On Our Radar: Frances Chan

Is BMI causing trouble again? Yale student Frances Chan had to meet with Yale clinician for weekly weigh-ins and was threatened to be put on medical leave if she did not comply to gaining weight. 

“You’ve gained two pounds, but that still isn’t enough. Ideally, you should go up to 95 pounds.” I hung my head in disbelief. I’ve already shared with you the memorable exchange that followed.

She had finally cracked me. I was Sisyphus the Greek king, forever trapped trying uselessly to push a boulder up a hill. Being forced to meet a standard that I could never meet was stressful and made me resent meals. I broke down sobbing in my dean’s office, in my suitemate’s arms afterwards, and Saturday morning on the phone with my parents. At this rate, I was well on my way to developing an eating disorder before anyone could diagnose the currently nonexistent one.

It seems Yale has a history of forcing its students through this process. A Yale Herald piece from 2010 told the story of students in similar situations. It’s disturbing how little things have changed. “Stacy” was “informed that if she kept failing to reach [Yale Health]’s goals for her, she would be withdrawn for the following semester.” Unfortunately, “the more she stressed out about gaining weight, the more she lost her appetite.”

Furthermore, a recent graduate messaged me saying that her cholesterol had actually gone up due to the intensive weight-gain diet she used to release herself from weekly weigh-ins.

It is clear that the University does care about students suspected of struggling with eating disorders. And it should. Eating disorders are particularly prevalent on college campuses and Yale is no exception. However, because the University blindly uses BMI as the primary means of diagnosis, it remains oblivious to students who truly need help but do not have low enough BMIs. Instead, it subjects students who have a personal and family history of low weight to treatment that harms our mental health. By forcing standards upon us that we cannot meet, the University plays the same role as fashion magazines and swimsuit calendars that teach us about the “correct shape” of the human body.

I was scheduled to have a mental health appointment at 9:00 a.m. and a weigh-in at 10:30 a.m. this past Friday. But I’m done. No more weigh-ins, no more blood draws. I don’t have an eating disorder, and I will not let Yale Health cause me to develop one. If Yale wants to kick me out, let them try – in the meantime, I’ll be studying for midterms, doing my best to make up for lost time.

Read Frances’ story here.

UPDATE from Yahoo:

“It seems like assumptions were being made based on her appearance, and that it was very discriminatory. Low BMI doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy,” clinical psychologist Maria Rago, vice president of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, tells Yahoo Shine, adding, “Even if you have an eating disorder, you have a right to go to school.” 

Rago notes it’s clear the university means well. “But eating disorders are more about your behaviors and your thoughts than your weight,” she explains.

Finally, though, after Chan’s struggling with weigh-ins, pleading with doctors to not place so much emphasis on her body mass index, and eventually writing to university President Peter Salovey to apprise him of the situation, officials relented. 

“Just visited Yale Health with my parents and met with a new doctor. She apologized repeatedly for the ‘months of anguish’ I went through and admitted that BMI is not the end all be all,” Chan posted to her Facebook page on Friday. “She also looked at my medical records since freshman year (which the previous clinician had not done) and noted that she saw that my weight had remained around the same. So she trusts that I do not have an eating disorder and admitted that ‘we made a mistake.’”


Know something that should be On Our Radar? Contact us!