National Eating Disorders Association

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I suspect my sister has an eating disorder. How involved should I get?

I have an awesome little sister who is going to turn 17 in March. I am concerned that she has developed an eating disorder or is on the path to developing one.
Recently, my family and I have noticed that she is not on a regular eating "schedule." She will skip meals, sleep through them, or just have a snack. None of her food choices are very healthy, even though my mom makes healthy dinner options for her. She instead opts fast food. At first, I just assumed her altered eating was a result of a "quarantine" blues type of thing, but her habits aren't changing.
My eyes weren't truly open to the situation until today. I was with my sister and her boyfriend on a shopping trip. I told her that she was looking really skinny (which I realize now is not the way I should have brought up my concern) and I again expressed my worries about her skipping meals. She admitted to me for the first time that she has a fear of gaining weight. She assured me that she doesn't "starve" herself and she eats when she is hungry. I started reminding her how she needs to eat healthier in order for her body to function. She responded that she "doesn't want to get fat," and so I reminded her that if she was concerned about that part, she could always stay active and exercise. She told me that she didn't have time to exercise. At that point in the conversation, I then asked her if she had an eating disorder. She didn't say yes, but she didn't say no. I don't think she is certain either way herself.
I told her that she needs to talk to our mom about all of this. She said she "might," but told me not to discuss it with my mom.
My question is: how much or little involved should I be? And what does the involvement look like? Do I let my mom know of the conversation that I had with my sister today, even though my sister told me not to mention it? Or should I stay out of it, knowing that my sister may never independently seek help? Either way, I am going to research how to be supportive in situations like this. Right now, she's in a world of high school self-consciousness, fake social media body "influencers," and a relationship in which her boyfriend is incredibly body-image conscious.
This is my first experience with someone close to me having a challenge like this (that I know of), so any advice is appreciated. I know how serious this issue is, and I would hate to see my sister hurt. I'm just unsure if it's my place to discuss it with our mother or not.
Thank you.
P.S.: Now that I look back on our conversation today, I realize that I may have addressed my concerns the wrong way. I will be educating myself on ways to be supportive so that I will be better prepared for future situations.

Dear Froggie8, it's great

Dear Froggie8, it's great that you would like to support your sister during this difficult time! Please do not hesitate to contact our Helpline to discuss how you can support your sister during this time. Helpline's number is 800-931-2237 or you can chat online here

Hey Froggie8

I’m sorry your sister is going through this and I’m sure it must be hard for you to watch that. I think your sister is lucky to have you there to support her and it’s great that you’re there for her. And it’s important to inform yourself on how to help her so it’s good that you’re researching it.

I think you should tell your mom. It might not be what she wants but it’s what she needs. She can't fight this alone. She needs a support system. A therapist would probably be helpful too. When you talk to her about it, a warm loving supportive approach might be best for her. You’re probably upset or angry but try not to take those emotions out on her. It’s not her fault.

I think it’s a good sign though that she’s coming to terms with the fact that she’s sick by saying she might have an ed. It’ll be easier to get her to start treatment since she’s not so much in denial.


One thing to keep in mind : people with Eds often struggle with a lot of self-doubts. Doubts that go beyond food and appearance.

One of these doubts is the "good enough" thing. They'll just never be good enough (as a human being) until they get thin. Or until they can show the sort of rigid self-control and self-discipline that's needed to conquer their hunger and natural urges to eat.

Perhaps you see what I mean ? Their psychological worries and concerns about themselves and their sense of worthiness in the world end up getting played out in all this weird stuff that has to do with thinness and eating. It can get to a point where it's like they are at war with themselves, and the normal functioning of their body in an attempt work up their self-esteem.

So that's something you might want to ask her about. If she feels "good enough" as a person ? You might be surprised at what she finds herself saying.

But…it's probably not going to help for you to tell her how wonderful you think she is. A better response might be "It must be difficult to find yourself struggling with thoughts like that. " If you see what I'm getting at ? Try and put yourself in her shoes if you can, when you are trying to craft a question or a response.

Otherwise yeah ; she'll not want to find herself falling deeper into this. The danger is that these associations with eating and being an adequate human being can get etched into her brain in a manner that begins to be beyond her control. The longer her thinking goes down this path, the deeper and more persistent these thoughts become. When you hear people talk about if it's possible to really recover from an eating disorder, this is kind of what they are talking about. How this stuff can bore itself into a person's mind and never leave, even when every bit of the person wants it to.

So while it may seem like a betrayal to tell your mom, if you think she's the sort of person who will react in a sympathetic way, then you might want to tell her.

Because time itself really can be a factor in this.