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Anorexic MIL

(21 Posts)
GinaGel Fri 26-Jun-15 09:02:52

No point beating about the bush; my MIL is clearly anorexic. Been married to DH for 2 years, together for 7 and we are expecting our first baby, a girl, in September.

The thing is, she has never been diagnosed and NOBODY in the family ever seems to acknowledge that she is clearly anorexic. She is painfully thin to the extent that I notice people stare when she's out. She has always been this way; ive seen old photographs. I have asked DH outright in the past (I come from a family where we just "say" things to each other) and he says: "shes not anorexic, she's never liked food" in a very nanchallent way. She raised her kids vegan, I believe, to cut out food groups and to this day DH is still Vegetarian. She always seems distant and borderline snappy, shows no engaged interest in our baby (by this I mean she says all the right things but doesn't come across genuine). I always think we would never see her if we didn't bother to see her. Don't get me wrong, she's lovely but I can't understand why her anorexia has never been addressed by her family. They're all very 'polite' with each other, I just worry that's all. Any advice welcome

GinaGel Fri 26-Jun-15 09:04:28

I should point out that I didn't mean to say 'genuine', I meant that she doesn't come across particularly engaged in any conversation.

WorraLiberty Fri 26-Jun-15 09:07:03

Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition, and not one you're qualified to diagnose.

If your DH says she's always been thin and doesn't like food much, why don't you accept that?

Are there other reasons?

sparklewater Fri 26-Jun-15 09:08:00

Poor woman. sad

Sounds like everyone is in denial really. If she's been like this for decades she's unlikely to change now though.

What do you want? Her family to recognise the situation or to get her help?

GinaGel Fri 26-Jun-15 09:12:26

It is staring everyone in the face: she is emaciated and has a permanent cold, her hand are knobbly and with broken skin as she is quite clearly making herself throw up. She constantly looks washed out. I could go on and on. She is anorexic. It is obvious. The very fact that it is a serious medical condition is why I am dumbfounded that no one has ever even mentioned it to her. It's not "what they do" in their family. Weird. What do I want? I suppose I just think it is never to late to receive treatment for something which could ultimately kill you before your time.

WorraLiberty Fri 26-Jun-15 09:13:58

Have you witnessed her throwing up?

That sounds quite worrying.

Mrsjayy Fri 26-Jun-15 09:16:13

My mum has disordered eating she was on permadiet when i was growing up and there was laxatives (i am sure that is what they were) slim fast diet food and now she seems to live on coffee and fags when you grow up with all that it seems normal and its just how it is we do mention it from time to time she is very fragile looking but what can you do you cant make them eat if they are functioning adults iyswim perhaps ypur inlaws have questioned it but hit a brick wall so now nobody talks about it which is tragic mum never cut out food or anything for us I have a healthy relationship with food I think it was just mums personal struggle she also isnt engaging will repeat things and is never truly listening iyswim.

littlejohnnydory Fri 26-Jun-15 09:18:11

This isn't the right place to address the question, OP. People on AIBU often don't understand Eating Disorders. Have you come across the Beat website? They have a lot of reliable information, message board and helpline.

As for why it hasn't been addressed in the family, perhaps because it's so longstanding it has become normalised for them? Also, ED's are quite a controlling force and challenging them upsets the status quo. There is a lot of denial involved and unfortunately that enables the illness to continue.

PenguindreamsofDraco Fri 26-Jun-15 09:20:46

Can you say something to her? She may be crying out for someone to notice that something is wrong, and her bloody family clearly aren't going to.

It's crap though. My mother has been a functioning anorexic for 50+ years. Even cancer hasn't been enough of a wake up call. We have argued, cajoled, pretended not to notice, shouted, God know what else over the years. We've spoken to her oncologist (and numerous other doctors previously) - just to convey the info not to discuss her, before anyone is concerned about confidentiality smile. Absolutely nothing has made a difference - no idea whether it's the illness, selfishness, delusion or anything else - she is as she is. She probably won't die of it, but my God the impact on family meals, get togethers etc has been enormous. We have to watch her like a hawk around the female grandchildren. It is pernicious.

Sorry, that was all about us. But really just that, even with the most engaged and committed family, probably nothing will change sad

littlejohnnydory Fri 26-Jun-15 09:23:33

Would dh have a look at the information from Beat? You could just leave it lying around and he might read it and think about it.

After decades of severe anorexia there is going to be no quick fix and a complete recovery is less likely than it could be for someone in earlier stages of the illness. But treatment could improve her quality of life considerably. It can be difficult to access specialist treatment depending where you live, unfortunately.

