Straight Talk Advice

Feb 23, 2011

Anorexic girl dying for sister to tell on her

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: My younger sister is 15 and paranoid about her weight because when she was younger she was teased about being fat. From researching the Internet, I think she has anorexia. She barely eats most of the time, but occasionally she stuffs herself and then forces herself to throw up. She has also started taking strong laxatives every day. When she’s dressed she just looks thin, but we share a room and I see her without any clothes on. She is literally, skin and bones. My sister says she’s fine and will stop once she gets her weight down. She won’t let me say anything to our mom who doesn’t realize what’s going on. What should I do? — Worried Sister, Modesto, Calif.

Katelyn 16, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

Tell your mom. Your sister needs therapy — and fast. Without it, she may end up dead and you will feel accountable.

Matt 16, Villa Park, Calif. Ask me a question

A close friend is fighting anorexia. This is no secret to keep. It’s a life and death battle and your sister needs physiological help. This disease is not about being skinny and controlling weight, it is about controlling one’s environment. Let your sister know you love her. Her world is lonely and frightening. Recovery involves the whole family, so hang in there.

Hannah 16, Safford, Ariz. Ask me a question

I have seen firsthand what anorexia nervosa does. Your sister needs help fast! TELL YOUR MOTHER!

Scot 23, Providence, R.I. Ask me a question

Tell your mom. Have her act like she just noticed it.

Katherine 16, Petaluma, Calif. Ask me a question

I have a friend who is anorexic. She constantly says, “I can’t eat today, I’m not hungry.” When she does eat, she binges. She also takes laxatives and advocates for my friends and me to take them, too. She is from a wealthy family and her mother works hard at being beautiful, fit and successful. She constantly puts her daughter down: “What’s with your hair? You’re wearing that? I made an appointment for your eyebrows.” Naturally, my friend doesn’t respond well to these comments. She also recently began seeing this guy. She feels she must be the perfect, prettiest, skinniest girl. She has changed so much — especially in loss of confidence. I think she feels she must live up to her mother’s excellence.

Brie 20, Santa Barbara, Calif. Ask me a question

Anorexia is an addiction. Your sister has a distorted self-vision and thinks nothing is wrong. Tell your mom. In the end, she will thank you.

Mark 24, Laguna Niguel, Calif. Ask me a question

A family member is getting treatment for anorexia right now. Anorexia has nothing to do with food or weight. It has everything to do with needing to be perfect. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Recovery requires professional help with re-feeding and deep therapy. The family must unite as a quiet, loving support team. Become a listener. Many ordinary things people say actually trigger an anorexic’s continued starvation. Be quiet so she can talk. The disorder makes her introverted so check in often. Hug and touch her often. Be calm and balanced around her. Radiate positive energy and love. Be real and honest about your own behaviors.

DEAR WORRIED: If the panel didn’t convince you to tell, we just got mail from a “cutter” who said she always changed clothes in front of her stepsisters (instead of in the bathroom) hoping that they would notify her parents about her wounds. But nobody told. She ended up attempting suicide to get help. Anorexia is a suicide attempt — and you are the one your sister is crying to for help. Tell your mother today. Everything the panel says here is true.

Readers: Anorexia and bulimia are becoming more common. Keep reading for the warning signs below.

Editor’s Note: Like most at-risk behaviors, siblings and friends are often in-the-know, while parents are in the dark until someone tells them or the problem reaches tragic proportions. I can’t stress how important it is to tell, tell, tell. The person struggling really does want you to, even if they say they don’t. If you need more convincing, the letter from the “cutter” referenced above can be read in comment section of last week’s “Glee” column (Feb 16, 2011) on the Straight Talk website at www.straighttalkTNT.com.

Upwards of 3.7 percent of females have anorexia and/or bulimia. It mostly afflicts young women. But please don’t overlook males. About 10 percent of anorexics are male and because of stereotyping, the disease can be easier to overlook. No matter how “light” a case of anorexia may seem, it demands professional therapy — and the faster the better. Not only does it have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, the longer the starvation continues, the more it causes lifelong health problems.

Possible warning signs of anorexia:
▪ rapid, dramatic weight loss
▪ scabs on knuckles from forced vomiting
▪ soft, fine hair on face and body
▪ obsession with food and calories
▪ perception/fear of being overweight
▪ may cook elaborately but not eat
▪ cuts food into tiny pieces
▪ won’t eat around others
▪ hides or discards food
▪ uses laxatives, diet pills, ipecac syrup, or water pills
▪ runs to bathroom after eating (to expel food)
▪ exercises frequently and strenuously
▪ complains of being cold
▪ withdraws or becomes secretive
▪ wears baggy clothing
▪ swollen cheeks and/or joints
▪ abdominal distension

