Dump The Scales: ‘Must I look like a skeleton to have an eating disorder?’

Guest post by Hope Virgo, author of Stand Tall Little Girl: Facing Up To Anorexia

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HopeVirgoI sat there in the waiting room, looking around me. The eating disorder unit looked the same as all others. I had cold sweat dripping down my back, and my mum sat next to me.

I felt like I was back at 17 years old. Struggling with every sort of emotion, but the difference this time was that I wanted to be there.

I was desperate for help because I knew I didn’t want to end up back living in adult services. It scared me how this was a potential, and I know that the line of control is so easy to cross.

I sat across from the clinician and told her everything. I explained how I was hearing that voice in my head again. How I didn’t know what to do. My mum explained my whole family situation. Then the crux.

“Let’s weigh you…”

Moments later, the sweating started again. My eyes whirled with tears, my brain went into overdrive. “Your BMI isn’t underweight.”

So what am I? A fake anorexic? A drama queen? An attention seeker? How can I show you I am really struggling?

After that appointment I battled for the next month. Trapped in my own brain. Battling on and on. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from fighting the anorexia.

We live in a day and age when so much emphasis is put on the scales. We let them dictate
our day-to-day mood, we let them control who we are, and what we are feeling. We stop
judging ourselves as individuals, and because of our qualities, and instead get fixated on
those numbers on the scales. We allow them to dictate everything!

When did society become so obsessed with judging everything on physical appearance and not looking beyond this? Why is it okay that our entire health can be judged on our BMI when surely that is a fairly inefficient way to measure someone? Surely we should be looking beyond this?

Eating disorders are not a physical illness, but they are one of the few mental illnesses where so much is judged on physical appearance and physique. I still find it frustrating that when I walk in to a room and people know I am going to speak about eating disorders they take one look up and down to assess if I look “anorexic”.

The frustration goes further than this when you are so desperate to get well but yet aren’t eligible for support because you aren’t “thin enough”. That heartbreak and disgust at yourself when you reach out for help but are turned away… the guilt, the voice in your head telling you that you have failed at something else. Knocking you further and further down. None of us are melodramatic attention seeking individuals…. We actually need help to recover, and we want to!

This frustration led me to share my story of recovery from anorexia. I decided that people needed to understand that, just because someone looks physically okay, does NOT mean they aren’t struggling.

It is time we detached the mental from the physical effects of an eating disorder, and stopped basing someone’s diagnosis on their BMI. This is why I launched #DumpTheScales. I got completely fed up with the amount of stories I heard of people struggling with getting a diagnosis. People who were left in the lurch, felt suicidal and completely alone. People who do want that help but cannot access it.

What’s funny though is that, despite thousands of people coming forward, sharing their stories, and talking so openly about their experiences, the government still claims they are doing enough.

Nigel Adams MP recently responded with: “GPs are trained to identify symptoms and help patients discuss the issues. Rejection for treatment on the ground of weight and BMI is not in line with any of the published guidance and should not occur.”

Well I am glad we are agreement that it should NOT occur but it still does! And there is
absolutely no explanation from government as to why it still happens. And trust me, I am not someone who would be badgering on about this unless there was actually an issue… that is just NOT what I am like.

We need to change this. It’s a simple thing to change: stop focusing on crisis and weight, and actually think about the individual! Think about their mental state, NOT their BMI.

I totally get that we are living in a society where everyone else feels like they can judge us on our weight. Where we’re constantly being told that everything from our exercise habits, to our step count, to our calories is what we should or shouldn’t be doing.

But seriously – let’s start taking responsible and pushing back. Not just on the medical system and their need to diagnose in a certain way, but let’s also empower each other to eat what we want, to focus on that healthy lifestyle, not just on what calories we should be having.

The other day someone sent me a poster they had seen in a school, stating that if you ate calories you had to burn it off… like, come on!! What a load of rubbish. We need calories to fuel our bodies to live! Let’s stop making them the enemy but instead focus on what makes us happy, look beyond the scales, and yes live a healthy lifestyle but without letting ourselves be restricted or dictated upon.

I challenge you today to think about your qualities and not about weight. Try and get your worth elsewhere.


Sign Hope’s #DumpTheScales petition at change.org.

You can also find her on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, and online.

Buy Hope’s book, Stand Tall Little Girl: Facing Up to Anorexia, on Amazon.

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