Thanks for your help, doctor.

One of my favourite elements of online activism (especially fat activism) is its ability to make the personal political. I love how fat activists are getting the message out there that we are not just headless fatties. We are real people, individuals, with diverse interests and values and needs and talents and stories.

For a couple of those stories, you might want to check out this wonderful short doco about young fat women. (Link to film, which contains some NSFW images from the Adipositivity Project, which is also probably NSFW incidentally!)

Here’s a story from me, about the realities of life as a fat person. To be honest I’ve been unsure about whether I want to share it because, well, trolls. But I think it’s important that we speak up about how grindingly difficult it can be to just be heard, as a fat person, and how trying to focus on Health At Every Size instead of embracing the commercial weight-loss industry is some kind of radical act (despite, really, it resembling so many kinds of common sense).

I’ve been having some (relatively minor but annoyingly persistent) health problems; it’s been difficult to find the best way to cope with these, especially given that they are exactly the sorts of things that doctors struggle to either take seriously or find the cause of. Without going into detail, I will say that they boil down to fatigue and are probably linked to metabolic problems related to my polycystic ovarian syndrome. The logical thing seemed to be to seek a referral to an endocrinologist.

I’ve written a little bit about how fat stigma can interfere with patients receiving sound health care. I’ve previously had a little experience of that (like the time a GP recommended Weight Watchers as a ‘treatment’ for post-natal depression). Yesterday the endocrinologist gave me the full stigma experience.

I want to be clear: Dr M was a pretty nice guy. He was friendly, he looked me in the eye, he didn’t say anything ‘mean’, he answered my questions, he wasn’t dismissive. Occasionally I hear people saying that fat people only complain about doctors because they don’t like being weighed (he weighed me, I was totally fine with that) or because they don’t like hearing hard truths. That’s really a mis-characterisation of why we complain about fat stigma in health-care settings. It is about so much more than hurt feelings (although, frankly, hurt feelings matter too, especially when a bad experience with one rude or dismissive doctor can be enough to keep an already socially stigmatised person from seeking health care when it is really important to do so).

What was most frustrating about my appointment with Dr. M wasn’t that he outwardly fat-shamed me (he didn’t) and it wasn’t even that ‘prescribed’ weight-loss (although I didn’t particularly appreciate that, given that I started with a spiel about how I wanted to focus on health, and not weight). What is most upsetting is that I paid this man $220 to spend half an hour talking to me about how I could get thinner when what I wanted was for him to listen to me and offer me solutions and alternatives that might actually do something about the underlying cause of my symptoms and which may actually make me, you know, healthier. And even if you believe, as Dr. M clearly does, that weight loss would make me healthier — even if I believed that — the fact would still remain that he didn’t listen to me, that he discounted almost all possible causes for my symptoms aside from one which is not qualified to diagnose himself and … fatness.

Make no mistake: I know that this only happened to me because I am fat. If I were a thin person and I walked through his door with the symptoms I described, he would have been forced to dig deeper. To ask me more questions, to hopefully come up with a wider range of options. Maybe run more tests.

Instead he saw a fat woman sitting in front of him, and I’m quite sure that he, seemingly decent chap that he was, thought that he was offering me wonderful advice and providing an answer to my ‘struggles’. Except that he wasn’t. This is the problem with the pervasiveness of fat stigma and the failure of some health professionals to treat patients as individuals with individual health needs, not as statistics in a ‘war on obesity.’

In case y’all are wondering, this is basically how the appointment actually went:

[After a brief chat about medical history and symptoms…during which, he didn’t actually ask about my dietary habits or exercise levels.]

Dr. M: So, you’ve been struggling with your weight?

Me: Well, I wouldn’t really use the word ‘struggling’. I have gained weight, yes. I think that might be a symptom of some of the underlying issues I have.

Dr. M: Yes, definitely because [explains some likely hormonal causes for weight gain as shown by my blood test results etc.]

Me: Like I mentioned to begin with, I would just like to be healthy, rather than concentrating on weight. I’d like to have more energy and vitality, that’s my main concern at the moment.

Dr. M: Ok, that’s a sensible approach. So what have you been doing to try to lose weight?

Me: Well, as I said, I’m concentrating on health, not weight. I’m not actively trying to lose weight. I have recently increased my exercise by seeing a personal trainer again, and I’m making sure that I eat regularly to keep from having so many mood swings and energy dips.

Dr. M: Yes, sounds like you’re really on the right track. Well, here are some options for you, although I’m not pushing you into anything.

Me: Ok, sure.

Dr. M: You could try a meal replacement programme… [lists a few different commercial programmes and warns me that I’d still have to eat vegetables or I’d get constipated]

Me: Ok, well, as I said I’m really interested in health and vitality. I’m also concerned about the potential negative effects of yo-yo dieting so I tend to avoid ‘diets’.

Dr. M: Yes, fair enough. Well, another option is Reductil and those types of drugs [yes, he seriously did recommend a banned weight loss drug (which, prior to the TGA withdrawing approval, was shown to have limited effectiveness anyway) to someone who had already made it clear that weight loss was not a goal.]

Me: *incredulous stare*

Dr. M: Of course, your best bet for long-term benefits would be surgery. There is a surgical option called gastric banding, which, the latest ten year studies are showing, does offer the best long-term solution for weight loss.

Me: Ok. If I was concerned about weight loss I might want to talk more about that. At the moment though, I’m interested in finding out more about why I’m having these symptoms, and dealing with those.

Dr. M: Yes, well… allow me to refer you to another doctor who can investigate [X] possibility with you. [Explains]

Me: Sure, okay, that’s worth looking into, I’ll have that checked out. What about what [X] and [Y] test results say? Do you have any thoughts about that?

