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Doctors, Remember This Before Congratulating Chronically Ill Patients on Losing Weight

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I’ll be the first to say it: I’m a big girl. I have gained a lot of weight over the last eight years due to various illnesses, psychotropic medication, etc. I don’t deny it. I have never been in denial about how large I am. I know how it negatively affects my health. I have been working to lose weight. And guess what, I’ve lost 30 pounds.

But here’s the catch: I was diagnosed with gastroparesis in June and have been on a liquid diet since then. I have lost 30 pounds in three months, which is pretty substantial weight loss. But my doctors applaud me for it. They are excited that I am losing weight. They seem to forget that I’m losing weight because I physically cannot tolerate food. That the only reason I’m losing weight is because I’ve been on a liquid diet for three months and everything else I throw up.

If I didn’t start out as heavy as I was, this would be cause for alarm in an average sized person. If someone weighed 140 pounds and they lost 30 pounds in three months, doctors would probably freak out. But me? I get a pat on the back.

We all know that “fat shaming” exists in society, but I don’t hear a lot of discussion on how the medical community silently shames the chronically ill.

I’m not talking about when you go in for your annual physical and your doctor tells you that if you can lose 10 to 20 pounds your blood pressure will be much better. I’m talking about those of us who are excited when our appointments go from every week to two weeks to — get ready for it — even a month between appointments! Doctors rarely comment on my weight. They know I know the medical impact of being obese; they know I have many chronic conditions. It is not something that is brought up in appointments. They have accepted me where I am.

But this, this pat on the back for losing 30 pounds, for how good it is for my joints and my back and my health, is showing me the shaming still there. I am not dieting, I am not actively trying to lose weight. Yes, it feels good to lose weight. But I didn’t decide on a whim one day to stop eating food. I didn’t decide that liquid nutrition would be how I lost my weight. I was forced into it by a severe medical condition that not only doesn’t allow me to enjoy food, it also affects my ability to absorb my many medications and a host of other side effects.

Food is such a social thing for humans. We gather, we share stories, we bond. It brings people together. We have holidays like Thanksgiving that are centered around food. So while you are applauding me for my weight loss, think about what I’m missing out on. Think about the fact that I’m missing out on all of that. Think about the fact that if I do choose to just suck it up for a night and go out to dinner and eat and socialize, I will pay for it, sometimes for a few days.

The holiday season is coming, a season I look forward to every year for the family gatherings and the stories and the food. Food that represents my culture, my traditions. Food that brings my family and friends together. Holidays are centered around eating. And I can’t eat.

I accept my diet. I don’t really get hungry too much anymore; I can sit and watch people eat now (unless it smells really really good). But it’s not easy. I’m anxious about the holidays. I can choose to eat, to be with my family, to celebrate and pay the price later or maybe even right there during the middle of Thanksgiving or Christmas. But with the price it comes with, is it worth it? I can choose to not eat and enjoy the holiday to the best of my ability, depending on how I’m feeling that day of course with everything else.

So yes, thank you for your excitement for my weight loss. I’m excited too. I haven’t seen numbers on the scale like this in years. But please, also recognize and acknowledge the fact that this is a side effect of a serious disease. It may be positive in some ways, but it is also very negative in a lot of ways you don’t think about.

Follow this journey on Living Without Limits.

Originally published: September 22, 2016
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