  1. By Denise, age , from Petaluma, CA on 02/23/2011

    It’s true that you can’t really see the terrible effects of anorexia when somebody has clothes on.  That makes it easy to hide, so if someone does see the signs, they definitely need to tell someone.  I thought my best friend was just getting very thin, perhaps too thin, but didn’t realize that she had a serious problem until I was at her house for a sleepover and saw her nude when she got undressed and was shocked at the wasted state of her body.  She shares a room with her sister who had also obviously seen her, so I asked her about it when my friend was out of the room.  She said that she was also very concerned but my friend didn’t want her to tell their mom and that they had a pact that they don’t tell on each other.  She said that my friend was able to avoid her mom seeing her undressed which wasn’t hard since their mom avoided coming in their room when they were undressed, anyway.  However, the condition of her body was so bad that I just couldn’t let it go.  I did some research on the Internet that showed that she could be in a life threatening condition and showed it to her sister and it scared her and we agreed to do an intervention with her.  She broke down and admitted that she needed help and agreed to go to her mom with us along for support.  At first her mom didn’t think she could be anorexic and thought we were all overracting.  However, she stripped down to her underwear and her mom was so shocked she almost fainted and insisted that she get the help she needed.  She is getting better now, but it is a difficult road, but I am very glad that I intervened.  Nobody on the panel mentioned doing an intervention, but I think that it is the best way to go in a situation like this.  Any anyone who sees something like this needs to do something.  In many cases, it may be only a sister or a close friend who sees someone like this nude, so if you don’t do something, there may not be anyone else who can.

    Denise

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  2. By Steve, age , from Vacaville, CA on 02/24/2011

    From what I’ve read about it, I think my sister has anorexia and would like to tell our mom, but it would put me in a very difficult position.  I’m a guy and we have to share a room since our mom is a single parent with a low paying job and can barely afford our 2 bedroom apartment.  As opposite sex teenagers, we aren’t comfortable undressing in front of each other any more, so our mom got a privacy partician for our room that we could pull out when were undressing and have privacy.  However, I’m really ashamed to admit this, but I can see my sister by peeking through the crack in the partician and I sometimes can’t resist looking at her.  I know it’s wrong and I always feel guilty afterwards, but sometimes I give in to the temptation when it is right in front of me.  Anyway, lately my sister looks so thin that it’s scary and it looks like anorexia from what I’ve read about it.  Like with others who have written, when she has clothes on she just looks thin.  I don’t think our mom ever sees her nude, so I don’t know how she would find out unless I tell her.  However, I’m really ashamed to admit to what I’ve been doing in violating my sister’s privacy and her trust.  But maybe I should confess and tell our mom so that she can get help because I love my sister and would feel much worse if something happened to her, but I’m not really sure what to do. 

    Steve

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  3. By Liz, age , from Roseville, CA on 02/24/2011

    I agree that anybody who sees someone in this condition needs to tell somebody whether it’s your sister, a friend, or just someone you undress and shower with in gym class.  I had anorexia and my sister who I share a room with and sees me nude told our mom.  I was furious, but it got me the help I needed and I realize that she did it out of love and concern.  I also now realize that I subconsciously wanted her to tell even though it didn’t seem like it at the time.  If I ever see someone else in this condition, I will definitely tell someone.  Better to risk having somebody get mad at you than have something happen to them, and they will thank you in the end like I have with my sister.

    Liz

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  4. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks on 02/25/2011

    Dear Denise and Liz,

    Your letters are so powerful! I can’t thank you enough for what you have shared. It will help so many others find the strength to intervene in similar situations. A million thanks!!

    Love,
    Lauren

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  5. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks on 02/25/2011

    Dear Steve,

    Give yourself a break! The world works in strange ways. If there hadn’t been a crack in the partition and you hadn’t peeked (which by the way is natural and any teenage brother presented with the same situation would be lying if he said he never put his eyeball up to it), then nobody would have known your sister was imperiled. Consider it a blessing, drop the shame, and tell your mom. Everyone is going to be relieved, under these circumstances, that you peeked. In fact, it might be why your sister, perhaps unconsciously, didn’t tape up the crack herself. Surely she was aware it was there. And from what we are hearing from other cases, she wanted someone (you) to know the extent of her condition, so you would tell for her. Don’t let her down. When this is over and she is recovering, you can tape up the crack yourself.

    Thank you so much for writing us about this! The fact that you did tells me that your love for your sister is bigger than your ego and that you will tell your mom. I’m very proud of you in advance! Please let us know how it goes.

    Love,
    Lauren

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  6. By Candace, age , from Toledo, OH on 02/25/2011

    I now that anorexia is primarily found in teenage girls and young women.  However, our mom who is in her 40’s has all the symptoms.  Our dad left her for a much younger more attractive woman 6 months ago and ever since she’s been paranoid about her appearance and especially her weight.  She was somewhat overweight, but really no worse than many women her age and the moms of many of our friends.  She barely eats and when she does we often hear her in the bathroom throwing up right after and she takes laxatives every day.  She’s always been casual about nudity around the house which never bothered us since we’re girls and she’s our mom, and we can see that her body has totally wasted away just like those who wrote about their sisters and friends who have anorexia.  Her room is right next to our room and we often hear her crying at night when she’s in bed.  When a teenage girl is in this condition it makes sense to go to her mom.  But what do you do when it’s your mom who is in her 40’s?  Her mom (our grandmother) is in her 70’s and has serious health problems of her own, so we really don’t think it makes sense to go to her, and her only sister lives in Oregon and they have never been close, anyway.  What do you do in this situation when it’s your mom?

