How to Deal with Advice from Roommates
April 11, 2014 9:55 AM   Subscribe

My roommate keeps giving me advice and nutritional tidbits. At first it was educational, but now I'm just irritated and annoyed, and I can't quite pinpoint why or how to deal with it.

So I have this roommate. She has some form of colitis, and when I first moved in, she was seeing a doctor about it and getting medication. The medication wasn't working, and she heard about this nutritionist who could help her with it by eating the right things and taking supplements and whatnot, so she started seeing that person instead.

Shortly after that, I decided to eat healthier, for nonrelated reasons. Namely, I ate a lot less sugar, and had a lot more fruit, vegetables, and protein. I also sweeten my beverages with stevia as opposed to artificial sweetener. I still drink diet soda, although nowhere near as much as I did. I also work out multiple times a week. I've lost a ton of weight this way; I get checked out periodically by my doctor and everything is going well.

Since Roommate talks with the nutritionist regularly, she has a lot of information about vitamins and other stuff in food-- like, how nightshades are supposedly a little toxic and how magnesium can help with constipation. I'm not good with that kind of thing, so I have no idea whether or not any of it is true, and I just take her word for it. It was nice to hear for future reference, although none of it really helped me since I was going low-carb.

But recently it's started to annoy me and I'm not sure why. For example, I recently switched to having real eggs for breakfast after using Egg Beaters. I mostly watch fat content, but I had done some research online and found that the number of eggs I would be having per week really wouldn't be that bad, especially since I also exercise a lot. When my roommate saw that I was making real eggs, she said that was good because Egg Beaters were actually bad for me anyway, mostly due to the beta carotene. She said she read it in an article. She also said that diet soda was really bad for you as well (which, again, I did know and am trying not to consume as much), and then told me about how she saw her mother drinking a can of diet soda and asked her why she was drinking something that was so bad for her.

I think I should mention at this point that there are times when she'll tell the nutritionist the most random stuff. Like, when we had mice in our apartment, she told them about it, and then gave me a bunch of advice that her nutritionist recommended. This baffled me, but then later on, when I was sick after a night of drinking, I overheard her talking to the nutritionist about me. They talk on the phone and it's a tiny apartment so I'm able to overhear things, even when I try not to. To be fair, Roommate doesn't have a lot of friends here in NYC, so maybe she's telling her these things because she's lonely. In any event, after the mouse incident, I talked to her about it, and expressed that I was confused and irritated (why would she talk about something that wasn't the nutritionist's business?), and she got really defensive. I figured at the time I was maybe wrong to be irritated, and dropped the issue, and haven't said anything about it since.

So, I'd like to say something about this, but I want to tread very carefully. For one, I'm not the confrontational type. Secondly, aside from this and some cleaning issues, she's actually a very good roommate, and I've read enough horror stories on AskMe and Reddit and online in general to know that I have a good thing. Also, I like the neighborhood and the rent is low, and I wouldn't be able to afford it without her.

Lastly, she is a genuinely nice person and I'm 100% sure there is no malicious intent or anything here. It's one thing to be helpful, but another to be sanctimonious, and it could be just me, but I feel like she's either crossed that line or has come close. I just don't want to be attacked if I were to ever drink diet soda in the house.

So, advice? I haven't really had to deal with people like this before, but I guess there's a first time for everything. Thanks.
posted by Puck Soppet to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just ignore her and never talk to her about food or health issues, ever.

I had a diet trend roommate for a while. I would just watch her eat her chia seeds and laugh on the inside while ignoring every word she said to me about food. She was a nice person and I respected her aside from the food stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 10:02 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think the best thing to do is politely stop engaging. If she comments that something you're eating is bad for you, say, "Well, everyone has their vices!" and leave the room. If she tells you "helpful" facts, you can say, "That's interesting!" and change the subject. Just don't let it become a back and forth conversation.

