DSM V and Diagnostic Woes

THE NEW DSM IS OUT AND I HAVE A COPY OF IT! For those who don’t know, the DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, essentially the bible of Psychology. It’s what’s most often used to diagnose someone, and if you want insurance to cover treatment you generally need a DSM diagnosis. They’ve been in the midst of some pretty contentious updates for a long time, but I now have my hands on the brand new copy of the DSM-V.  Mmmm, tasty.

 

Of course when I got ahold of it I spent a good half an hour paging through and self-diagnosing, but after that diversion, I moved over to the eating disorder section to see what updates had actually gotten through and how they had phrased them. I was happy to see the inclusion of Binge Eating Disorder, as well as Night Eating Disorder and Purging Disorder as new categories in the manual, but when I looked back at our old favorite anorexia I was…annoyed.

 

One of the most contentious points in the DSM IV was the weight criterion for anorexia. While this has been removed from the current version and replaced with the following: “a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory and physical health. Significantly low weight is defined as a weight that is less than minimally normal, or, for children and adolescents, less than that minimally expected,” there is a scale to determine the severity of the disorder. This scale is entirely based on BMI, with the caveat that a psychologist can make adjustments if necessary. And I must say that the numbers listed on that scale are INSANE. To be considered a moderate case, your BMI needs to be between 16 and 17.  My BMI has never been even close to that. While I generally dislike numbers, and I am going to insert a HUGE TRIGGER WARNING right here, when I was at my worst I literally would go for a week without eating at times. I never ate two days in a row. I was seriously ill. However my body weight never dropped into what would be considered technically underweight by the BMI scale. I would have been considered a mild case, even if I had gained the diagnosis at all (as it stands I was diagnosed with EDNOS because of the weight criterion in the DSM IV).

 

We have gone over and over the harms that come from including weight as a criterion of an eating disorder. First and foremost, it keeps people from getting treatment until they’re already too sick, which is unhelpful to everyone involved. It ignores how different bodies react to starvation. It ignores that people’s weight can fluctuate throughout the disorder or treatment. It’s simply unrealistic. But more than anything, I feel like it shames those people who never get that diagnosis. It tells them that their pain and suffering wasn’t real unless they hit the magical BMI of 17 marker. And I am so disappointed in the writers of the DSM that they would ignore all of the feedback they’ve received from the eating disorder community and still include BMI criteria for anorexia. I’m so disappointed that after all the research and stories and experiences that people have shared that illustrate that an eating disorder is not about weight, we still have to reduce to such. And most of all I’m disappointed that until the next rewrite, more individuals will be stuck trying to navigate a system that reduces them to their weight, even as it’s trying to convince them that they should stop doing that.

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