    Candace

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  7. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks on 02/25/2011

    Dear Candace,

    I’m so sorry for what you are going through and glad you are seeking help. As I’ve said earlier, with anorexia, don’t delay. Your mother is displaying her symptoms so we can assume she is calling to you and your sister for help. Here are a few ideas. If one doesn’t get you anywhere, go to the next.

    The first thing I would do is contact the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder http://www.anad.org Their. Helpline is 630-577-1330 and calls are taken Monday through Friday 9 AM Through 5 PM Central Time. They also have a special email address at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). In 30 seconds you could paste your whole letter into an email to them and ask them to call your cell phone.

    In addition, if your mother has a minister tell him/her. If she was/is seeing a counselor (perhaps a marriage counselor) tell him/her. 

    If you are not getting help on what to do for your mother right there in your own town, since anorexia is a type of suicide, I would call the 24-hour Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE. Your call will be automatically routed to Toledo and the people who answer the phones will know what facilities and options are available in your own city—including if you have no money.

    I hope this helps. You have my prayers. Please let us know what happens.

    Love,
    Lauren

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  8. By Marcie, age , from Carmichael, CA on 02/25/2011

    As someone recovering from anorexia, I want everyone to understand that someone with this disorder isn’t in their right mind.  If they were, they wouldn’t be doing this to themself.  So when they say they don’t want you to tell, it’s coming from someone whose not thinking rationally and you should tell someone and get them help.  In my case it was my stepsister.  I had always been shy about my body with her and changed in the bathroom when we shared a room on visitations.  However, about the time that my anorexia got really bad, I started undressing right in front of her and was actually very casual about being in my nudity in front of her.  I wasn’t consciously doing this because I wanted her to tell someone and get me help, but looking back, why else would I have done it when I had always been so shy around her?  Anyway, when she started seeing me nude she could see that I was in really bad shape.  She told her mom whe told my dad who told my mom and they made me get help.  Just like Liz, I was really mad at my stepsister at first and thought she was just out to get me in trouble since we didn’t get along well and made no secret that she resented having to share her room with me when I was there.  However, I now am very grateful and love her for what she did.  In addition to me getting the help I needed, we now have become close friends out of this.

    Marcie

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  9. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks on 02/26/2011

    Dear Marcie,

    This is an amazing story of how we unconsciously seek help. Nobody is as convincing as someone who has done something personally. Thank you so much. You have helped uncountable numbers of people today.

    I wish you God-speed in your recovery.

    Love,
    Lauren

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  10. By Lisa, age , from Santa Rosa, CA on 03/04/2011

    This is very helpful to me. I think my stepsister may have anorexia or bulimia or both.  You can’t really tell when she has clothes on and she just looks very thin like with others who wrote.  My sister and I have to share our room with her when she stays with us.  She avoids undressing in front of us and changes in the bathroom if we’re in the room which we always thought was strange since we’re all girls, but last weekend I accidentally walked in on her when she was just in her thong.  I was shocked at the wasted state of her body.  She literally looked like a skeleton, like the pictures I’ve seen from the Nazi concentration camps!  She was very upset and angry that I walked in on her and I apologized and left the room immediately and didn’t say anything.  I’ve also heard her throw up in the bathroom right after eating and have noticed that she’s taking laxatives every day and spends lots of time in the bathroom.  I was really torn about whether or not to tell anyone.  I discussed it with my sister and she said I should mind my own business as it should be up to her to ask for help if she needs it.  We don’t get along very well with her as it is, and my sister said it would make things worse if we tell, since she obviously wants to keep her condition hidden.  However, after reading everyone’s comments, I’ve decided to tell my mom.  I’m not comfortable discussing this with my stepdad (her dad), so I think it would be best to tell my mom who can tell him.  Even if she gets mad at me (and she probably will), I will know that I did the right thing.

    Lisa

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  11. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 03/05/2011

    Lisa,

    Wow. Thank you so much for writing about this. You are absolutely right to tell your mom. I can’t stress how deadly, or how much lifelong harm is caused by anorexia. Of all mental disorders, it is the deadliest. Your stepsister is unable to consciously ask for help because her mental condition is extremely damaged. Please carry through and do not listen to your sister! This is a realm where compassion and love requires that we DO get in each other’s business! Keep in mind that parents can be in denial and take no action. If that happens, call the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder (http://www.anad.org) helpline at 630-577-1330.

    I’m very proud of you. Please let us know how it goes.

    Love,
    Lauren

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  12. By Lea gibbs, age , from Rocklin ca on 02/29/2012

    “worried sister”
    If you love your sister .
    You will tell someone .
    Cause what she’s getting herself into is death .
    It’s like her saying “hey I’m going to kill mySelf
    But don’t tell mom”
    STOP HER .
    Cause I don’t think anyone wants to see your next
    Post being ,
    “sister is dieing in hospital from anorexia what
    Do I do”
    Reality needs to kick in here sweetie .

    Reply to this comment

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