You aren't wrong to be irritated that she's talking to her nutritionist about you, but it does sound like she's lonely and that maybe she doesn't talk to a lot of people, period, so her boundaries could be out of whack. I'm not sure that there's really much you can do about that, other than back off from what you share with her.
posted by something something at 10:02 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just say something neutral whenever she pops out with a nugget. She, "Diet soda is so bad for you!" You, "oh well." sluurrrp.

She, "It's so great that you're eating eggs, Eggbeaters are so bad for you." You, "not that I was asking for permission."

She, " I read this thing, in an article and it talks about, blah, blah, blah, food, blah, food." You, "Let's do this, let's put a moratorium on food talk for awhile. You eat what you eat, I'll eat what I eat. Deal?"

Okay, maybe my replies are a hair testy, but I'd have lost it awhile back. It's not okay for other people to comment on what you choose to eat. Good, bad or indifferent.

I don't see a reason to actually make a BFD about it, but responding back and not engaging in the discussion should give her a clue that she needs to change the subject.

You can also re-direct her thoughts towards a topic of mutual interest, "So, did you see that really beautiful display in the window at the bodega on the corner?"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:03 AM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

My ex-wife was similar (any thing green or food related, she had to spread as gospel).

I'd go with "Thanks, but I'm following my own plan" when she brings that stuff up. Repeat as needed.
posted by Twicketface at 10:03 AM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

If this were me, I would fudge the truth a little bit and - the next time she starts advising you - I would say, "Oh, I don't want to talk about nutrition, I think about it all the time anyway" and then change the subject. Don't make it about her advice, make it about the topic. (Unless you really enjoy talking about unrelated nutrition stuff with her.) As someone who used to give more [verbal! note that I still give lots of mefi advice] advice than I do now, I think I would probably respond best to just "let's give [topic] a rest" rather than "stop advising me".

And then if she keeps advising you, just refer back to conversation one: "I'm not talking about nutrition any more, remember?" If you do this in a playful way, you can keep things pretty relaxed.
posted by Frowner at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a close friend who had Crohns. Finding out you have a lifelong illness is hard. Then finding out that treatment isn't working, that's even harder. I'm glad she was able to find relief with this nutritionist. To me, it just sounds like she's scared and having a hard time with the fact that there's this now permanent thing in her life that she has little control over, so she's trying to fill the need to control it by controlling other things. In this case, you.

My advice is to just be honest with her. Sit her down, and let her know. "Roommate, I'm glad you're seeing a nutritionist, and I'm glad it's helping. But the thing is, nutrition is a very personal matter, and while I know your advice is you trying be helpful, when you talk about what I eat it stresses me out and I don't like it."
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2014 [22 favorites]

She talks to her nutritionist about stuff because she values her nutritionist's opinion. You talk to AskMefi about stuff (including your roommate) because you value AskMefi's opinions. I'm not really seeing the problem with that part of your scenario: it would be different if the nutritionist were also your nutritionist, but as s/he's not, it's really none of your business what your roommate says to him/her.

As for the other stuff; we are all likely to get a bit ticked off when someone starts giving us "helpful" advice about diet. We're also all likely to get a little more worked up about a roommate's quirks than the quirks actually warrant. The best thing is to talk to your roommate about this when you're not feeling pissed off and to do so in a way that's non-blaming: "You know, I know you're just trying to be helpful and I really appreciate that you are, but for some reason it just makes me feel like I'm being monitored and judged in my own home. I think if we could just avoid the topic of what foods are and aren't healthy choices and why it would make things easier."
posted by yoink at 10:09 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

She's being obnoxious. Otoh, Rule #1 of roommate relations is that you are deaf, dumb, and blind to things that you're not supposed to know about. Criticizing her for saying something in a private conversation broke this rule. You should, frankly, try not to even think about or listen to anything she might say about about you behind your back. Next time, you hear your name, you put on headphones. Problem (largely) solved.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:14 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

