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Ask Anna #5: Helping a Roommate Who's Not a Friend

Ask Anna

Anonymous asked: I think my roommate might be bulimic, but since I’m not her friend, is it my right to help?

This is a really tricky situation! The first thing we should think about is whether or not your roommate is actually bulimic. What led you to draw this conclusion? According to NationalEatingDisorders.org, some signs of an eating disorder include high anxiety, difficult relationships with food, low energy, and unusual habits before and/or after eating. If your roommate spends a lot of time in the bathroom after a meal, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bulimic. Maybe they’ve got the stomach flu, or another illness, or maybe they just pee all the time. Maybe they get distracted playing on their phone when they’re sitting on the toilet; I know we all do. If it’s looking like your roommate might actually be suffering from bulimia, let’s think about what you can and should do.

You say you’re not friends, so that takes being upfront about it out of the question. Straight-up asking if they’re bulimic will come off as intrusive and offensive, so you could try a more subtle tactic. When you’re both sitting in your room, doing whatever you do, not really hanging out with each other, you could try gently inquiring about their food habits, starting with a little comment about your own. Hopefully this will lead to a casual conversation about eating habits and give you a chance to ask a few probing questions. What these questions are, of course, will depend on what information you’ve gathered through observation and conversation. If you have experience with eating disorders, you could try bringing it up to see if they respond. Approach this conversation with extreme caution and do not accuse your roommate of anything.

Overall, if your roommate has not sought your help, their health is probably not your concern. I totally understand worrying about others and wanting to make sure people are healthy; it’s great that you feel so strongly about this. However, if your roommate hasn’t come to you for advice or solace, they most likely don’t want your help, which brings us back to an idea from an earlier column about helping people who don’t want to be helped. Moreover, you don’t have any way of knowing what kind of steps your roommate has taken on their own to heal. Perhaps your best bet is to try and become a person your roommate would come to for help and get to know them better. Don’t sweat it if this doesn’t work out, though. Some people are not meant to be friends. Your observational skills are still valuable. If you find your roommate in a truly troublesome situation or if they finally confide in you, be sure to suggest they seek the free counseling services at Pratt or call Pratt Security if they’re in immediate danger.

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Image by Whitney K. Davis

written by
Anna Bronson
March 30, 2019