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Eating disorders are often sensitive issues that are associated with much shame and stigma. If you are off to college this year, you may find that you encounter a roommate or someone in your living situation that struggles with an eating disorder. So, how do you approach your roommate who has an eating disorder?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 25 percent of college students have eating disorders, though the number is likely much higher as these diseases are often underreported .
Transitioning to College
The transition to college also presents as a vulnerable time for many individuals. For the person who may be predisposed to developing an eating disorder, transitioning to college may bring the environmental triggers that cause an eating disorder to develop. Understanding these things can help bring more awareness of these mental health illnesses and their prevalence on college campuses.
If during your time on campus you observe abnormal behaviors in your roommate, it is important to approach such a situation carefully and sensitively. Having a good understanding about the circumstances involved may also help give you a better idea about what your roommate is struggling with. If you have observed abnormal changes in your roommate’s eating behaviors, obsession with weight, body, and food, weight disturbances, avoidance of social situations, increased anxiety about eating and more, there is a chance that your roommate may have an eating disorder.
Approach Your Roommate with Love
Approaching your roommate with love and concern is always necessary. Having a sit down conversation in an environment that is safe and quiet can also help set the tone as you approach your roommate about your concerns. Never come a place of attack or suspicion but rather express your concerns and apprehensions. Using “I” Statements can also help convey what you want to say, such as “I feel concerned when I see that you have not eaten very much”, or “I feel worried about these changes I’ve seen in your eating habits.”
Ultimately, your voice of concern and love can make the difference of life and death in your roommate and be the encouragement they need to seek out help. Remember – you do not have to have all the answers to approach someone you care about. Simply being there, expressing care and concern can make the difference to a person who is struggling with an eating disorder. As roommates, you may have a unique perspective that other individuals may not have, and therefore have more insight into their lives.
Find Help on Campus
Seek Professional Help
If you are feeling unsure about what to do, seek out the counsel of someone in authority, such as a residential director, mental health counselor, or professor on campus who may have more insight about eating disorder. Eating disorders are severe psychiatric illnesses that should not be taken lightly, and if you feel that your roommate is endangering their life, it is crucial that you seek out help, support, and advice. It is also important to realize that you cannot be the one that changes someone. Eating disorders often require professional intervention and treatment, so do not feel the need to shoulder this responsibility.
Having some resources on hand might also be helpful for sharing with your roommate when you do have a discussion. Check out your campus wellness center to see what types of resources are offered for college students who may be struggling with an eating disorder. There is often free or low-cost counseling available or support groups that you can share with your roommate.
Living with a roommate who is struggling with an eating disorder can be challenging, but do not underestimate your voice of support and encouragement. Eating disorder sufferers often struggle with shame and guilt, and expressing concern if a loving way can help communicate that they do not to suffer alone. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the challenges that might be faced with a roommate who has an eating disorder, reach out to someone in authority who can help support you though this situation.
- National Institute on Mental Health, “Eating Disorders”, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml Accessed 14 August 2015
About the Author:
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,
As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her nutrition private practice.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed And Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 18, 2019.
Published September 5, 2015, on EatingDisorderHope.com