When Your Sibling Has An Eating Disorder | Eating Disorders Victoria
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For siblings

Home ~ For family and friends ~ For siblings

This page offers tips and guidance for siblings of people with an eating disorder.

When your sibling has an eating disorder

Siblings have unique relationships with each other and when a sibling becomes ill with an eating disorder, it can be quite a confusing time. You may experience a range of feelings and thoughts, but remember that you are not alone.

When a young person develops an eating disorder, it can severely impact on their whole family. Siblings are especially affected, as the dynamic they have with both their ill sibling and their parents can rapidly change.

Some common feelings may include:

Grief and sadness

  • Feeling you have lost your ‘old’ sibling and your relationship with them
  • Feeling you have lost your former family life
  • Sadness at seeing your sibling and family in such distress
  • Not understanding why this has happened

Anger

  • Feeling like your sibling is taking priority
  • Feeling that your sibling is the cause of pain and hurt in the family — i.e. “It’s her fault that Mum is so stressed at the moment”
  • At the disruption of family routines and home environment

Neglect and isolation

  • So much time and energy is devoted to the needs of your ill sibling
  • People often talk to you about your sick sibling and not about your everyday life or how you’re coping with it all

Stress

  • Not wanting to talk about feelings with your parents in case of further burden

Top 10 tips for siblings of someone with an eating disorder

  1. Accept that your sibling’s illness is not your fault.
  2. Educate yourself – learn about the type of eating disorder your sibling has, particularly the behavioural changes that they might experience. It is better to know the facts of the illness and have a good understanding of what the coming weeks and months may be like.
  3. Know that your sibling is very distressed and confused and even though they might not say or show it, they have not stopped caring about you.
  4. Realise that it is the eating disorder that makes your sibling grumpy, moody, angry and hurtful. The eating disorder can override rational behaviour and change your sibling’s behaviour.
  5. Talk to your friends, parents, and relatives about your feelings and your fears. Attending support groups for relatives of a person with an eating disorder and/ or calling the EDV Hub may be useful.
  6. Try to continue normal sibling activities that you shared before your sibling became ill.
  7. Respect that it may be difficult for your sibling to talk about what they’re going through, but let them know that there is no time limit on your support and you’d be happy to listen and be there when they feel ready.
  8. Enjoy time away from the home environment, to recharge and do ‘normal’ activities. It is also important to try and not to let your sibling’s illness dominate your thoughts for a few hours. As hard as this is, reassure yourself that your sibling will be OK while you’re spending some time to yourself and that it’s OK to do this — don’t feel guilty about it!
  9. Consider seeking professional help for yourself to talk about what you may be feeling and experiencing. You may like to talk to a school welfare worker, a psychologist or counsellor. By talking to someone you may think about things in a different way and be empowered with skills to better deal with situations. Often by talking to someone your feelings and emotions can be validated as normal and OK.
  10. As eating disorders can affect all members of the family in different ways it’s important to talk about what’s going on — whether you choose to talk about it as a family or look at getting some outside help.
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