Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Positive Peer Pressure

One thing my old therapist W always emphasized was how prevalent eating disorders are on college campuses, and that I would have to be extra super vigilant about not comparing my body and my diet to others'.  Last year I lived with three girls, and two of them probably had some disordered eating habits.  Not full-blown EDs per se, but definite Food Issues.  They were both a little overweight, and they went on and off diets repeatedly.  Honestly, I never really found it that triggering because I wouldn't have deviated from my self-imposed regime under any circumstances.  I never would have broken my own rigid ED rules and it didn't really matter to me what other people were doing.  I just stuck to my lettuce and Diet Coke, thank you very much.

This year is totally different.  For various reasons, I am only living with one girl from last year - not one of the aforementioned girls with Food Issues - and another of our friends.  Both of these girls are literally two of the most normal eaters I've ever seen.  They eat cereal without measuring it.  They eat pretzels out of the bag.  They pack snacks for long days on campus.  They cook pasta with sauce for dinner.  They - wait for it - drink juice.  With calories.

Last night I was eating my perfectly portioned snack when one of my roommates came into the kitchen.  She said, "That looks good," and made some for herself.  I stared for ten minutes.  How did she know it was okay to eat that without planning?  Without counting calories?!?

Peer pressure is a funny thing.  I've always been hugely insecure and conscious about how people perceive me, but most of the pressure has come from within myself instead of from my peers.  This is true for all areas - appearances, grades, achievements, etc.  If I got a B on a test, I wouldn't be upset that someone else got a B+.  I would be upset that I didn't get an A.  I think W was afraid that I woud see skinny girls picking at lettuce and working out for hours, and be influenced by that because if she can do it then why can't I?  In our last session, W told me over and over again not to be influenced by what anyone else was eating (or not).  But even at my worst, other girls never really triggered me at school because I knew what I needed to do.  Eat X.  Lose weight.  No questions asked.

Now, I'm kind of hoping that the peer pressure will kick in and work for me in the other direction - that by seeing my roommates eating what they want, when they want it, and not freaking out about it, I might start to loosen up too.  Look, A just ate something and didn't get fat.  Maybe I can too.


  1. Yeah! I love this. My roommate had some disordered eating habits (not always from shame/body shape but sometimes from laziness or lack of knowledge--like not eating anything until 3 pm) and I actually told her when I returned to college that I couldn't room with her unless she would eat normally around me. She was remarkably accommodating and we set up a normal "roommate dinner" time 1-2x/week where we would cook our individual meals together (sometimes communal) and watch a TV show together. It was really fun and really helpful. When we traveled, she'd eat the snacks and meals I needed to. I have no idea what she did when I wasn't around (nor do I care)--the bottom line was that around me, she did what she could to help. She was an awesome friend and roommate. I think part of what helped was that I told her specifically how I needed her to help (she even went to my relapse prevention planning session with my therapist and parents.) If you feel comfortable, it might even be a good idea to tell your roommate specifically how she could help you more.

  2. This is a really important issue, and I'm *so* glad it's spun in the positive direction for you this time around. I was lucky to have unbelievably normal-eating friends in college, and it helped me immensely to watch how casual and carefree they could be...without becoming overweight! The intuitive eating thing did and does still blow my mind a bit, and I don't think I'd believe in it at all if I hadn't had the "positive peer pressure" around to show me otherwise.

    I also thought your mention of not being triggered by other's habits because your so rigid in your own is interesting, that's been my experience too. It's a very weird psychological dynamic sometimes. I think that's one reason I struggled with eating out too-even if I *knew* what I had eaten was less than I had at home, it was still different and unquantified, which meant I had to compensate calorically anyway as "punishment" for not adhering to a quantifiable habit. Rigidity is a hard thing to beat.

    I really hope that you're getting settled in and that all is well!