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The Friend: Living with a Housemate with an Eating Disorder

As part of Her Campus Exeter’s Mental & Physical Health Awareness Campaign we will be exploring the dangers of Eating Disorders. This campaign hopes to raise awareness of mental & physical illnesses within the student population and break the misconception that if you can’t see it then it’s not there.

With the focus often being on the person with the eating disorder, we often forget about the impact it can have on their friends, family and housemates. HCX investigates, in a brutally honest way, what it’s like to live with a person with an eating disorder, and most importantly, how you can help!

Having an eating disorder is no doubt one of the hardest of life’s battles, but what is it like to live with someone struggling? Housemates are a crucial support system throughout uni and we often rely on them to rescue us from our break ups, cheer up our homesick days or rubbish exams and most of all celebrate with us whatever the occasion. Little light is shed on living with someone struggling from an eating disorder and how the decision to live together could impact elements of your relationship.

As a final year student, exams and essays are at the forefront of my all girls house, with stress levels reaching fever pitch during January. However, we have the additional emotional strain of living with our friend who is currently struggling from binge eating and bulimia. Many believe that complaining about our hardships and emotions is selfish considering the trauma that the individual is going through however, this illness affects those around the individual too and it is important to realise this.

As an ordinary, outgoing and active female, having someone constantly around who mulls over every single meal choice, that’s if they are even eating that day, leads you to question your own diet, portion sizes and waistline with more scrutiny. Some would say that this is not necessarily a bad thing, but the continuous nature of it creates a harsh environment where even the slightest treat makes you feel lifeless and like a failure. This negative eating environment, especially in a house full of girls, leaves you feeling deflated and constantly regretting the food choices you may have made.

Celebrations, birthdays and those spontaneous nights out are some of the greatest memories made at university but often an eating disorder can cast shadows over these events.

Take for instance a birthday meal.

Suddenly, the restaurant choice is crucial and the question is raised as to whether your housemate will actually attend. In our house, there is usually an excuse and the seat is left empty at the restaurant. This is hard to swallow, especially when they bail on nights out and any day time activities which could involve food. It causes a divide in the house and although you want them to get better and care for them deeply, it’s frustrating and can lead to resentment.

An eating disorder takes over your friend’s brain and, for our house, means we only see pockets of our friend’s true self often only for half an hour a week. The illness takes over her and has made lying, bailing on events and paranoid comments second nature.

Her mental health must of course take priority but it is the roller-coaster of emotions that is hard to swallow. Going from highs with other friends one hour, to crying and missing birthdays the next makes you question your friendship. Life becomes a circle around that individual especially when their true personality is so incredible that it can bring the whole house together. If she is in a good mood then the house is too, yet if she isn’t, due to a binge the night before then the whole day is spent on eggshells.

One of the biggest lessons I have learnt from this experience is that communication is crucial. By communicating how they are feeling you can begin to understand part of their mind set and their internal reasoning’s. Although, as a housemate, you are never truly going to understand how their brain works getting to a level where you can comprehend their decisions is important. Another idea is to look at it through a different lens, if your friend had a broken leg or another physical injury you wouldn’t think twice on them refusing to come out, so why with a mental illness do we judge them in a different light. What I have learned is to not treat her any differently – we still include her, still confide in her, still invite her – but sometimes not expecting her to come. She’ll still appreciate the effort and your friendship, and when she does decide to come – it’ll be a bonus! 

So while it is incredibly important to make sure that your housemate recovers and is back to her usual self in no time, maybe take a moment to think of those others affected, and how to help them too. It’s a two way road – everyone needs a support system!

To find out more about Eating Disorders, please visit these websites:




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