Mistigri Fri 26-Jun-15 09:26:39

How would anorexia be "addressed" by her family, though? Her partner may have encouraged her to get help, you don't know. She may even have sought help, and possibly received some treatment.

Anorexia is a very difficult illness to treat and the longer it's been established the harder it is. I imagine that a middle aged functioning anorexic is unlikely ever to change sad - because even if they could access help - unlikely if they are "functioning" given the state of NHS mental health services - it is really very unlikely to be effective.

So I guess you're not BU to wonder why it's never discussed, but you are BU if you think there is an easy solution sad

ShipShapeAhoy Fri 26-Jun-15 09:38:47

It sounds very sad. I recognise that 'lack of engaged interest' you described as my own mum can be like that when she's in the midst of one of her epsidoes of mental health problems. (Not anorexia). It is sad and hard (for me anyway) to not take the lack of interest personally sometimes but I know she can't help it, it's an illness.

Your dh's family's reluctance to acknowledge there's a problem could partly be because they don't recognise there is one. If she's always been like that to your dh, to him that isnt sick mum it's just mum, it's normal. Any niggling doubts from other family members can easily be pushed aside in order to maintain what they know to be a normal life.

It sounds to me like your mil has been functioning this way for so long, it's just completely ingrained. I mean unless she seeks help herself I doubt things will change sadly.

TorrAlexandra Fri 26-Jun-15 09:39:50

If she's making herself vomit then she's bulimic, not anorexic (I know, pedantic). I would agree with what PPs are saying, I would ask a professional for advice, MN probably isn't the best place!!

Dancingqueen17 Fri 26-Jun-15 09:46:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sparklewater Fri 26-Jun-15 09:47:04

Sorry Torr but that's not true. If you binge and then purge you can be classified as bulimic, if you purge after eating normal / small amounts while restricting your diet the rest of the time then that would be classified as anorexic.

Hate to be the voice of doom but it is incredibly unlikely that anything you do will make this woman change the way she has lived most of her life. It's a very selfish mental illness, but a dangerous one - her denial, fear of loss of control and instinct to protect her safety net will be stronger than any desire to get better. Find other ways to support her if you can.

ghostyslovesheep Fri 26-Jun-15 10:05:09

when I was anorexic I purged all the time - after the one apple I ate a day for example!

op there is nothing you can do really - she may be just as your DH says but even if she is anorexic you can't change that - she can if she accepts she needs to

manicinsomniac Fri 26-Jun-15 10:13:54

Even if you binge and purge you are still classified as a purging anorexic if your BMI is below a certain level. It really annoys my underweight bulimic friends that their diagnosis is anorexia (I don't know why it annoys them!)

Your MIL sounds like my grandma. And I'm worried I will be like them in 25 years time too. It's very sad but there's not a lot you can do. Chronic anorexia is a lifestyle (I'm not saying that in a pro ana kind of way, more that it's something you just fix to a level that you can function and then just live with it. Changing is really tough because you can manage so you don't find the mental strength to be different.) My family don't talk to those of us affected any more - there's no point.

Ev1lEdna Fri 26-Jun-15 10:19:37

She certainly sounds eating disordered, if not anorectic than what used to be called EDNOS. I suggest in lieu of any qualified advice you consult the BEat website www.b-eat.co.uk/ and read up on it before you approach anyone. Much like alcoholism, unless she accepts a problem it won't be tackled, short of a (very unlikely) section and forced feeding which could only happen at a critical point and with family onside. Family seeking GP advice could also be a possiblility but they would have to see it first too.

Beat will direct you to support groups and more informed advice than AIBU. Disordered eating in its many forms is far more prevalent among women than people think. I really think you may be struggling to make a difference here as it is a very difficult illness to 'cure' (I'd say 'cure' is ongoing throughout life) at this stage it is likely to be extremely entrenched. It doesn't hurt for you to be informed, however, especially with a child of your own on the way who may eventually observe odd eating habits.

Ev1lEdna Fri 26-Jun-15 10:49:57

Sorry Johnnydory I just realised I repeated your advice about Beat. I shouldn't skim read!

AlwaysDancing1234 Fri 26-Jun-15 10:56:39

It certainly sounds as though she has problems with food at the very least. My MIL definitely has some sort of eating disorder, very strange relationship with food and will go on and on about being "so full up" hours after eating half a slice of toast for breakfast for example. She's not terribly underweight as when she does eat it's all the wrong foods, lots of oil and sugar and salt. Same situation where family don't really acknowledge it, sadly I don't think she can really change after so long.

CrystalCove Fri 26-Jun-15 11:05:34

It sounds like the family dont mention it because its been complete;y normalised for them and/or they are the type of family that dont address issues, never mind emotions either.

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