National Eating Disorders Association

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How can i help my little sister

My little sister is 15 and in this past year has developed anorexia. She lost a lot of weight and is now really underweight and had to get bloodwork done at the hospital. They discovered physical symptoms during that doctor visit I never even knew of, she had kept secret. I realized that even I had not realized how serious her ED had become. My mom is now searching for a therapist, although the only open appointments were a month away. She’s still looking for more immediate help for my sister but i fear that because she isn’t in an inpatient nor outpatient program she isn’t getting the help she needs so desperately. I cry everyday because i hate myself for not speaking up when i initially noticed her exercising daily and eating less. She is now severely underweight, and she constantly is frowning even while my family is laughing with eachother and i look over and i notice it. It makes me sad that she is so unhappy all the time, i know the ED is taking its toll on her mental health. She also stays home a lot, she’s the only one in my family who doesn’t work, so it’s difficult to cheer her up unless my mom is home to take her out- even then she seems down and has a temper. I want to know anything i can do to help. We had a really heartfelt conversation the day she went to the doctor, and i continue to make lunches for her and dinners that she will eat. Yet she isn’t eating much more than before, still small portions- even if now she’s eating 2 meals rather than 1 barely eaten meal a day. Im just worried we aren’t getting her help quickly enough. I’m constantly stressing that i’m not helping enough because i don’t know how to approach the topic. I ask if she is okay, if she is hungry, i hangout with her and watch tv with her when im home.. I just fear that she is so depressed and crippled by this. She tells my mom she struggles so much with eating & does not wanna gain weight. Since she kept it a secret so long i think its so much more comfortable for her to just keep her thoughts to her self, she tells my mom the most out of any of us but. I wanna be there for her too as best i can. Are we doing anything that is hurting her? Is there anything I should take into account? I would so much appreciate the advice of someone who has recovered from such a brutal disorder.. How can i show my sister recovery is worth it?

Older Sister

Hey there.

Not recovered myself, and never had an ED, but I talk online with a lot of people who do, and yeah…How able are loved ones to help with situations like this ?

But first, try not to blame yourself, OK ? EDs tend to sneak up on people, and while we can look back and think about all of the things that we wished we had done, and berate ourselves for not being aware of things which seem obvious now, the fact is that most people aren't very familiar with EDs, and it's kind of the normal thing for it to take a while for them to figure things out. Plus it's clear that you care, or else you would never have posted here in the first place. So I hope you can set you mind to rest about those things. Or just a little I mean.

And yeah, your sister sounds like she's in the thick of it alright. Being cranky and irritable all the time is a pretty common symptom when people suspect that others are "against them" and are going to be wanting them to give up their ED. I mean don't people understand all of the effort and extreme self-discipline it's taken them to get to this point ? And they expect her to welcome the idea of throwing that all away, and just "getting fat" again ? You can understand why she might be feeling pissy. Other people just don't get it, you know ?

So yeah, what can you do ? Not as much as you might want to, because so much of what happens is going to be up to her. So you'll need to get used to that part. Which can be really hard to get used to.

You mentioned how much she stays in, and that may be a place where you can help. It's like people with EDs can start losing touch with the world, as their own world begins to narrow in around them, so anything you can do to try and keep her in touch with the wider world, I do think that's a role we can play. Go on a hike, go to the museum (if you can)- anything to keep her in touch with the world. That may not seem like much, but sometimes things like that can give the person a break from the never-ending ED chatter that's going on in their heads.

Plus people with EDs are often frustrated. They just aren't losing weight fast enough, people are always bugging them about their habits, God knows what's going to happen when they make her see this therapist person - They have a lot of things to feel frustrated about.

So that is something you could say to her. "It must be frustrating to have to deal with all this." So there you go ; you guys would have something you could agree on, and she'd be able to think that at least you get it about that part. Which is good, you know ?

Anyhow, just some thoughts. My sense is that there are going to be a bunch of more "stages" to go through in all this, so keep writing if it seems to help.