I may have mentioned this already, but I'm speaking at the Scottish Eating Disorder Interest Group (SEDIG) Carers' Conference 2016 at the end of next month (Saturday 27th February). The title of my talk will be "Eating disorders aren't just a 'girl thing'"; indeed the main thrust of the conference, I believe, will be about eating disorders in males and in particular eating disorders and anorexia in teenage boys.
The angle I'm taking for my talk is that not only did it take some time for my husband Paul and I to recognise that our son was developing an eating disorder, because we had no idea that boys got eating disorders just like girls do, but that throughout the whole process – from GP referral through to CAMHS treatment and discharge from eating disorder therapy – our son's case wasn't seen as terribly serious or urgent.
I believe the reason for this was that before he fell sick with anorexia his BMI was pretty high; remember he was a 'prop' in the school rugby team. It was mainly muscle, but undoubtedly it would have put his BMI pretty high up on the BMI scale (because BMI doesn't distinguish between fat, muscle or bone). Indeed I'm fairly sure that many fit and healthy rugby players and other athletes would be considered as "obese" if you applied the rigid BMI scale to them.
So even though Ben had probably lost around a quarter of his bodyweight, increasing to close to a third as his weight dropped to its lowest level halfway through the eating disorder treatment, he was still hovering around or just below the "healthy" level for a BMI.
And yet, as you will know from reading this blog, his anorexia was raging. The list of eating disorder symptoms he was exhibiting was as long as your arm.
So, building on our story, I will be talking about why I believe that there should be less emphasis on BMI is an indicator of seriousness of an eating disorder and of recovery. And also relying on BMI for diagnosis, because boys like Ben may never even reach the low BMI required to diagnose their eating disorder as anorexia nervosa.
I believe that relying solely on BMI is an indicator of seriousness could be dangerous. For example Ben was hospitalised twice with a dangerously low pulse rate – and a low pulse rate is known to be one of the complications of an eating disorder like anorexia. But because Ben didn't look "too bad" to someone that hadn't seen him as a big rugby player and his BMI was relatively OK, his eating disorder and low pulse rate weren't taken as seriously as they should have been.
Unfortunately I won't be able to go into massive detail about this in my talk, I only have 25 minutes or so and within this time I have to describe our story as well!