Confessions of an Anorexic’s Sister

ConfessionsofananorexisisterThe following personal story is told with full permission by the people involved.

Five years ago, I arrived home from college to celebrate Christmas, happily anticipating the family, food and holiday celebration. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and siblings were everywhere. Halfway through the round of hugs, my anorexic sister appeared. She looked positively sickening, all bones and angles. When she hugged me, I almost vomited…I was hugging a skeleton. What had happened to my sister? I knew that she was struggling with under eating and over exercising, but I had no idea it was this bad. I was unable to be near her, look at her, touch her….it made me sick. Her sickness caused all kinds of horrible emotional reactions in me. And because she was the one that was sick-I wasn’t-I felt guilty for being on this emotional rollercoaster. But her anorexia had overtaken my life and I had no idea how to cope.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, between 5-10% of girls and women (5-10 million) suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Anorexia is the leading cause of death in young women aged 15-24. Collectively, eating disorders are the mental illness with the highest death rate. The most startling statistic of all is that approximately 50% of Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder.

Confession #1: I was angry with her all the time.

I am not proud to admit it, but I was furious with my sister for making choices that led to the destruction of her body and hurt my family. My parents were consumed with worry, my other sisters were strongly tempted to mimic her illness and my brothers were ignored. Anorexia is a mental disorder, but it begins with a choice to exercise excessively and self-induce starvation. I was angry with her for making such a harmful decision in the first place. She always seemed much smarter and stronger than that. However, my anger finally disappeared after realizing that my sister was actually deceived. She believed Satan’s lies about her body and was spiritually deceived, resulting in a physical and mental disorder.

Months passed before I realized that my anger toward my sister was destroying me just like her disease was eating away at her. Anger and frustration are natural responses to self-destructive behavior in a loved one, but living in that anger is sin. Anger will not cure an anorexic or help family members cope with the sickness. The Bible takes a clear stance on anger in the heart of a believer. James 1:19-20 says, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” And Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Choosing to live in a spirit of anger is sin and will hurt your relationship with the anorexic just as much as her illness does. I confessed my sin and repented before God. Later, at the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I asked my sister to forgive me for being so angry. God used that in a powerful way to mend our relationship!

Confession #2: I was consumed with worry, to the point that I could no longer pray.

Just thinking about my sister made me ill with worry. I was terrified that I would never get my sister back. The worry was eating me alive and it drove a wedge between me and God. I lost months of time with God because of anger and fear for my sister as she battled anorexia. Oh, I had quiet times, or rather times when I searched the Scripture for a word about my sister and times when I begged God in prayer to heal her. I didn’t spend time with God because I loved Him. I didn’t give Him my worry and rest in His comfort. I merely opened my Bible and worried over it.

That is the exact opposite of what the Bible commands us to do. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  And Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious about nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” It is vital that you immerse yourself in truth during times like these. You will be unable to help the anorexic if you are on shaky terms with God. In difficult circumstances it is imperative that we do not abandon the basics of our Christianity: reading Scripture, praying, accountability, and Christian fellowship.  Your church is God’s gift to you during this time: don’t keep this pain to yourself…share your burden with fellow believers! Allow other Christians to live out Galatians 6:2, which says “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” There will also be times when you need to limit the amount of time you pray for the anorexic, because she should not consume your time with God. Focus on praising, thanking, worshiping, and listening to God….only then will you have the strength to deal with it all. It was incredibly difficult to trust God with my sister, but when I finally placed her in His capable hands I found peace and was able to actually minister to her.

Confession #3: I was disappointed in my sister. How could she be a Christian and do this to herself?

I was so disappointed in my anorexic sister. She was a strong Christian before she got sick. She always had her quiet time and she prayed often. Then she became obsessed with her body and, in doing so, destroyed her Christian example to her sisters and friends. I was so judgmental of my sister and her struggles. I had no idea what she was going through, but I thought she should be able to overcome this eating disorder. God humbled me with this verse, ““Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37 My sister took her focus off of God and made an idol of her body. All of us are weak at various times in our lives, and those weaknesses can pull us away from God. My sister focused on the appearance rather than the heart, which led her into her anorexia. When I stopped judging her and expecting her to fix herself, I was finally able to understand a little bit of why she was struggling. Only then was I finally able to truly pray for her and with her.

Confession #4: She made me want to become anorexic too.

