Anorexic sister resists seeing a doctor

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Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: I am a 14-year-old girl. My 20-year-old sister has anorexia. She was officially diagnosed when she was 15. When she was in high school, she was in and out of the hospital. She is now a junior in college. Although she is not as bad as she used to be, she has not recovered and probably never fully will. The issue is that she refuses to go to a general care doctor. Not a specialist, just a general doctor. My parents and I are at a loss as to how to convince her to see a doctor. She refuses and argues every time it is brought up. Is there anything we can do?

Worried Sister

DEAR SISTER: Anorexia affects the entire family. I assume you worry about your sister, and I hope you don't feel you need to shoulder this burden for your family.

I shared your letter with Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician and medical communications editor at Boston Children's Hospital. She answered: "Eating disorders can be so devastating, not just for the person who suffers from them but for everyone who loves them. I know this not only as a doctor, but as a survivor of an eating disorder.

"It is wonderful that your sister is doing better and that she is able to be in college. These are achievements that aren't to be taken for granted when it comes to eating disorders, which can be lifelong.

"Your sister is legally an adult now, and unless you think that she is a danger to herself or incapable of making decisions for herself [in which case your family should talk to both her doctor and a lawyer], the frustrating fact is that you can't force her. It might help to give her as much control as possible by letting her choose the doctor and set the agenda. Your folks could also reach out to people in her anorexia care team, especially if there is someone she likes and trusts. This person might give your family insight."

Your sister has a lot going for her already: She has you and your family.