When you have a debilitating illness, particularly one that impacts your ability to eat what you want, it can sometimes leave you feeling profoundly out of control and unhappy. In trying to figure out her own health issues, it sounds like your roommate is desperate to exert control over something that is largely out of her realm so she can feel like she's not so at sea. She might be over sharing and over commentating because she feels like she needs to prove to herself and others that she and her body aren't defective and that it's the foods she encounters that are the real culprit for all of her health problems. It's not rational behavior, but it is understandable. I agree that you should confront her directly about it, but do so compassionately. Maybe you could say something like, "Roommate, I've noticed that you have been commenting a lot on my eating practices and diet. Those things are not any of your business, and while I appreciate that you want to share some of the great things your nutritionist is advising you on, my life is not up for analysis and it makes me uncomfortable when you critique me and my choices. I propose that we stop talking about food or health whenever we're together. Okay?"
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:15 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've been working out some health issues in the last couple of years via cleaning up my diet. It's been incredible to find out that I can make simple diet changes to feel better, rather than be medicated, or just remain physically miserable.

When I first started noticing the changes I ended up doing some prosletyizing to whoever would listen too. When you haven't been feeling well and you Suddenly Find A Cure! you want to share that with others so they will feel good too.

But I finally calmed down a bit (and of course, I was talking with people that I didn't live with or necessarily see every single day).

I think your roommate will calm down too, but you can hurry that process along a little bit. Just talk to her calmly and kindly and let her know that you appreciate that she's trying to help you, but that you feel uncomfortable discussing every item in your diet. If she's sensitive, reassure her that you're not mad and you really appreciate that her motivation is just to be helpful and that you otherwise enjoy being her roommate.

Forget about the fact that she's talking to others about you, regardless of whether it's her nutritionist or her co-worker or her friend from the gym. She could just as easily be gossiping about you over coffee at a diner as she is from home, and you would never be the wiser. In that regard she isn't doing anything that would cause you any harm, just annoyance. We discuss those things that we come into contact with the most. But you can think of it this way - what other people say about us is none of our business.
posted by vignettist at 10:45 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Basically, she has found a new religion. There are no bounds to the ways in which it is applicable to her, your, everyone's life, or trouble it can't remedy. The fact that it has branched out into solving mice problems is proof enough that it has become a cure-all-tonic.

Let her have her religion/placebo. It sounds like she could use it about now. Politely go on ignoring it.

She thinks you're also in her religion, because you've started eating healthy stuff. Should she start witnessing the "gospel" to you again, just give non-committal responses. She'll get the message eventually.
posted by fontophilic at 10:46 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like in the past you've been more responsive to her nutrition help, so I think it would probably be more useful to address this head-on rather than switch to non-committal responses. Just say, "You know, I feel like food is all we ever talk about! Can we take a break from it and talk about baseball/Mad Men/knitting?"
posted by mskyle at 10:51 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

It does sound like it is more a you issue than a her issue. You have, in the past, accepted her advice. She can't read your mind and know when you want advice and when you don't. She is trying to connect with you in a manner that worked in the past. Instead of being snippy, why not try to bond with her on something else? Anything else, even a dumb t.v. show. And then, when she mentions something about your diet drink (which I hear is bad for mice in large does (jk)), then you can change the subject to another bonding issue without hurting the relationship.
posted by myselfasme at 10:56 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Personally, I would go with snippy. Proselytists and subtlety rarely work well together.
posted by umberto at 11:37 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think confrontation is necessary. Just shut her down in a way that's not snippy and that defends your choices. If she tells you diet coke is bad for you for instance, something like "no wonder it tastes so good!" This should tell her you know this/agree with her her but the benefits are outweighing the risks at the moment! Or just say "thanks but I decided to treat myself...are you trying to make me feel guilty?" and laugh it off
posted by Skadi at 11:53 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since she's otherwise a good roommate, I would come up with a few short phrases that will make her feel like you heard her without encouraging her to go on and on. "Good to know!" "Thanks for the tip!"

