I recently discovered that I was beyond what my BMI deems is safe. Despite my history of undereating, this is the best I’ve been in many years. Thin does not mean healthy.
I went to the GP a few days ago for a prescription update. I’ve been seeing her for the past year, and she’s been the first to not dismiss me for asking for “unnecessary tests or treatments”. I don’t think that asking for an STI check between sexual partners is unnecessary or excessive, but whatever.
So, it came as a surprise when she voiced her concern about my weight when I informed her that I had gained significant weight in the past five months. By significant, I mean approximately less than 10kg. Of course, she checked my weight, height, and calculated my BMI.
Now, I understand why doctors use it. I’m a nurse and a midwife. Our policies and practice are based on a person’s BMI. By law, I’m required to advise people on how to eat, what tests we do, how much weight they’re “allowed” to gain; all based on this outdated scale that was never really meant for health use.
If it had been a year ago, and I was this close to being classed as “overweight”, I would’ve relapsed into anorexia, and all the hard work I’ve done to improve myself would have gone out the window and I’d once again wither away, with a return to health being uncertain.
Let me preface what I say next with the fact that I have not been in a healthy weight range for a long time. The last time was probably just as I hit puberty. I’ve been underweight. Not much, just borderline, but I’ve been struggling with eating disorders, anxiety, and depression for many years, and it takes its toll. I am now finally in a healthy weight range, I’m starting to accept my body, and everybody around me is relieved with how healthy and happy I now look.
Therefore, you might understand my shock when my doctor informed me that I should make sure to exercise and keep eating healthily because I’m technically 3 kilos off of being overweight, according to my BMI. My shock isn’t my BMI, but that someone of my size would be considered anywhere near overweight.
And of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard a doctor comment on someone’s weight and encouraged them to diet. The person in question is not big, they are slim, and cannot afford to lose too much weight. But the advice is: Go on a diet to lose weight. I lost my shit, because this kind of thinking can be dangerous.
Needless to say, I said to my GP that, while I understood the legal obligation to adhere to the health guidelines surrounding BMI weight ranges, I did not actually take it seriously, and was not concerned about it. I continued on to say that I was actually feeling pretty okay with my weight gain for once, and was in a healthy weight range for the first time in a very long time.
What do I have to say to that? Well, the BMI is an inaccurate system that does not factor in muscle or bone density. Weight and size do not necessarily reflect health. Not to mention the unhealthy focus people put on being thin, especially through ridiculous dieting and exercise.
As politely as I could, I reinforced that my struggle with eating disorders and body dysmorphia had left me with a BMI of 17-18 for the majority of the past 13 years or so. For women, healthy is approximately 19 to 25. She didn’t really have a response to this, and the appointment concluded with me getting my prescription and agreeing to come back when I was ready to stop taking my medications.
“But what about your health? The doctor’s job is to make sure their patients are healthy!” I hear you say.
What do I have to say to that? Well, the BMI is an inaccurate system that does not factor in muscle or bone density. Weight and size do not necessarily reflect health. Not to mention the unhealthy focus people put on being thin, especially through ridiculous dieting and exercise. More often than not, a health professional will not check on a woman who is considered underweight if she is not a walking skeleton. Yet, those same doctors will have no issues telling her to diet when she nears the higher end of the BMI “healthy range”.
To a lesser degree, this is also the case with men.
Can you imagine how that affects people? Seeing someone of my size being classified as overweight? Or what that would do to someone else who is borderline underweight being told their weight is perfectly healthy? I’ll tell you now: if it had been a year ago, and I was this close to being classed as “overweight”, I would’ve relapsed into anorexia, and all the hard work I’ve done to improve myself would have gone out the window and I’d once again wither away, with a return to health being uncertain.
For me, this appointment has revealed that the unhealthy, popular obsession the majority of the world has with thinness has not changed, nor has the heartbreaking fat-phobia that has come of it. The health profession needs an update, globally. The BMI needs a complete overhaul.
Thin does not equate to healthy. Fat is not necessarily unhealthy. Gaining weight is not inherently bad.
To the world, I may look like a short, sexy, slim, happy, healthy young woman who’s only become better in the past year. But to the health profession, I am just a number on the scale, and that number says that I am unhealthy and overweight.
Be good to yourself and be kind.