More threads by Desperate Daughter in Law

Hi, I am really hoping that this forum will help me to help my mother in law who is an anorexic and has been for many years. For anyone who is willing to read this whole post I will try and paint the picture that led me to this site and to anyone who may be able to help us in helping her.

My mother in law is 61, since the birth of my brother in law (38) she has watched her weight. She is painfully thin and admitted about two years ago that she basically starves herself. Each year before her holiday she sets herself a target weight, at 5 foot 4 the first I knew of this was when her target was 8 stone, not too alarming but still under nourished, a few years later that pre holiday weight was 7 stone, the problem now is that I fear her pre holiday target weight is now 6 stone, i.e. progressively worse.

She has admitted to other people that she eats a banana every day, along with coffee 30 cigs and 6 pro plus. The problem is that my husband (her son) his brother and dad are so used to this behaviour that they dont seem to see it as a problem or anything that they can resolve, my fear is that she is thinking they dont care and it doesnt matter how far she takes this, she wont die and they wont notice.

I find it so difficult to even talk to her because I feel for my kids I feel angry at her and what she is doing to herself, I know its an illness and that I need to understand better which is why I am here, but how will we tell them that their nan died of self neglect, starvation, or malnutrition and that we did nothing to try and help her. We have alot of evidence that suggests that she is trying to be thinner than a family member who has cancer, its kind of like she is trying to get our attention.

Two years ago we had a family meeting after she kept fainting and managed to get her to a doctor, he said she was and had been anorexic for many years and that she needed to see a psychologist, her response was that she isnt batty and she refused to go and see a shrink, the family accepted that and seemed to forget about it. My fear now is that she is on the verge of a breakdown.

Most recently I asked her before her holiday if she had lost weight, she smiled and said no, then seemed pleased that someone else had said they were more concerned about her than they were about the relative that had cancer!! She is on holiday now and I know that after her one meal a day which she only has on holiday she will be walking for 8 miles to walk her dinner off. She has recently thrown away her scales as well as 6 bags of clothes (size 8) and is showing people the 3 safety pins that keep her size 8 clothes on.

I could go on and on, but a friend suggested that I write her a letter showing that I care and that we want to help her, but I didnt want to do that without getting an opinion from either other sufferers (Im told she might think Im jealous of her slim build) or someone who knows the score.

She is due back in two weeks and then we go the day after, I dont want to drop the bombshell and then disappear, please someone tell me what is the best way to handle this. I cant stay silent, but I cant do anything without proof of what damage she is doing to herself or without convincing everyone that this time its serious.

Any advice good or bad will be welcome, I really am desperate.
Thanks in advance


Welcome to the forum, and I hope you recieve some good advice.
It sounds to me like your Mother-in-law really is trying to get attention. Like showing people the safety pins on her clothes, not trying to hide what she eats or how much she exercises, and "competing" with your other family member with cancer. Often, people with eating disorders are much more likely to try to hide their habits (even if on some level they are looking for attention). Are there any reasons you can think of as to why your mother-in-law would feel unloved or unnoticed? Something in her past?
I think your husband and his brother probably feel helpless in this situation and don't know how to deal with it. Eating disorders are extremely uncomfortable for most people. Therefore, you should be so happy with yourself that you are determined to do something about this.
Since your mother-in-law has already shown signs that she wants other people to notice, I think the best way to approach her is to let her know right off that you care about her and are worried about her. However, be prepared for a number of reactions. People with eating disorders usually can't stand when other people "bother" them about their weight loss and what or how much they eat. She could get very defensive or just not want to talk about it. However, from your post, it sounds like maybe she outwardly wants people to notice (perhaps more than many anorexic people). I say sit down with her one on one and be very gentle. Voice your concerns, show her your love and then leave the floor open for her to tell you anything she wants. She might not have anything to say - yet. But, let her know that after you leave she can call you if she wants to talk about anything. I would be very straight forward with her, but don't get into all kinds of little details, like exactly what she eats and when.
I know you're very afraid and you probably want something to be done about this immediately. However, from my own experience with anorexia, the door first had to be opened for me to begin to see and accept that something was wrong. I think you should open that door for your mother-in-law and for a little while, be patient. I mean, if you think that she's about to die, then you'd take her to the hospital. But, before it gets to that point, she has to see it for herself.
Maybe, you should also tell your other family members that you're going to have this talk with her. Then tell your mother-in-law that they are worried about her also, and that if she at any time wants to talk to them about it she can. That way, she knows that they are there for her, but they're not all smothering and embarrassing her with questions and opinions. If she decides to talk to other people they could also be prepared.
Anyway, I don't know if I've been any help to you, but there are other people on this forum with good advice. Good luck!
Thank you

You most certainly have been of help and your ideas about approaching it are of particular interest, as the last time we did it we obviously did it wrong. The whole family with uncomfortable questions, dealing with trivia and thinking back it was kind of frantic and what she might of considered smothering and unnecessary. The result was that my brother in law and sister in law took over and marched her to the doctors but never followed it up, they felt they had done their bit and left it, when I think back to it she was happy for them to take her rather than me because she knew I wouldnt just drop it, now I feel like I have let her down, if I had taken her we could be making progress by now.

As for feeling unloved etc. My father in law is a certified manic depressive, who made a serious attempt to take his own life (26 years ago) following a failed business venture, I think this event haunts my husband and his brother too, but maybe this could be something to do with my mother in laws problem? she certainly speaks about if very publicly even now. He is a very unhappy soul and whilst they used to work together, they spend alot of time apart now, she works in a bar which she puts before anything, the coincidence is that I used to be the manager of the bar and they both worked for me, I left a year ago and so did he, but my mother in law stayed, its her social life and I guess her lifeline. They spend very little time together and I think he may realise the extent of her problem when they are on holiday, not that its not staring them in the face.

Anyway, my father in law does not help with comments like oh this time next year I will be a widow and I know she isnt getting attention at home, the only time the subject seems to come up with anyone is when i bring it up and then the response to me is, well she has always starved herself what can we do about it? But it does appear to have got them thinking this time.

I know I am probably going over old ground again, but just wanted to say you seem to have a good grasp on my situation and I just wanted to fill a few gaps in. Thank you very much for your advice I am going to give the whole situation some serious thought before deciding exactly what to do and when. Many many thanks, I will keep you posted of progress
diana's write

hello and welcome ,
first off I would like to say how kind it is of you to be looking for all the answers you can find with the ultimat goal of helping your mother in law and I agree on most of the things that Diana is saying and I would like to add : the reason she always talks about the weight loss is that she is probably at the point that she does not have to hide it anymore and has full concience that she is anorexic but probably thinks that it's good for her and it has sort of become her according to her.... You need to let her know that you are there for her cause wel she may not feel very comfortable disgusing te matter with her son and husband and you may be the one she will go to when she can't take it anymore .. this disorder can only be trully stoped by the person living with it but it can be helped by you and others stay by her side make her notice the bad sides of all of it mawbe even get all the close familly and her friends that are worried about her in a room and take her in so they can all express their worries she will then notice what 's going on and how she is affecting them in a not so positive way. she may then ask for help..
I hope this is of use to you
your's trully
Replying is not possible. This forum is only available as an archive.