National Eating Disorders Association

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A whole family in denial

I strongly suspect my 14 year old stepson is bulimic. As someone who has a brother who has fought and is still fighting bulimia, I knew the signs. I have been married to his father for 3 years. Even then, I have witnessed many clues that have caused me to arrive at this conclusion. He vomits a lot for someone who isn't sick otherwise. Everyone else has noticed it too, but in speaking with the boy about it, he says things like "that hurt my stomach, didn't sit well." I know he's throwing up at least once a week and he doesn't hide it well. I have just cleaned up a mess in the bathroom. I don't want to get angry and make him clean the mess. I remember when my brother was going through it, you had to tread very lightly about it as he would be defensive when you mentioned he might have a problem. Same with stepson. I don't know how to approach him about it or if it's even my place. Nobody else thinks this is an issue. Here is some info about what we are dealing with.

1. I have heard from his mother that he has been throwing up since he was a very small child. He was roughly 8 or 9 when she noticed but he always claimed he was sick. She tells his father he's throwing up at her house, too (parent's have EOW rotation).

2. Has expressed he doesn't want to be "fat." He is underweight and you can tell by just looking at him. People point this out to him and he seems proud of it. I have asked his Father not to mention things like this to him. I don't think it's healthy. We have also hid the scales because he used to weigh himself before meals. Also not healthy. Perhaps because he's not getting validation from us on how thin he looks, maybe that's why he is leaving evidence of getting sick behind in the bathroom.

3. Has become withdrawn and depressed. He locks himself into a room and is on the computer at all times except when not sleeping. He does not participate in any family time, will not leave the house unless forced, refuses family vacations. Teachers at school have expressed concern over how withdrawn he has become. He sits alone at all times including lunch. There doesn't seem to be any bullying going on, he just will not socialize with classmates.

4. Does not eat meals well in front of others. Eats less than a 6 year old child would in one sitting. I spend about $200 a week in food that ends up in his room. It's junk foods mostly, meant for lunches and snacks but often times there isn't enough to pack through the week for the rest of us, he has eaten it all. I find food (empty containers) hidden in the covers of his bed, closet, etc. I admit it's unhealthy but that amount a food should last a few weeks for a family of 4. And that kind of food should really be putting the weight on him. It's not.

5. Goes to bathroom when he's done eating meals, usually before any of the rest of us has finished ours. When in restaurants, he does the same thing. I mentioned this to his father and now he goes with him just to be sure.
When we're home, we listen to see if we can hear him vomit down the hall. When we can't, husband is content it's not happening. My brother was honest with me and said that after a while, you learn how to vomit quietly and quickly to keep suspicions down. I think the whole family is in denial and when the subject get's brought up, he gets really angry.
So if you don't want people to know you're throwing up again, why leave a mess like that? But if we bring it up, he will flip out. I do not know what to think about this or what to do next. This is a case for his parents but I don't know how to get them there.



It seems like you are a very attentive and caring woman, and your stepson is very lucky to have someone like you in his life. Your brother is also lucky to have someone like you in his life, and I hope he continues to be strong on his own quest toward ED recovery. I am not a parent myself, but as a daughter I can say that my parents have gotten me through some difficult times, so your support is tremendously important.

Here is a link to some basic information regarding the symptoms and warning signs of bulimia nervosa, many of which match up with your description of your stepson's behaviors.
Perhaps your stepson's biological parents' lack of concern stems from a lack of knowledge about bulimia. If you show them this link when you bring up this topic again (I know it is a hard subject to discuss, but you are right, your stepson needs support from all three of you), maybe they will be more receptive to the idea that their son needs help.

Here are two more links that can be helpful for parents trying to support their loved ones through the struggles of an eating disorder.

I encourage you to continue being such a supportive and caring figure in your stepson's life, and I hope you are able to remain patient and compassionate throughout this formidable journey.

Please continue to use this forum for support/advice, as we would love to know how your family is doing.