The Mighty Logo

The Truth About Weight Bias and Chronic Pain

My weight fluctuates. Always has. Always will.

As a kid, I was considered chunky. As a teen, I was labeled athletic. As a young adult and busy mother, my weight fluctuated. As an older adult and haggard working mom, that number increased.

I’ve been skinny. I’ve been larger. I’ve been obese (according to the assorted height/weight charts I’ve consulted over the years).

I have rocked some seriously sexy curves and my extra curves have sometimes seriously rocked me.

Here’s the thing though — the real truth — not once ever was I pain-free in all the years my weight fluctuated.

Fibromyalgia doesn’t care if you’re a size 8 or 18. Neither does arthritis. Or calcific tendonitis. Or any of the other pain issues I’ve had or still have. The number on the scale is not the determining factor behind my chronically itchy skin, disgusting night sweats or debilitating brain fog.

My hips aren’t giving out because I’m currently overweight. It’s not the reason my ankles don’t bend, or my shoulder’s keep me awake at night. For sure, the extra weight doesn’t help my situation, but it is not the cause of my pain.

It is not the cause of your pain either.

And don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise!

Medical Bias

There are biases in the medical community. Not just among the white male echelon either. All physicians are human. Therefore, all physicians have biases (some more than others).

That pretty teenager? A hypochondriac looking for attention going by the number of vague symptoms she has. That young Black man complaining of exhaustion, shortness of breath and fever? Probably just doesn’t want to work. That older woman in the hospital emergency room with a sore back. Well, duh. She’s obese.

Wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The teenager has an appendix about to burst. The young Black man has sickle cell disease. The older obese woman, stage-4 breast cancer.

True stories.

It’s sad and disheartening, but research shows weight bias continues to exist across the spectrum of health care. Doctors, nurses, psychologists, dietitians, technologists, specialists-biased attitudes can, and sometimes do, cause harm to patients who present with higher body weights.

On the brighter side, more and more health care professionals are becoming aware of the existence of their own personal weight biases and recognize it as an issue that can no longer be ignored.

So, I’ll just say this and move on. If your pain and/or symptoms are ever brushed off by a medical professional due to your weight (under or over), get a second opinion, and if necessary, a third. Be vocal. No one knows your body better than you do!

Personal Bias

Now here’s the dark side of weight bias associated with chronic pain.

It exists everywhere. On the street, at work, in the gym, in your home.

What the fuck? In your home.

Yes.

In. Your. Home.

I’ll preface this next section by saying I love my husband. He’s a good guy. A good husband. A good father.

He’s also biased when it comes to me and my weight. He wants me to be healthier. He wants me to be happier. He thinks losing weight will make those things happen. He’s right. But he’s so very wrong, too.

What he doesn’t get — truly does not get — is that I will never be pain-free. He just can’t wrap his head around it. Why? Because he’s never experienced it. Also because a life of chronic pain is not something he wants for me.

Trust me. If he could take away my pain by sheer force of will, he would.

He can’t.

Doesn’t stop him from wanting to help by trying to police what I eat (he’s a police officer — it comes naturally to him).

Doesn’t stop him from voicing opinions that are wrong.

Just like the fact that loving him doesn’t stop me from going ballistic when he makes an ignorant comment. For example, on our too long walk when my hip gave out and he mumbled something about all of us having to deal with the aches and pains of getting older, and maybe if I lost some weight…

Uhh. No.

My hip problems are not me getting older or me carrying too much weight. It’s fibromyalgia, arthritis, tendonitis and who knows what else (MRI scheduled for November).

By the time I was done educating him, at a rather high decibel, he had a slightly better understanding of my pain and how I felt about his bias towards it. Is he completely reformed? Hell no.

Should I have started the education process 20 years ago? Hell yes. That’s on me.

It was a moment. Not a good one. We’re over it. Will it happen again — sure. Why? Because we’re both stubborn, mule-headed beings, who want the best for and best from each other.

Plus, make no mistake — chronic pain or not — I’m not the easiest chick to live with.

Fix It and Be Done With It

If losing weight won’t take away my pain, why am I trying to take better care of my body?

Multiple reasons:

  • I don’t want to be more at-risk for other more severe diseases such as diabetes, heart disease/stroke and cancer.
  • For me, the weight I’m carrying adds additional stress on an already stressed body, leading to higher levels of chronic pain. Do I believe losing weight will reduce my pain — yes. Eliminate my pain — no.
  • The weight I’m currently at is hard on my mental health. When I’m heavier than feels right for me, my belief in my self-worth plummets. This is a me thing. By acknowledging it, I take some power back from the inner voice that likes to criticize.
  • The weight I’m at impacts my sleep. I give this one to my partner. Yes. I snore viciously when I’m overweight.

Bottom line — I feel better and I have greater confidence when my weight is more towards my “typical” size.

How about you? Ever experience any prejudice due to weight bias? If you feel up to it, tell us, what did you do to manage the situation?

Thanks for coming along on my wellness journey!

Until the next time — peace out pain warriors.

Photo by AllGo – An App For Plus Size People on Unsplash

Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home