What can I do if I think my housmate ...

... has an eating disorder?

Mike Condra says when confronting a friend about an eating disorder, let them know you care.
Mike Condra says when confronting a friend about an eating disorder, let them know you care.

No warning sign of an eating disorder is an absolute guarantee, said Mike Condra, Health, Counselling and Disability Services director.

“Eating disorders are more of a challenge, the goal isn’t not to eat,” he said. “Roughly 15 per cent of people who develop anorexia, die from it. A significant number of people maintain those patterns, and are anorexia-like, for well into their adult life.”

“You can’t point to one thing and say ‘Aha! That’s a sure sign that someone has an eating disorder,’ ” he said. “Even a significant weight loss may be due to a physical health condition unless we know for sure it isn’t.”

However, there are warning signs that can identify the possibility of an eating disorder, he said.

“Often an eating disorder is accompanied by a significant dissatisfaction with ones body. One sign is someone who makes disparaging comments about their body and always talks about being overweight,” Condra said. “Secondly, somebody who keeps on believing they need to lose weight, even though they appear to be actually quite thin. And thirdly, an individual who appears to go for long stretches without eating, meaning hours.”

Other warning signs include going to the bathroom immediately after meals, playing with food and eating very little at meal times, and wearing bulky clothing to conceal shape even in warm temperatures, he said.

If you have identified concerns, the first step is to speak to the person, Condra said.

“Let the person know that you’re coming at it from a position of caring. ‘I’m not going to lecture you or criticize you, I want to talk to you because I’m concerned about you’ for example,” he said. “Secondly, say what you see. For example, if you see somebody losing a lot of weight or if you hear someone being overly critical of their body, tell them that this is what you see.”

Condra said speaking to someone about a possible eating disorder may not result in a positive response from the person.

“People with eating disorders typically know they have a problem. You’re asking them to fight back against something that’s been very powerful in their lives,” he said. “They may dismiss it, they may minimize it, they may deny it. They may even get annoyed with you. Those are all expectable responses.”

It takes courage to speak with someone about an issue like this, Condra said, but it is important to leave the conversation so the person feels comfortable.

“Don’t lecture, don’t judge, don’t make assumptions, and don’t close the door if the person doesn’t respond positively,” he said. “Try to leave the interaction with the person not feeling too bruised.”

The last thing to remember is to have realistic expectations, he said.

“Be realistic in your expectations. You can’t be their agent for change,” he said. “They’re probably, if coping with an eating disorder, coping with a great amount of internal resistance to change.”

Condra said there are two possible scenarios that could arise from taking action and speaking to the person about your concerns.

The first scenario, he said, arises when the person is open to your approach and admits there is a problem. However, this reaction is rare.

“In that circumstance, your best bet at that point is to support them getting professional help. For people on campus, that means going to the HCDS for counselling and the medical side,” he said.

“The process of helping somebody to change from an eating disorder, for someone who’s unskilled it’s not very easy. It’s a behaviour pattern, and when we are really strongly committed to a behaviour pattern, it’s very hard to change.”

The other possible, and more common, scenario is that the person will refuse your help and support, Condra said.

“You need to firstly, back off. Don’t pursue people. If they’re not ready to talk to you about it and deal with it, then they’re not ready. As painful as that is, we need to accept it,” he said.

When faced with this reaction, Condra said it is important to take care of your own health as well.

“The second thing I say is that please remember to take care of yourself, as a friend. Living with someone who’s got a long-lasting behavioral problem can be very tiring and at times frustrating,” he said. “Look carefully to your own health so you don’t get mired in the person’s problems.”

Condra said talking to a counsellor for directions on how to proceed can also be helpful.

“Sometimes housemates find it useful to come to a counselor to talk about it so they can look after their own health and it isn’t affecting them,” he said.

Overcoming an eating disorder is different than overcoming an addiction like smoking for example, where the goal is not to smoke, he said.

… is an alcoholic?

Dr. Condra said alcohol abuse can be measured on an acute, short-term basis or on a chronic basis.

“The line I make is based on the recognition that all behaviours exist on a continuum. All of us need to be aware that there are places we can get to where our drinking is harming us,” he said.

“An acute basis might be someone who drinks two or three drinks when they’re out. It’s mostly social drinking within a range. In the lives of students, and you’re in a situation where you’ve drunk so much one night that you’ve passed out, that’s a problem.”

