Dying to Be Thin: Jennifer, Abby, Sue, Allan

On the Brink of Death
"My 25-year-old daughter, Jennifer, has anorexia and bulimia," Allan says. "We've been fighting this battle for at least 10 years. I never gave up hope. Two weeks ago, I laid next to her on her bed and hugged her, and I realized that she wasn't going to make it," he says with a tremulous voice.

"Jen's eating disorder is destroying our family. She weighs approximately 90 pounds," says Jennifer's mother, Sue. "Before the eating disorder, she was a joy to be around, a great swimmer. She had it all."

"We knew Jennifer had a problem when we found plastic bags behind the house, in the trees, filled with vomit," Allan says.

[AD]"When Jennifer starts her binge/purge cycle, she can't get enough of the food to put on her plate," Sue says. "I believe I enable Jennifer's disease by letting her eat."

"Jennifer attacks us for the food. She wants all the food for herself," Allan says.

Jennifer's sister, Abby, 22, says, "She hoards food in her room. It is boxes, upon boxes, upon boxes of food."

Sue opens the refrigerator and points out all the food that is off limits for the family. "We're not allowed to eat any of this. This is hers. This is hers. This is hers," she says.

"I keep food in my room just so she doesn't eat that," Abby says. "The most frustrating part is watching the binging and purging cycle. I'm like, ‘Jen, you don't have to do this. Stop. Right now.' And she'll be like, ‘There's nothing you can do, Abby.'"

"There is no winning with Jennifer when she's in disease mode. It makes me feel completely helpless," Sue says.

"We've spent over $200,000 on treatment. Nothing has helped," Allan says. "We have a dysfunctional family over this disease."

"The house is constantly in a state of tension," Abby says. "I want my sister back. I have an eating disorder as a sister."

[AD]Jennifer cries. "I don't want my mom to worry, and panic and fear. I don't like them to feel like they're a failure. I feel like a burden."

"She has talked about her death," Sue says. "She said, ‘I want you to spread my ashes over the beach.'"

"Dr. Phil is the only " he's the only glimmer of hope that we have right now," Allan says.

 

Jennifer says she doesn't even feel human and actually thought she was too big to even come on the show.

 

See a day in Jennifer's life.

Jennifer and her family join Dr. Phil onstage. Sue is visibly upset when she sees the video of her daughter. "It's hard to watch that, even though I live it. It's hard to see it still," she says through her tears. "But we see her do it every day, every day, and we can't stop her."

Dr. Phil asks Allan for his reaction to his daughter's day-in-the-life video. "I'm just dumbfounded about the whole thing. I've been up and down so many times in my life with this disease. I look at those pictures, and I've lived those for 10 years," he says. Allan explains he's shutting down because of his daughter's disease. He no longer socializes with friends or engages in hobbies. "I've just become a recluse."

Abby says the video is everyday life for their family. "It's just watching her die. And it's hard, because you try to stop her, like there's times you just want to hold her down, but she gets so much rage in her during these cycles that you can't do anything," she says. She says to her sister, "That's why it's hard. We want to help you get through this. We understand you're going through a lot of pain."

"Do you realize that if something doesn't happen soon, you're going to bury her?" Dr. Phil asks the family. "This isn't somebody else; this is your sister, and if something doesn't change, not just with her, but with you, and with you and with you," he says, looking at each family member, "we're going to bury … you?" he finishes, looking at Jennifer.

Jennifer nods sadly, looking as if she's about to cry.

"It's a miracle that you're alive today. How many times have you been in the hospital?" Dr. Phil asks.

[AD]"Twenty or 30, if not more, for electrolyte imbalance and dehydration," she says with tears spilling over her eyes. "And I have a pacemaker from having heart [problems]."

"And you get it intellectually, right? You get that you're starving your body, and that means you're starving your heart muscle, and it's shrinking, and shrinking and shrinking," he says.

"It's eating it away," Jennifer says.

"And eventually, you're just going to shut down. You get that, right?"

She nods.

"Why did you want to be here today?" Dr. Phil asks Jennifer.

"Because I really don't want this anymore," she says, crying. "I don't. It's not something I asked for, or something that I wake up planning on doing in the morning or anything. It just takes over. And I really just want my life back. Or any form of a life, because right now, I'm just a full-time eating disorder."

Dr. Phil points out that Jennifer manipulates and bullies her family, although Jennifer says she doesn't do it purposefully. He calls the family to task for making excuses. He tells Jennifer that he knows part of her would like to be left alone in her unhealthy addiction. "We're going to call a spade a spade, and if what you want is to stay alone with your disease, I am your worst nightmare," he says.

Dr. Phil tells Sue she has a problem with enabling. "You said, ‘I enable her because I let her eat, knowing she will purge. I quit my job to take care of her full-time. I try to accommodate her because I'm afraid I'm going to lose her. I don't leave the house. She will call.' You're held prisoner, right?"

"I am held prisoner," she agrees.

"You threatened to leave with her if your husband kicked her out. True?"

"Very true."

"Do you enable her?"

"Yes, I enable," she admits, holding back her tears.

"You can't change what you don't acknowledge," Dr. Phil tells the family. 

Dr. Phil explains how they enable Jennifer.

 

"We know you don't mean to, but it does. It consumes everything," Sue tells Jennifer.

"You throw chairs. You were arrested for shoplifting," Dr. Phil tells Jennifer. "Do you hoard food from the rest of the family?"

"Yes."

[AD]When Dr. Phil points out she was hoarding food in the dressing rooms this morning, Jennifer denies it, but her family disagrees.

"You have to be willing to be honest here. You are a bully. You do manipulate. You do hoard food. You do practice emotional extortion. You do hold these people hostage. That can't go on," Dr. Phil says.