Merely standing in the same room with my anorexic sister made me feel fat. A fellow anorexic’s sister, Amy, could relate: “Even now, when she is so deep in her anorexia, I regard my sister with a mix of awe and disgust. I can’t help feeling so large and ungainly around her. I know she is sick, but when I am around her I feel so ugly and huge around her! It tempts me to obsess about weight too.” It is obvious that anorexia causes extreme weight loss, so even normal-sized people feel fat compared someone so desperately skinny. Satan uses times of stress and trial to attack us in areas of weakness. He was using my sister’s illness to tempt me down the same destructive path. When I realized what I was considering, I stopped right there and prayed that God would protect me from the temptation to become anorexic. A wise woman counseled me to write key Scriptures on note cards and carry them with me to ward off Satan’s tempting lies to join my sister in her anorexia. Two of the most powerful verses were Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” And Psalm 139:13-14, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

But it wasn’t just how she looked; it was also the attention she received. My sister’s anorexia made her the center of attention. My parent’s entire world revolved around keeping her alive. Strangers were complimenting her “model-skinny” looks and friends fussed over her. When I stood next to her, I felt completely invisible and overlooked. I was actually tempted to join her in not eating so I could get someone – anyone – to notice that I was still alive. Vicky explained it this way, “I felt completely neglected by my family, which in turn made me completely disgusted at myself for being so self-absorbed while my sister is the ill one.”  As I turned to God in prayer, He opened my eyes to see that the people who were complementing her were just as deceived as my sister. They didn’t see her hideously gaunt figure in a swimsuit. They were merely applauding her for fitting into a socially accepted mold. This entire situation was sad, not something to be envied. But most importantly, if I truly love my sister there is no place for jealousy or even resentment of the overabundance of attention she received from family and friends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

According to the doctors my sister was the only one afflicted with anorexia, but not one family member escaped that battle unscathed. Eating disorders have a devastating effect on family and friends. While there are no rehabilitation centers for family members of anorexics, there are some things you can do. First, focus on your relationship with God. The harder the circumstances, the more time you need to be spending in His word. Second, you cannot fix the Anorexic, but you can love her. Third, don’t deny that this illness affects you too. Find a prayer/accountability partner that can walk with you through this difficult time.

Five years have passed and my sister still struggles with her eating disorder. But as long as she lives her life believing Scripture, God gives her victory. I learned powerful lessons through my sister’s fight against anorexia. I learned to turn to God with my emotional struggles. I learned that living in the truth of Scripture is the answer to my every problem. I learned that God truly works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

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5 thoughts on “Confessions of an Anorexic’s Sister

  1. This is beautiful.
    I have never been closely connected with anyone with an eating disorder but this was so eye opening to me- should I happen to get to know someone with an eating disorder I’ll be watching out for the family members too and give them a little more love than I would have other wise, and definitely be praying just as much for them too.

    Thanks for sharing your heart!

  2. I found your other blog today and linked over here to read more and reccomend you read “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge.
    I, like the other commentor, have never known someone closely with anerexia but your post not only better prepared me to minister to them and their family should I ever, it ministered to my heart today. Thank you, have a joyful day!

  3. Thank you for writing this it really blessed me…. Im a Christian and have a little sister who had annorexia for two years and then Seemed better, but recently has fallen back into it… It scares me. Im scared that she wont recover this time and I am also scared that i won’t be able to deal with this bout of it well. Last time i didnt. Blamed myself and stress ate and even hurt myself because of the emotional pain of watching my sister starve herself… It was agonizing. But hopefully i will be able to put into practice the advice you gave. Most people dont understand but you hit it right on… So thank you. Thank you for being honest and sharing your struggles. It means so much to know that someone understands. God bless you.

  4. I feel as though I could have written this article myself. I have a sister 4 years older than me that started on a quest to “get fit” about 25 years ago and it has slowly but continually progressed into full blown anorexia, which she has been for many years now. She’s 5’5″ and about 9 years ago confessed to me she weighed 78lbs. She was hospitalized once about 6 yrs ago and it scared her. She swore she was going to change her eating habits & quit drinking Soda (Mtn.Dew) all the time. We were raised in a Christian home and attended church everytime the doors were open. Of course this doesn’t mean a perfect environment and we as a family and individuals still have issues, but we did not have major issues like many broken/divorced, alcoholic families face, and we have God on our side to help deal with them. Today my sister is 52, I said for years i didn’t think she would live to see 50. When you think she can’t get any worse, she still does. Today, she still can’t weight over 80 lbs. She lives by herself so has to try and work to support herself, but has trouble getting and keeping jobs. Everywhere she works she leaves under bad terms because someone is picking on her. She shops at Goodwill and has no concept of how bad her physical appearance is. When she (seldom) talks to us about it, if we try to give her advice as to small steps to take to improve the situation by improving her appearance, then she says her family is also against her. We don’t bring the subject up anymore, we did for years and she withdrew from us to the point we barely see her even on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I offered a couple years ago for her to sell her house and move in with me because she has trouble maintaining work. But, she’s been totally reluctant, I figure its because she can’t bear the thought of being around family that much. I don’t know how many days she has left with us, how much longer her abused heart and body can last. But, like you said all we can do is love her and give the situation to God. I’m sorry my sister is missing out on the joyous life and blessings that God intends for all of us to have while on this earth, but I pray she one day will have an abundance in Heaven. Thank you for sharing your painful story and inspiring me for the first time to really share mine. God Bless you.

  5. Thank you so much. My names Vanessa (or vannie) and recently my sister has been diagnosed with anorexia. She is 16 and I am 12 making us four years apart. It SO hard having to watch your sister go through this. EVERYTHING you said was true. The things that you stated. It’s all the things that I go trough. Thank you for not proving me alone. (: god bless

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