I know the mice in the apartment thing is annoying - I've gotten annoyed when my husband has told people things that I did not think they needed to know - but it's not malicious. And I think that almost cancels out when you consider that you were kind of eavesdropping on a private conversation (yes, I know it's a small apartment but that's still not ideal).

And this is totally not your job but I'd encourage her to make some friends or take her out with your friends occasionally. You actually like her. That's terrific. I have had maybe 10 roommates in my life and there's maybe one who I am still in touch with on a semi-regular basis. It sounds like having a good relationship with her is more important than getting her to knock it off with the nutrition tips. Don't forget that.
posted by kat518 at 11:56 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I made major dietary changes to deal with my serious health issues. Here are reasons I can be prone to the same behaviors as your roommate:

A) God, it has been so life-changing. If anyone whines to me about their misery, I just want to share how drastically and wonderfully life-changing it can be and make their lives better. (Often met with "fuck you, bitch" attitudes, which I just don't understand.)

B) Yeah, I am kind of socially isolated and food is something we all have in common. Done right, talking about food is kind of a universal ice breaker. I don't mean to be judgy of other people but they often take it that way. But, yes, food can be a great topic so it can be hard to let it go if you are somehow doing it wrong and also lonely.

C) I just like being helpful. I am just that way. I also am very social and some part of my brain thinks people will like me if I am helpful. (I have been kicked in the teeth enough that I am not so sure that is true but some part of my brain just wants to be liked and is still convinced that being helpful and useful is the way to go.)

For A, maybe agree with her that it's awesome how dietary changes can do good things for you and celebrate that fact, commenting on how much weight you have lost and how great that is. Also mention that dietary needs are unique to each person and your doctor is on top of your situation. Try to focus on the underlying message that "I am glad you are so thrilled with the advice from your nutritionist and I understand you just want to share. Sharing is fine. Telling me how to live my life is not."

Also, just validate her experience. "Yes, I also am thrilled with making dietary changes for myself and losing some weight. I imagine it must be an even bigger deal to you, given your serious health issue." A lot of people treat me like I am a lunatic. I probably do annoy a lot of people who are willing to listen to me for five minutes because I get so much crap off so many other people who act like it's all in my head, just a placebo, etc. So it's like I have five fucking minutes of oxygen and I just don't get enough of that. So just validate her and see if that helps her feel less needy and come across as less pushy.

For B, try to find a way to connect to her that avoids this opening the door to advice thing. Maybe try to avoid eating around her for a time and instead promote the idea of watching TV together or playing a video game together or something. Try to see this as her reaching out socially and not knowing how to do it well.

For C, tell her you think she is overall a great roommate and you are thrilled that you can live here and aware you could not afford it without her. Make it clear to her that's sufficient. You don't need or want more from her. You are so glad she is not like the horror story roommates you read about online regularly. You are glad there are no major issues. Affirm her worth to you and assure her she has value as a roommate.
posted by Michele in California at 12:13 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nutrition is your roommate's thing. She's excited to know (and room with!) somebody else who is at all interested in her hobby.

I suspect standing your ground even a little bit will be enough here. "You know, Sue, I don't mind chatting about this stuff, but I'm not as serious about nutrition as you are and I don't think I ever will be. I definitely won't be giving up [bacon/ice cream/diet soda], I like it."

She thinks you're in her club, or at least she wants you to be, and it's distressing to her when you break club rules. Just let her know that you don't actually want to be in that club.

I hope you'll keep being basically nice to her. She sounds lonely and kinda sad.
posted by mattu at 6:17 PM on April 11, 2014

"I feel bad because I set a precedent that we're working on my nutrition together, sort of a mutual hobby. But now I'm realizing I'd rather keep it personal. I know it will drive you crazy when I make food decisions that you think are off track, but that's just how it's going to be sometimes. Everyone has to make their own mistakes. Does that make sense? What do you think?"
posted by argybarg at 9:11 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

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