Eating Disorders Editor's Picks

How to Cope with a Sibling’s Eating Disorder

You are not alone. There are so many others dealing with siblings with eating disorders; there is support available for you should you need it.

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I’ve never had the experience of being a bystander to this eating disorder. I’ve always been in the thick of it and fixated so much that I’ve forgotten how it must be affecting those around me. Especially my younger sister.

My sister is approximately 18 months younger than me, so she was only entering ‘tween-age’ hood when the anorexia first emerged.

According to her, it made her feel forgotten because everything suddenly became about Chloe and the eating disorder.

It didn’t help that I was horrible to live with. I was aggressive, spiteful, and argumentative, all of which just isn’t my personality. Even as an adult sufferer I can see some of these mean traits re-emerging and I hate every moment of it. Never mind how mean it is it’s also very embarrassing. I hate who I am with this eating disorder.

There was a lot of arguing around meal times and exercise when I was growing up.

My mother and father did the best they could to keep me eating and away from walking the streets and, of course, I hated it. I was depressed, self-harming, and starving myself on a daily basis and, honestly, I didn’t want to be here.

To be my sister growing up in a house like that with me–the gremlin of joy–roaming the halls couldn’t have been easy.

Before writing this post I took the time to text my sister and ask her how it made her feel. I apologised and explained to her that although it wasn’t ‘me’, it doesn’t justify what a b*tch I was.

It took me over 10 years to apologise for it and I would never have done it if I wasn’t in recovery now, but it needed to be done. Let’s call it part of my 12 steps.

How Eating Disorder Affect Siblings

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have a sibling with an eating disorder and to have to watch them essentially harm themselves through the act of starvation, purging, binging, etc. I have, however, done my research and, as a sufferer, can appreciate how hard it must be.

As my sister mentioned, it can leave you feeling very forgotten about because all the attention is on this one person, with this one awful disorder.

Your sibling might be in the hospital, which could be miles away from you, so your parental figures have to travel quite a lot in order to see them. This obviously means they won’t be at home as much and, therefore, may not be spending a lot of time you.

Even if this isn’t the case, the fact that your sibling is suffering from an eating disorder can eat up a lot of your parental figure’s time. Meal times might be largely focused around your sibling, and it might seem like everything is being done to appease them.

Let’s not forget the arguments.

Believe me, there are so many arguments that start in the home due to the eating disorder, and they can be exhausting. To have to live in a hostile environment like that can be frustrating and terrifying.

Even if you don’t live at home anymore it can be exhausting.

You may not feel the direct strain of the eating disorder, but the isolation is definitely there–even more so because you don’t live in the same home anymore. It might feel like you’ve lost your sibling and that they are pushing you away at times.

No matter what it feels like–if you live with them, if they are inpatient or outpatient–you are not alone. There are so many others dealing with siblings with eating disorders; there is support available for you should you need it.

Tips for Coping with an Eating Disorder in the Family:

1. Remind yourself this isn’t your fault.

Nothing you said or did could have caused the eating disorder. All siblings fight and say things in the heat of the moment, especially things they don’t mean. Just because you called him/her that vicious name months ago does not result in the development of anorexia. At least not solely on its own.

2. Educate yourself about the disorder.

The more you know about the eating disorder the more you will be able to understand what is going on. Of course, you won’t be able to understand completely unless you have been in your sibling’s shoes, but you will be able to grasp a basic concept of what is going on, the irrational fear behind it, and, most importantly, that it is a serious illness and not one to be taken lightly.

3. Remember it’s the ED, not your sibling.

Remind yourself that it’s the eating disorder and not your sibling when things start to get ugly.

4. Remember your sibling still loves you.

Remind yourself that just because your sibling is acting like this it doesn’t mean they don’t love you; they are just in a deep state of distress.

5. Take the time to talk to people.

Don’t keep everything bottled up inside. If you are feeling upset, and you will, please speak to a close friend who you trust. If you feel that you might benefit from therapy, by all means, go for it. Just don’t keep it all pent up inside.

6. Continue normal life.

Try to continue normal life as much as possible.

7. Accept that it might be difficult to talk to your sibling about it.

They may not want to discuss it and may even find it very hard to get their thoughts and feelings out. Trust me, as much as I talk about it online, I still find it difficult to speak to work colleagues, my parents, and even sometimes, my therapist about the whole thing. Sometimes words just can’t describe what exactly is going on, and the words that do, sound cheesy and overused. Although you may be curious and ready to talk about it out in the open your sibling may not.

8. Spend time away from home.

Enjoy going out with your friends, or even take yourself on a quiet nature walk. Just make sure to get some space. This will give you time to recharge your own battery. If you already live away from home then you’re pretty much set.

9. Consider getting a therapist.

I briefly touched on this earlier, but if you feel that you could benefit from a therapist, by all means, go for it. There is only so much you, your friends, or your guardians can discuss. A therapist will be trained to work with the thoughts and feelings you give to them and will help you work through these in an appropriate way. There will be lots of feelings, thoughts, etc surrounding your siblings eating disorder–that’s normal!

10. Don’t become fixated on your own body and weight.

This can be difficult, especially for younger women in the house. Do not let the eating disorder infect you the way it has infected your sibling. If you are having concerns about your body image or you feel yourself getting pulled in, then it’s time to step back and speak to someone about it before it gets any worse.



Article Photo by Kylo on Unsplash

My name is Chloe. I write about eating disorders and mental health (among other topics) over on my blog. I've suffered from anorexia for over 13 years and spent about 7 of those in quasi-recovery. It was only after a recent burnout in December of 2018 that I relapsed and decided, once and for all, to get the help I needed. I believe that each and every sufferer has it inside them to reach that point where food is no longer the enemy, and that full recovery is an obtainable goal.

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