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How I Found Doctors Who Focused on More Than Just My Weight

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I have lived with chronic back pain most of my adult life. I have tried everything known to man to relieve it. My pain is so bad that I cannot stand up for any period without shooting pain and muscle spasms.

As a fat person, I am discriminated against by the medical profession. I do not get the level of care people with thin privilege get. It starts in the waiting room chairs too small, then getting weighed on your way to the room and the scale not able to calculate your weight. You then are told to undress and put on the gown with the opening to the front, for me meaning a necked front. (Oh, how I hate the too-small gown.)

Then the doctor comes in and fails to make eye contact. Sitting there naked you explain your concerns. The doctor looks up and says, “you know you should lose some weight; that will solve your problem.”

Honestly what in the world do they go to medical school for. The only remedy seems to be weight loss. I came in for an earache and I get a lecture about my weight and BMI. This all occurs even though no one discussed if I was eating healthfully, if I was doing joyful movement, if I had an eating disorder, another health or mental health condition, or if I was happy just the way I am. Instead, I get an uninformed lecture about my weight, and I am now demoralized and certain next time I will just put up with the ear infection.

This is the experience of most people in larger bodies. It is spoken about often on Instagram or Twitter by larger bodied people and the treatment they get. They want health “care.” Not ridicule and dismissive doctors.

I decided once I stopped dieting that I wanted to add joyful movement to my self-care routine. This seemed insurmountable considering I was in so much physical pain. I knew I needed physical therapy and to see a doctor to finally diagnose my problem. It had been seven years since my last back procedure, and I was scared to return to a doctor. The last time I shopped for a doctor to help me, I was told in fast succession by four of them that I was too fat and needed bariatric surgery. I quickly explained that was not an option for me and all of them went on to say they could and would not help me until I had the surgery.

I finally went back to my primary care doctor and got her to refer me to a pain specialist. He helped me, but still encouraged weight loss and told me all about how he had lost a lot of weight.

So as you can see I am leery of doctors, and especially with my new attitude about not dieting I am a bit fragile. I knew more than anything I wanted to feel better, so I went on the hunt for a treatment team and I have been pleasantly surprised.

I first found a physical therapist. As soon as we met, I told her I did not want to lose weight intentionally and therefore do not want that as a part of my treatment goals. She said, “no problem, we do not have to focus on that.” We worked very well together, and I began to make progress.

Physical therapy was moving along, but we needed more information to pinpoint my problem areas to target treatment. This is when I became nervous. The physical therapist referred me to a friend of hers who is an orthopedist. I immediately said is she going to just say I am too fat, and she cannot help me unless I lose weight. The PT assured me that would not be the case, and she was right. We had a fruitful meeting, and she was extremely helpful and did not at any point mention my weight and how that was bearing down on my hips and knees.

I then needed to see a low and upper back spine doctor. I asked the orthopedist for a referral. I was so nervous the night before my appointment. I was so sure she would focus on my weight, and I would be demoralized. I was in so much pain I just really needed to go through with this no matter what. I had it all planned out, what I was going to say if she came at me with intentional weight loss talk. She did not. I fell apart at the start of the appointment and said how I had been treated by other doctors and how I needed her to be different and to help me. She agreed to help me. I walked out of there with a bounce in my step, medication, a diagnosis and schedule for imaging. I was finally heard and respected.

You too can have this experience. I know it is hard to find the right doctor, but they do exist.

If you find yourself with a doctor and/or office that is not providing adequate healthcare, you can:

1. Report them to the hospital or agency they work for.

2. Write a review online.

3. Point out to the doctor things at your appointment that make you feel uncomfortable.

4. Ask for bigger gowns, larger seats (or seats without arms) and accessible parking.

5. Refuse to be weighed. Weight is not an indicator of health. You can always guess if they must put something in your chart.

6. If doctor starts in about your weight, you can tell them you are not here to discuss that and would like to focus on the reason you made the appointment.

7. If the doctor insists on pushing weight loss as a cure, ask them for the research that proves weight loss is sustainable and effective long term.

8. Ask for them to share with you the medical advice they would give a thin person for the same condition.

9. Remember they work for you and should treat you accordingly.

10. You know your own body and are an expert on it.

Do not give up. Go see the doctor for urgent and preventative care it is imperative. It could save your life.

We are dying earlier and have more health risk not because of our weight, but because of our lack of medical care. Either we are not going to the doctor, or the doctor is mistreating us. This is not your fault and you do not have to take the blame for your suffering.

Once I was called fat by a doctor and denied proper care, so I grabbed my chart and left with it never to return. You do not have to take this lying down. We deserve better.

You are Mighty Strong you can do this!


Getty image by cosmaa

Originally published: September 3, 2021
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