Body Mass Index (BMI) is an outdated and weight-centric way to monitor an individual’s health. Despite this fact, it is still often used when determining whether or not someone qualifies as having an eating disorder, and by extension, is eligible for covered treatment. The eating disorder community is fighting back though with the new #DumpTheScales campaign.
The #DumpTheScales Campaign
Center for Discovery (CFD) operates from a weight-inclusive, Health at Every Size®️ paradigm. This means, among other things, that CFD deeply believes that eating disorders, and their severity for an individual suffering, are not determined by how much an individual weighs. Unfortunately, this approach is not the norm in the eating disorder community. Those who have experienced treatment issues firsthand because of their weight, however, are speaking out against this issue. One such individual is Hope Virgo, who was denied admission into an eating disorder treatment center because she did not meet the weight criteria. To call attention to the issue, Virgo started the #DumpTheScales campaign. According to the campaign’s GoFundMe, Virgo is calling for clinicians to disregard Body Mass Index (BMI) when diagnosing eating disorders and is urging the government in the United Kingdom to review eating disorder guidelines. So far, more than 70,000 individuals have signed this petition, illustrating the deep need for reform in eating disorder treatment.
Why Body Mass Index is a Flawed Tool
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measurement often used in the medical community to categorize certain weight classes by taking into account an individual’s height to weight ratio. This math equation, however, does not take into account muscle or fat composition, which can drastically alter an individual’s BMI. An athletic individual can be perfectly healthy, but because of the muscle content, their BMI can place them in a high BMI range. Because we live in a world ruled by weight stigma, these erroneous classifications can potentially cause individuals to engage in extreme dieting behaviors in order to try and lose weight and reduce their BMI, including engaging in excessive exercise and disordered eating.
This is especially potent for those in eating disorder recovery. For those who do not struggle with their relationship with food and their bodies, an individual’s BMI is just a number. To someone in eating disorder recovery, however, numbers can control an individual’s life and negatively impact their recovery progress. Similar to counting calories or the number on the scale, individuals in recovery can become obsessed with numbers. By utilizing BMI cutoffs as criteria for admission or as indicators of health, providers and treatment centers are colluding with an individual’s eating disorder, rather than helping them to heal.
Why the Numbers Need to Go
Health at Every Size and weight-inclusive professionals in the eating disorder community have rallied against the use of calorie counting and keeping scales in the home for years because it can create negative thoughts and emotions, potentiating relapse. Despite this clear communication from treatment professionals that assigning numbers to bodies in any capacity is harmful, the healthcare industry still uses BMI–and by extension, weight–to determine whether an individual should receive eating disorder treatment.
Despite this, weight status is still considered when diagnosing eating disorders, and when determining whether or not insurance will cover life-saving treatment. As a result, those in higher-weight bodies often get looked over or ignored, and don’t receive the treatment they deserve. We must consider how the diagnostic criteria can be adjusted to include ALL bodies, and how we as providers and supporters of those in recovery can help to remove weight stigma from all aspects of eating disorder treatment.
Health At Every Size is a registered trademark of the Association For Size Diversity And Health.