On a more chronic basis, patterns will develop that affect other areas of a student’s life, Condra said.

“For example, drinking so much on the weekend that on Monday they’re not able to go to class,” he said. “Any time it affects things, like class or relationships, it’s a problem.”

In terms of taking action to prevent alcohol abuse, Condra said there are three stages of abuse that require different levels of action.

“If the person is capable of realistically assessing the impact of alcohol in their life and responding to it, they can probably do that themselves,” he said. “If you can realistically, safely monitor your drinking, you may not need any professional help.”

However, when a person cannot monitor his or her own consumption, they may need external help, Condra said.

“It becomes more of a difficulty when people are not capable of monitoring it so they minimize it,” he said. “Often those people go into programs or get help because someone else has told them they have a problem, like a partner, or boyfriend, girlfriend. That would be a stage where they need professional help.” Condra said the third stage, where alcohol consumption has developed into a physiological addiction, is less common in students.

“The third stage would be where the problem with drinking has developed into a physiological addiction. I don’t see many instances of that with students,” he said. “I see more instances of people drinking an inappropriate amount or in inappropriate places where their judgment is impaired.”

Useful Health and Wellness Resources

Dawn House Women’s Shelter Crisis (24 hours)

Detox centre (open 24 hours)

Kingston Crisis Pregnancy Centre
Free and confidential services for those who are pregnant or worried about being pregnant.
Monday to Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
137 Queen St.
Located in St. Paul’s Church (entrance off Montreal St.)

Sexual Assault Centre Kingston (24-hour support)
613-544-6424 or toll free: 1-877-544-6424

Telephone Aid Line Kingston (TALK) distress line
Confidential, anonymous service

Flu Clinic
La Salle Building, 146 Stuart St.
Tuesday Nov. 21, Wednesday Nov. 22, Thursday Nov. 23
Tuesday Nov. 28, Wednesday Nov. 29, Thursday Nov. 30
Between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. – Clinic
OR: Drop in from Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., after Nov. 21
Bring student card and health card

Health, Counselling and Disability Services
LaSalle Building
146 Stuart Street
Psychiatry: 613-533-2508
Nurse line: 613-533-6859
*Bring student card and health card to each visit

Health Services: first floor
Monday and Tuesday 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Thursday and Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Counselling Services: second floor
Same as Health Services

Disability Services: first floor
Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Kingston General Hospital
Emergency (24-hour line) 613-548-2333
General Information: 613-548-3232

Physical Therapy Clinic
For treatment of sports injuries, physical therapy and more.
Louise D. Acton Building, 31 George St.

Queen’s First Aid
Non-emergency: 613-533-6000 ext.75373
Emergency Report Centre: 613-533-6111 (or any Blue Light Emergency Phone)

Telehealth Ontario

Telephone Health Advisory Service
Health care workers available to speak to on the phone at anytime after hours.
Monday to Friday 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
24 hours on weekends (5:00 p.m. Friday to 9:00 a.m. Monday) and holidays


Better Bodies
Fitness and nutrition store carrying: supplements, protein, creatine, vitimins, training aids
117 Division Street

Exercise Consultant Appointments
Individual 30 to 40 minute appointments, free of charge
Consultants assist students in increasing their physical activity, identifying interests and barriers and developing a plan.
613-533-6712 (call for an appointment)
GoodLife Fitness Clubs
64 Barrack Street
Kingston, ON K7K 7A9
(613) 547-3220

Hot Yoga
Rates for drop-in, by-the-class, and unlimited classes available on the website
80 Princess St.

Just Breathe
Breathing and relaxation exercises
Free drop-in classes every Wednesday from 12:45 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. upstairs in the LaSalle Building.
For more information, contact HCDS

Leave the Pack Behind – Kingston Chapter
Help for those who wish to stop smoking
613-533-6000 ext. 75328

Queen’s Women’s Centre
Second floor of the Grey House
Library, information and referral services
51 Bader Lane

Sexual Health Resource Centre
Confidential space for sexual health information and products.
Room 223 of the JDUC
Monday to Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Stress Buster Session
Free, drop-in session. First come, first served.
Practical strategies to help manage stress
5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the JDUC
Wed. Nov 15, Relaxation
Tues. Nov.21, Pilates
Mon. Nov. 27, Yoga

--Compiled by Sarah Cuthbertson

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