History major, Frances Chan, from New Jersey, says she has weighed 90lbs since high school and her entire family are naturally skinny. At 5’2, the Yale student feels that it’s genetically impossible for her to add any more weight to her petite frame, but Yale officials aren’t buying it.
Since last December, Chan says she’s been forced to show up for weekly weigh-ins and was sent to visit a mental health professional and a nutritionist because Yale was convinced she had an eating disorder. All of this came about after visiting the school’s health center to check on a lump she found in her breast.
“It felt really bad to be this powerless,” she told the New Haven Register. “I ate ice cream twice a day. I ate cookies. I used elevators instead of walking up stairs. But I don’t really gain any weight.”
One health professional even told her her low weight would kill her and they threatened to put her on a medical leave of absence.
I’ve always been small. I’ve been 5’2” and 90 pounds since high school, but it has never led to any illnesses related to low weight or malnutrition. My mom was the same; my whole family is skinny. We all enjoy Mom’s fabulous cooking, which included Taiwanese beef noodle soup, tricolor pasta, strawberry cheesecake, and cream puffs, none of which make the Weight Watchers shortlist. I just don’t gain weight easily.
Yet the clinicians at Yale Health think there’s more to it. Every week, I try to convince my clinician that I am healthy but skinny. Over the past several months, however, I’ve realized the futility of arguing with her.
“You should try to gain at least two more pounds.” (What difference does two pounds make?)
“Come next week to take a blood test to check your electrolytes.” (No consideration that I had three exams that week.)
“I know you’ve said in the past that you don’t eat as much when you get stressed out.” (I’ve never said that.)
So instead of arguing, I decided that perhaps the more I complied, the sooner I could resume my normal life.
I was forced to see a mental health professional. She asked me all of the standard questions — how I felt about my body, how many calories I ate. I told her everyone’s body is beautiful, including mine. When I said I didn’t know how many calories, since I don’t care to count, she rephrased the question, as if that would help.
Next step was a nutritionist. The nurse passed a post-it note, saying “Here are two times for the nutritionist next Tuesday. Usually it takes three months to get into nutrition at all.” What a privilege! Now I get to feel guilty about using clinical resources in desperately short supply!
Finally, I decided to start a weight-gain diet. If I only had to gain two pounds, it was worth a shot to stop the trouble. I asked my health-conscious friends what they do to remain slim and did the exact opposite. In addition to loading up on carbs for each meal, I’ve eaten 3-4 scoops of ice cream twice a day with chocolate, cookies, or Cheetos at bedtime. I take elevators instead of stairs wherever possible.
Eventually, the scale said I was two pounds heavier. When I saw her last Friday, I felt my stomach tighten, my heart racing. Would I finally be granted parole?
“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.
Chan further stated that Yale’s use of the BMI chart is what drove them to assume she had an eating disorder. To further help her claims about not having an eating disorder, Chan enlisted the help of her private doctors and parents. Her doctor informed the university that just going by information from a BMI chart isn’t enough to establish an eating disorder claim and that his patient was in fact healthy.
Although the university eventually admitted their mistake, Chan hopes this is a lesson to the university and they’ll change their measurements when it comes to a student’s health.
“At Yale, you’re taught to be the change that you want to see in the world,” Chan told the newspaper. “Well, this seems like an easy thing to change.”