Bulimia/Eating Disorders/Bulimic Family Member

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Question
Hello,

I strongly suspect my cousin's wife is bulimic.  She is 29 years old and very thin.  I notice she eats an incredible amount of food and will spend some time in the bathroom shortly after.  I have heard her vomiting once during one of her post-food bathroom trips.

I know it might not be my place, but I am not sure if my cousin knows/suspects and don't want to bring anything uncomfortable up for either of them.  She has 2 children, the second of which was born a week ago prematurely.  

I am just worried she has not talked to anyone or gotten the help she may need, but am not sure how to find out or bring it up.

Many Thanks,

Answer
Hi Stephen,

I do not envy you. Broaching the topic of an eating disorder with a family member is not an easy task.

Are you thinking of approaching your cousin or approaching his wife? If you approach her, I recommend the following:

1) Be prepared - She may get angry or deny it

2) Choose a caring environment - She needs to feel comfortable and safe; Do not approach the subject around meal time; You need to be calm and she should be too; Have a lot of time - this could take a while if she's ready to talk

3) Use the right language - use I statements; e.g. I care about you or Im worried about you; Encourage her to express how she feels; Do not blame or threaten her; Dont focus on the food focus on her feelings (eating disorders are coping mechanisms - so it's better to get at the reason she's doing this); Avoid manipulative statements (e.g., If you loved us)

4) Listen respectfully

5) Encourage her to seek help

6) Try not to take on the role of a therapist, but you may want to consult one prior to this conversation if you think it would help (someone you would recommend she talk to who actually treats eating disorders).


If you'd rather talk to your cousin, the same tips should work. He may suspect something and be afraid to confront her or he may be in denial.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help. Good luck!  

Bulimia/Eating Disorders

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Mary Pritchard, PhD

Expertise

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.

Experience

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.

Organizations
Midwestern psychological association, rocky mountain psychological association

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

Education/Credentials
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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