,

Oh boy, it really does seem like you were traumatized by your sister's situation. No doubt about it, home situations, when someone in the family has an ED, can really eat into everyone's life ! Some people manage to get through these situations OK, but some of us are naturally sensitive, and things can make a bigger impression on us than they seem to make on others. Our sensitivity is not a bad quality, and can serve us in good ways in the future, but yeah, we can pay a price for it sometimes too.

Because when we have a family member with an ED, it's like what can we do ? Our sense of control over our environment goes right out the window, which as I'm sure you know, can be a truly unsettling feeling, and in itself can leave us with some real sensitivities. Sensitivities that can be triggered again, later in life.

To an extent where if we see other people who we think might be heading in a bad direction, it can bring up those panicky feelings again.

At the risk of getting all Sigmund Freud about things, these panicky feelings may somehow relate to the feelings of loss of control that you had surrounding your sister. I suspect your remember how unsettling those feelings must have been. Also, we all deserve to get proper attention when we are young, but when someone in the family has a problem, often they are the ones who get all the attention, while other children are neglected. Stuff like that can really leave an impression on us too, particularly if we are of an intrinsically sensitive nature. Almost like a PTSD sort of thing, you know ?

And really, we can't just tell ourselves "Oh don't be so sensitive". We are who we are, and it doesn't pay to beat ourselves up about that.

At the same time, no one wants to find themselves in a situation where they are being triggered all the time, so I don't think your concerns are silly at all.

Everyone is going to say "Oh you should get therapy", but they may have a point. This sort of stuff is disruptive alright, and it wouldn't hurt to try and figure out what's really at the root of it, and then go from there. Therapists who advertise themselves as working with trauma and PTSD issues might be the ones to check out. Not that you were physically abused or anything, but more the part about how disturbing events can really stick with us, you know ? In ways that really can cause us some legitimate emotional disruption.