Next Steps for Helping Your Roomate with Their Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are complex psychiatric illnesses that develop from a multitude of factors. On the surface, it may seem that your roommate simply has issues with food, is constantly dieting or attempting to lose weight. However, the reality of their struggle goes far deeper than what may meet the eye. Coming from a place that understands that eating disorders are not merely diseases of “vanity” can allow greater empathy and compassion for a roommate who may be struggling. You may have encountered situations within your mutual living space that have caused frustration or misunderstanding, particularly if your roommate is actively struggling with their eating disorder.

You are not in control of their eating habits

Mealtimes can feel like a battleground when you live with someone with an eating disorder. Your roommate likely makes excuses to not participate in mealtimes with you, but it is inevitable that you will eventually find yourself in a situation that highlights their disordered behaviors. Remember that you are not the food police. Recognizing this will set you free. Regardless of your concern for your roommate, playing the role of food police will only lead to alienation and leave you feeling exhausted and frustrated. You will not magically cure your roommate’s eating disorder by pressuring them to eat a burrito next time you go to Chipotle.

Have an Honest Discussion

While it may seem easier to brush things under the rug or ignore the situation completely, it is important to have an open and honest discussion with your roommate about what may be troubling you, especially if your health and wellness is being compromised. Whether or not your roommate has openly discussed their eating disorder with you or not, you can communicate your concerns from a place of care. Being willing to listen and hear them out, not acting defensively, and expressing the need for appropriate boundaries are all part of healthy communication. You must determine what types of behaviors you are unwilling to tolerate living with. For example, if your roommate’s behaviors are endangering to you or themselves, this should not be accepted. Communicating these expectations with your roommate will be important for establishing healthy boundaries within your living situation.

If you are aware of eating disorder behaviors, such as binging, purging, restricting, compulsive exercising, laxative abuse, and other symptoms associated with these illnesses, you may consider approaching your roommate about professional help and treatment. Living with someone who is engaging in these types of behaviors on a regular basis, whether in secret or openly, can be frightening, as they are jeopardizing their life and health.

Signs and symptoms associated with eating disorders

  • Chronic dieting despite losing weight
  • Constant weight fluctuations
  • Obsession with calories and fat contents of food
  • Engaging in ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, eating alone, and/or hiding food
  • Continued fixation with food, recipes, or cooking; the individual may cook intricate meals for others but refrain from partaking
  • Depression or lethargic stage
  • Avoidance of social functions, family, and friends.
  • May become isolated and withdrawn
  • Switching between periods of overeating and fasting

If you are uncertain how to approach your roommate in this type of situation, seek out the counsel or advice of a professional, who may be able to offer clearer direction for your particular situation. You may even discuss your concerns with family and friends of your roommate if appropriate.

It is important not to ignore your intuition or any signs and symptoms that may point to a greater problem. As roommates, you are likely to observe behaviors within your shared living space that are not seen elsewhere, and voicing your concerns can help with early intervention and treatment.