National Eating Disorders Association

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adult daughter suffers from ED, refuses treatment, does not live at home

Hi there,

My 26-year-old daughter has developed a SEVERE eating disorder. She is wasting away and completely convinced that she is eating "healthily," and that I'm completely wrong about this. There are issues regarding our family:

-she lives in my mother's house (not with me nor my husband)
-she is not motivated to look for a job or interact with anyone who can tell her that she looks visibly ill
-she does not trust me, my husband, nor my youngest daughter (who had an ED 7 years ago).

My daughter and I do communicate and if there's something bothering her tremendously, she does ask for my opinion. But she is extremely stubborn and is convinced that she's always correct, and my mother reinforces that. The people around her enable her and COVID has made things much worse. She is completely isolated from any level-headed person who might give an objective opinion on this.

She refuses to see a doctor. I have asked her many times to at least go and get a check-up or blood test, but she refuses. Her doctor does not understand EDs and will reinforce what she's doing as "healthy" as well, even if she would go and see him.

My daughter looks like she is about to collapse at any second. I am extremely worried. I am desperate for help with this situation and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for listening.

daisy ladybug

Hi daisyladybug – welcome to the forums. We’re sorry to hear about what’s going on with your daughter and we hope that the forums are a supportive space for you. Your description of her condition is concerning, so we wanted to make sure to provide a list of signs and symptoms to look out for. The following are just some of the signs of a serious problem that demands immediate medical attention:

  • accidentally or deliberately caused themselves a physical injury
  • become suicidal
  • confused thinking and is not making any sense
  • delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations (experiencing things that aren’t there)
  • disoriented; doesn’t know what day it is, where they are or who they are
  • vomiting several times a day or has uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea
  • experiencing dizziness or fainting spells
  • too weak to walk or collapses
  • painful muscle spasms
  • experience pain in the lower legs
  • complaining of chest pain or having trouble breathing
  • blood in their bowel movements, urine or vomit
  • a body mass index (BMI) of less than 16
  • an irregular heartbeat, and fast heartbeat, or very low heart beat (less than 50 beats per minute)
  • cold or clammy skin indicating a low body temperature or has a body temperature of less than 35 degrees Celsius/95 degrees Fahrenheit
  • experience dizziness, nausea, fever
  • wounds/cuts heal slowly
  • feel tingling in the hands or feet
  • blurred vision

If she experiences anything above, we highly recommend seeking help from a medical professional as soon as possible. Seek medical help soon on an outpatient basis if she:

  • have significant heartburn and/or a burning sensation after eating
  • have other gastrointestinal concerns
  • have high blood pressure
  • struggle with significant joint or muscle pain
  • have difficulty sleeping (falling and/or remaining asleep)
  • struggle with fatigue, sudden weight gain, and/or hair loss
  • have frequent urination or unquenchable thirst
  • have gained and lost significant weight repeatedly
  • have gained significant weight in a short period of time
  • struggle with chronic diarrhea or constipation

 The NEDA Helpline can help put you in contact with treatment and support options available to your daughter, and we recommend reaching out. You can reach the Helpline at 800.931.2237 M-Th 11am-9pm ET and F 11am-5pm ET or you can chat with us online M-Th 9am-9pm ET and F 9am-5pm ET. We hope it can be of help. Wishing you, your daughter and your family well, and please take care.

Develop a Plan ASAP

Dear Mom,

I found out about this site today, while reaching out for support to help me deal with my daughter's death two months ago. I am devastated, and will never forgive myself for not learning more about this terrible illness. If I had known, now, what I recently learned (over the past 8 months) I am sure she would still be alive. (She would definitely be struggling and the road to recovery would have been a difficult two years - if not longer - but she would be alive. I miss her every minute of every day. We were so, so close; until the last 8-9 months. We fought, she lied, she hid the laxatives, and made promises that she never intended to keep. Her brain had deteriorated, due to malnourishment, and her eating disorder became a severe mental illness. I was told, over and over, that she would die if she did not receive the help she needed; yet, the hospitals did not provide her with the help she needed. Our system is broken and anorexia is different for each person. There is no one way to treat it. (This is why we have so much difficulty helping anorexics.)

I would suggest that you start reading articles and watching videos about this disease. You should read the book X. EVERY doctor, nurse, and parent of an anorexic should read this book to understand the progression of this illness. (Obviously, family dynamics will differ from each family, but the way the main character deals with her anorexia will definitely send chills up your spine because you will relate to her behavior.

While reading this book, you could share it with your mother, since you daughter is living with her. Somehow, you should try to make your mother understand that if something happens to your daughter she might feel guilty. You, your husband, and your mother should try to work together to develop a plan.

Since your daughter is living with your mother, and you mentioned she is not working - it seems she is dependent upon your mother for shelter and food. If this is the case, ALL 3 of you need to develop a plan to get her some help. I hope your daughter either has some type of health care. If not, see what medical benefits she is entitled to and reach out and help her get what she can get. THEN, all three of you must sit down with your daughter and discuss how concerned you are, etc. Remember, the most difficult part is to remain calm. (My husband and I had handled all of this the wrong way - we were way too emotional - I didn't know how to handle it back then. Her behavior caused us so much stress. After her two severe hospitalizations in Aug. and Oct of 2019, we yelled at her all the time. Her behavior was so erratic and strange. I later learned from the therapist who saw my daughter one time (and this therapist admitted telling my daughter that if she didn't leave our home, living with us would kill her!)before my daughter packed her bags and moved where no one could see her and led a life of lies about how she was gaining weight, etc. Remember, anorexics can be extremely smart, manipulative, and liars. COVID is the worst environment for anorexics.

What I am trying to say, is that you need a plan of action of how you can get her to do what you want her to do so she can get the help she needs. (A few months after my daughter moved, my husband and I decided to try and lure her a promise of a studio apartment near my son's condo if she gained weight and kept it on for 3 months. She promised this and kept telling us she was gaining her weight. We wanted her to reach a higher weight. When she left for Chicago she was under that weight. When I reached her place in Chicago, she weighed even less!)

I think a problem parents face is being too emotionally involved. We love our kids and will do anything for them, and I kept believing my daughter's lies. I wish I had read that book last year. I wish so many things. (Ironically, I found this book among my daughter's things when cleaning her room.)

I hope this helps you. Anorexia is a deadly disease and it takes a lot of strength to help those affected by it. I kept thinking that my daughter was old enough to decide if she wanted to gain weight or not, but it isn't that easy. Because anorexia is both physical and mental, both types of treatment are needed for success. It is so difficult for anorexics who are 18 years or older to go for help. We pleaded with our daughter for 8 years. It only became worse.

I hope you are able to take away some advice from my response. I will be thinking of you.

Hi daisyladybug,

I hope the forums have been providing some support for you. I’m sorry to hear about your daughter; seeing a child struggle with disordered eating isn’t easy and it shows how strong and caring you are to reach out and ask for help. I see that you’ve already received some really good advice from others, but I also wanted to add that not everyone’s road to recovery is the same. As mentioned above, the NEDA helpline can help you find support options that can determine the best course of action that suits your daugher personally. Navigating this situation may be difficult but remember, recovery is possible. I hope you and your daughter are able to stay safe and take care.

NEDA is here to support you during the evolving COVID-19 outbreak. The health of our community, especially those who are most vulnerable to the virus' serious complications, remains paramount. To access resources that can provide free and low-cost support, please click here.