Anorexia/Eating Disorders/What do I do?


Hi. And THANK YOU so much for taking the time to read this and answer my question! I really appreciate it.
I'm writing to you because my cousin (27 years old) is about 5'3" and 65 pounds. She and her husband refuse to get help for her. I see her literally wasting away and dying right before my eyes. Her skin is grey and leathery,she has trouble walking, her hair is falling out, she is always in pain and I'm terribly worried that she will die.
Her husband tends to her every need and I feel that he is being manipulated by her. She is extremely controlling and childlike in her mannerisms and behavior. I can't help but feel angry and enraged that they will not get help for her. Her husband says that she has to "want to get help." I don't see how she'll ever want to change when she is being controlled by this horrible disease.
I tried talking with both of them separately and in different ways, but nothing seems to work. The whole family fears for her health and his as well. It seems as though they are combining forces to become a larger disease, their own disease, where only they can understand each other.
I'm not sure what, if anything, I can do. I'm terribly upset with her doctors who seem to be taking their checks twice a week, but do nothing to encourage her to seek help. They said that they went to a clinic but had to leave because she saw people with feeding tubes and got frightened.
I'm at a loss. I don't want to see her die.
I have tried expressing this to her in a multitude of ways, in the best ways I know how, but she gets angry at me as does he. They are both defensive and it seems as though they want to be left alone.Should leave them alone? Should I let them both figure this out? Can she die? Is there something I can do? Would it be meddling if I wanted to help or offered help? I don't know what to do.
Please help. I'm so worried she will die very soon.

(PS. I developed an eating disorder in 2000. I lost 40 pounds in less than 6 months. In 2001, I stopped breathing for 20 minutes and almost died. This was enough to scare me and I recovered slowly over the years. I have lasting neurological problems, I cannot walk some days, I have seizures and dysautonomia all caused by anorexia. It took me a long time to figure out why I was suffering neurologically and finally The Mayo Clinic gave me this information. I still sometimes think like an anorexic but I look normal).

I feel so lost. I wish I could do something to help her...and him.

Hi Christina,

I am so sorry you are going through this with your cousin. You have every right to be concerned - yes, she could die from her anorexia. I wish I had an easy answer for you, but I don't. Everything you described are symptoms of her anorexia - even the childlike behavior. Unfortunately, as she is not a minor and you are not directly related to her, you have no legal power to force her into treatment. It sounds like her husband is unwilling to get help as well. Have you suggested that he see a counselor? Have you offered to talk to them together or separately about your concerns? (It sounds like you have and they are not interested.)

At this point you may need to ready yourself - you may very well lose your cousin if she is unwilling to seek treatment.

In the meantime, there is a fabulous book by Becky Henry called Just Tell Her to Stop that I recommend for anyone who is suffering from ED or knows someone who is.

I also encourage you to check out these websites for tips for dealing with friends and family members suffering from anorexia.

I hope you find these resources helpful and that your cousin gets into treatment ASAP. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions or do anything else to help. I can also send you some resources for your own battle with ED if you'd like.

Anorexia/Eating Disorders

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Mary Pritchard


I can answer questions about the psychology of eating, disordered eating attitudes and behaviors such as drive for thinness, drive for muscularity, binge eating, body dysmorphia, dieting, excessive/obsessive exercise, and body dissatisfaction. I can also answer questions about anorexia and bulimia.


I have a PhD in Psychology and teach courses in the Psychology of Health and the Psychology of Eating. I have been conducting research on disordered eating and exercise behaviors for 15 years.

Midwestern psychological association, rocky mountain psychological association

Over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles in journals such as Eating Behaviors, Eating Disorders, and Eating and Weight Disorders

PhD in Psychology from the University of Denver

Awards and Honors
30 teaching awards, have received funding to conduct my research from academic institutions and state and local government

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