When I was a freshman, one of my biggest concerns was gaining the dreaded “freshman 15.” I knew the college lifestyle included late night pizza with roommates and sugary drinks at parties, but I was determined to keep the pounds off.
At Saint Mary’s, a small women’s college, you’re surrounded by the same girls every day. Even though the lack of men on our campus can be a shock to some, a bigger shock is all the beautiful girls who go here. I automatically felt the pressure of fitting in, especially when my roommates and friends were gorgeous and perfectly in shape.
While some girls had problems with their roommates, I quickly became best friends with mine. We were inseparable within days, and I’ve lived with them ever since first semester. They’re the type of girls who are not only beautiful on the outside, but the inside as well. We were together day and night, and because of that, it was difficult to hide things from each other. That’s why it didn’t take long for me to realize one of my roommates had developed an eating disorder.
At first, I was very confused. I’ve never known anyone with an eating disorder, and I didn’t know how to handle it. When I finally saw the signs, it became strikingly obvious that she had a problem.
She refused to go to the dining hall because the food wasn’t healthy enough. She chewed gum and ate ice all the time to trick her brain into thinking she was eating. Her spunky attitude was gone, replaced with constant fatigue. She worked out at least two, if not three times a day. She slept through meals so she wouldn’t feel hungry. Eventually, her small muscular frame turned into a small bony frame. My beautiful friend was losing herself, and I had no idea how to help.
I never understood why someone with such a strong, beautiful body would choose to not eat. I could barely skip breakfast without feeling sluggish all day. Because of my lack of understanding, I tried to help her in all the wrong ways.
Most of the time I tried to overeat when I was around her to encourage her and compensate for her lack of eating. This definitely wasn’t healthy for me, and it wasn’t helping her at all. The constant pressure of being thin and fitting in was stronger than ever. Eventually, I started to feel guilty every time I ate; sometimes I even wished that I could just stop eating like her so I would be thinner, too.
But eating disorders don’t work that way. I couldn’t force myself to be anorexic and my roommate couldn’t force herself not to be. After a while, I got angry. Anger was the hardest thing for me to control. My roommates had become my family, the two girls I would do anything for. When the eating disorder took over my roommate, it took over me as well. I wanted to help her in the worst way, but getting angry and frustrated with the situation only made things worse.
At the time, I didn’t realize that she couldn’t help herself. Anorexia is a physical and mental illness that is very hard to reverse. My mind couldn’t understand her logic for being anorexic, but then I realized her mind couldn’t understand it either. It took me a while, but I finally learned how to handle the situation.
It didn’t take long to realize her parents and our health center had to get involved. Although it was difficult, my other roommates and I decided it was time to call her mom and explain the situation to her.
My roommate eventually got the help she needed; she started going to weekly appointments and weigh-ins at our health center. When she returned home for the summer, her parents had the best doctors and resources available for her to get help. Slowly but surely, she came to accept and understand that her eating and exercise habits needed to change.
I’m definitely not a doctor, psychologist or a therapist, but I do believe that having an eating disorder changes you forever. Anorexia will always be a part of my roommate’s life; it will always be something she has to control so she doesn’t relapse. At times I wanted to shake and yell at her so she could realize how ridiculous the situation was. I never knew that deep down, there was a part of her that wanted to, but wasn’t strong enough to shake off the disorder that was silencing her.
I’m now in my junior year at Saint Mary’s, and my beautiful friend is no longer silenced. She’s still one of my roommates and can talk openly with me about her eating habits.
The truth is, there’s no guidebook on how to help a roommate or a friend with an eating disorder. It’s exactly what it’s called: a disorder. If you or someone you know starts showing signs of an eating disorder, get help immediately.