One Girl's Struggle To Help Her Sister Battle An Eating Disorder
This article was submitted to EatingDisordersOnline.com anonymously by a college senior. This is the story of her struggle to help her sister battle anorexia.
We both complained that our legs felt wobbly as we walked from the garage to the back door. My younger sister, Hanna, and I had just returned home from the gym after a grueling two-and-a-half-hour soccer conditioning class. We both knew the importance of out-of-season training, so we made sure we never missed a session. The intense workout shaped and toned every inch of our young bodies and, when the fall soccer season began we’d be prepared to dominate the field.
After every workout, our trainer told us to recover with plenty of healthy nourishment. That day I walked into our kitchen, opened the fridge, and pulled out the first piece of fruit I saw. I asked Hanna if she wanted anything, but she declined, saying she would grab something later and went upstairs to her bedroom. I paid no attention and went about chomping into my apple. It wasn’t until later that I noticed something awry; Hanna never came back down to eat.
The Warning Signs
When I realized my sister suffered from an eating disorder, I blamed myself for not taking action earlier. The signs were right in front of me: her lack of appetite, her disinterest in anything except looking thin, her constant need to work out, and her extreme and rapid weight loss. Hanna was already a very slender girl, but I hadn’t realized how thin she was becoming. Her legs looked frail and her arms looked spindly, though I expected them to be gaining definition from all of our conditioning classes.
I began to take note of her day-to-day eating and exercising habits. Our trainer once let it slip that the key to weight loss was that your intake, or the food consumed, had to be less than your output, or simply—you had to work out more if you wanted to lose weight, and so when I noticed that Hanna wasn't eating enough to compensate for the time she spent on a treadmill, I knew that something had to be done.
She would skip meals, stay up late doing core workouts in her room, and even skip classes to exercise in the school gym. The worst of it all was when my beautiful, smart, spunky little sister flunked her freshman geometry class because, as the teacher said, “she just didn’t seem to care about anything.”
For a while, I was jealous of how easy it was for her to lose weight. The desire to look skinny is a tough battle between the mind and the outside world. I, too, felt the pressures of being thin, but I never succumbed to the pressures. Hanna, however, did not escape.
Surprisingly, my parents took little notice of Hanna’s new behavior, or at least they pretended to wave it off as a phase. Perhaps they were scared of confronting my headstrong sister. In my mind, they weren’t doing enough.
I approached our school’s counselors to ask what I could do to help Hanna, but I would leave our meetings more discouraged than when I went in. They would tell me, “She’ll come when she’s ready." I approached my soccer coach, who I considered a mentor and friend, but she told me to seek out a counselor. I feared that with the summer quickly approaching, the outrageous swimsuit season would hurt her drastically.
After a year an a half of therapy, a psychiatrist diagnosed Hanna with anorexia athletica, a sickness that – as the doctor put it – affects the mind which tells the sufferer that she must constantly work out to feel good about herself. He told my family that Hanna's incident at the gym was because her body went into shock from overworking itself and not getting proper nourishment.
Hanna now is on a very strict diet and exercise plan, forcing her to eat a specific amount of calories at certain times throughout the day. Although she remains quite thin, she looks much healthier than she did on that horrible August day. The two of us are closer than ever before. When we talk about this experience, she tells me that she wants to help young girls who fear the pressures of their bodies. I cannot relate to this feeling, but I can offer my support.
How it Began
She said that it all began when she felt insecure in the seventh grade because her baby fat she had yet to loose made her the chubbiest girl in her class. Her friends all were tiny with skinny cheeks and able to wear bikinis to summer pool parties, whereas my sister with her circular face and one-piece suit sat wrapped in a towel on the deck. She told me that she and her doctor agreed that it was stupid of her to think to compare herself to the other girls on the pool deck because, as seventh graders going through various body changes, no one looked good in a swimsuit.
I can still picture that day when I watched Hanna collapse. Sitting in the café of my college, I overhear a group of girls talking about how much junk they’ve been eating lately and how little time they have to go to the gym to work it all off. Their schedules get in the way and the amount of homework they have is stressing them out. They unanimously agree that, before the weekend, they each have to try to loose three pounds in order to look thin and cute. It’s only Monday.
My stomach churns as I continue to eavesdrop on their ideas on how to get rid of those not-needed pounds. One girl suggests that they could work out during meal times. Another proposes purging themselves by puking. A third says they should only consume liquid beverages for the next week.
I cannot say that I pity them; in fact, I sympathize with them because I, too, have felt the pressure of weight, but as they continue to “giggle about their jiggle,” I close my eyes and picture the gym back at home. The treadmills are in a line facing the floor-length windows, the studios are occupied with step aerobic classes, and one little blonde girl is lying in the middle of it all after she fainted.
I want to turn around and tell those girls to stop being crazy. I want to tell them my sister’s story and warn them of the risks. I want to tell them that they look beautiful and healthy, and they should be happy for that.
But I don’t. I just keep picturing my perfect little sister, frail and broken, and I begin to cry.