So much more than a BMI

Posted 02/03/2017

I was 15 years old the first time I saw my GP for my eating disorder. One of my best friends took me to the GP as she was so concerned for me. I was told there was nothing they could do as “I wasn’t unwell enough”; what hurt more was what that meant was: “I wasn’t thin enough to require treatment/support according to my BMI”. The irony of going to see your GP because you haven’t been eating for months and have been throwing up after each meal for years, to then be told you are not thin enough. At that moment it honestly felt like the GP had confirmed my belief that I was FAT. I recently asked my friend how she felt following this appointment – she said she felt helpless and frustrated. My friends wanted to help and support me in the moment I wasn’t able to help myself, but they were blocked and instead had to watch me continue to get more unwell as the years went by.

I wasn’t angry or upset by my interaction with the GP at the time because in my head it was rational to me that the GP was unable to offer me support – everyone knew how fat and disgusting I was.   

I’m an occupational therapist now, and my main role as an occupational therapist is to consider how an illness or disability is impacting on an individual’s ability to engage in everyday activities as well as the activities that mean the most to them. My eating disorder interrupted the majority of activities that most teenagers engage in and my whole life revolved around my eating disorder. It felt in that moment that I was just a number based on my weight and height not a person who was struggling to function. I was a person who was open to help and support but denied it. I think it is such a shame that we judge someone’s illness based on a BMI, rather than the damaging impact that the illness is having on a person’s life as a whole.  

My teeth were ruined, I was growing fine hairs all over my body, I ended up with a dangerously low potassium deficiency, I had suicidal thoughts, my relationship with my family was under strain, I was depressed, I was crying non-stop most nights, I was lying to everyone about my food intake, missing social occasions for fear of being around food or getting too drunk to block it out. I was being sick in the bathroom at college when I should have been learning. This went on for almost three years and I was getting more and more unwell. But it was okay, because my BMI was still in a healthy range.

Eventually after encouragement and support from family and friends I went back to a different GP at around 18 years old. I was referred to CBT, and a support group. This was helpful and with CBT I began to start to learn coping strategies. Over time I was able to learn how to manage my illness. Now at 27, I am well. It was a long and difficult journey and I often wonder if it would have been a shorter one had my first interaction with a health care professional been a more positive experience.    

My hope is that my story won’t put anyone off seeing their GP, because in the end and over time I had a good outcome and I got the support I needed. Even though it feels like no one’s listening, keep fighting to get the help you deserve. If you are a friend of somebody and you are worried about them, even just asking if they are okay means the world to them. And if you’re a GP reading this, I know exactly how stretched services are (I’ve worked in a CMHT for the last few years) and I know that it can frustrate you as much as it does us, but please take the time to consider how this is impacting on a person’s whole life (physically, mentally and socially). We are so much more than a BMI. 

Finally, I want to thank my friends for their unconditional continued support throughout my life, for taking me to the GP in the first instance, I am forever grateful. I am so lucky to have you as my friends and I love you. 

Contributed by Samantha