Dr. M: Well, you can try [X] drug. The big benefit to that is that it might reduce your appetite.

Me: Ok, well, that’s fine, but remember I mentioned that one of my symptoms, that I wanted to address, was reduced appetite and irregular appetite?

Dr. M: Oh, yes, that’s right. Well there are other benefits too. It may hold off the onset of diabetes.

Me: Well that sounds like a good benefit. But I thought you explained that I don’t show any signs of diabetes or even pre-diabetes. And I confirmed that I don’t have a family history of diabetes?

Dr. M: Yes, that’s right, you don’t have pre-diabetes. Yet.

Me: Sure, ok. Can you tell me what the other benefits are to taking that drug? Will it help with any of my symptoms? Because what I would like, why I’m here, is because I’d like to be healthy and have some more vitality…

Dr. M: Yes, that’s a sensible way to look at it. Well, how about you keep doing what you’re doing, and come back and see me in six months to reassess things?

Me: Thanks for your… help.

I reckon I need another new doctor. What do you think?

** NB. I have included more details about my personal health than I feel entirely comfortable about sharing publicly, but I needed to include them in order to illustrate my point. This doesn’t mean that I’m open to people offering diagnoses or cures, so please, don’t do that. If I want your opinion about my health status I will be sure to ask you for it. What you are most welcome to share in comments though, if you would like, are your experiences of fat stigma in health care or, if you can, happy stories about when doctors get it right. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that some of them really do!


Filed under Body Image/Fat Acceptance

55 responses to “Thanks for your help, doctor.

  1. *headdesk* Oh, and *waves* I have PCOS too. It sucks. It’s been a battle for years to get medical people to take my health stuff seriously.

    Anyway, I don’t have anything constructive to add. Sorry about that. But I thought I’d share.

  2. Ugh. I think it’s just lazy medicine, really – doctors who don’t listen and won;t consider exploring the story of the *actual* patient in front of them rather than some generalised mythical “average” patient whose body can be reduced to formulae.

    I have two stories in this area, one mine, one my husband’s. I myself, according to the oh-so-useful BMI tables, am overweight, but not obese. My husband is morbidly obese, according to the same tables. As you might expect, my story is mild, hubs’ isn’t.

    In my case, I went to a GP nine months after the birth of my last child for a review / check-up ordered by my neurologist (I had a nerve damage condition after C’s birth). So, in context, I’m 9 months postpartum with three small children, a nerve condition that mimics MS in most ways (which has made me unable to do any exercise other than gentle walking) and I am a diet-compliant Coeliac, which means that I eat no gluten, cook fresh food all the time, and am very aware of dietary needs and meeting them (because I have to make frequent substitutions.

    The convo goes like this:
    Dr: Yes, the nerve functions are definitely better than last time. That’s great. Now all we need to working on is losing you some of that weight.
    Me: The neurologist didn’t mention that weight was a factor in exacerbating the nerve storms. And my bloodwork showed good general nutrition.
    Dr: Oh yes, you’re well-nourished! No, no, I’m not talking about the nerve issue, I mean for general health. You’re quite a lot heavier than before this pregnancy, you know.
    Me: Yes, I know. But I am in good health, other than this nerve problem, which is a result of an injury, and is not related to either my diet or my weight. I am trying to manage my nerve problem as proactively as I can following the specialists’ advice. I AM NOT CONCERNED ABOUT MY WEIGHT and I DO NOT BELIEVE IT IS IMPACTING MY HEALTH.
    Dr: Oh. Right.

    My husband, on the other hand, went to the dr with a full-blown nasty sinus infection. Here’s how that went down.
    Dr: We need to do a full blood work-up and I’ll need to check your BP and here’s a referral to a WLS clinic…
    Hubs: Can I have a prescription for penicillin for my sinuses please?
    Dr, after checking BP: Oh, It’s normal, how odd. (Does finger-prick test for blood sugars & cholesterol). Wow, so are they.
    Hubs, sighing: Yes. They usually are. Do I have to have this bloodwork done in order to get something for my sinuses?
    Dr: No, but you really should. At your weight, you’re a train wreck waiting to happen you know.
    Hubs: Uhuh. Script?
    Dr hands it over with blood orders and pamphlett for WLS. Hubs drops both in bin on the way out the door.

    As we each remarked afterwards, we wouldn’t have minded so much if there was a plausible link between the conditions we were being seen for and weight / size. I would want a dr to consider my weight as a possible sign of an underlying condition or contributor to it if it was in fact relevant. But nerve injuries and sinuses? Notsomuch.

    • Wow. A ‘train wreck waiting to happen’? Just… wow.
      What an arsehole. The infuriating thing is that even if your husband’s bloods weren’t good news and he did have diabetes or high cholesterol, that doctor would not have in any way shape or form facilitated an improvement in his health.

  3. Iris

    thanks for sharing this. It’s important to keep hearing about how the effects and implications of not listening…stigma is so much broader in scope than the explicit ‘anti-X’ talk. I’m sorry you’re both out of pocket and still without the advice/help you hoped for. Good luck with finding a new new doctor or finding a way of getting through to this one…hmmm maybe you could send him a link to this…I know that I’m going to share this with friends in the health professions.

    • I think I may need to send him something… HAES manifesto maybe? At least, being in Australia, I get a reasonable government funded rebate on that fee, which is something.

  4. Amanda

    I wish I could share my wonderful doctor with you! She has never fat shamed me, never questioned once whether any of the things I’ve been to see her over the years about (including depression and menstrual cycle things) has been about my size. In fact, the one time I do remember my weight coming up, *I* was the one to mention it (because I was talking about coming off BC, and we were light heartedly talking about not missing the side effects) – as in “Oh I know I’ve put a bit on over the years” – and she just shrugged and said “it’s about how you feel comfortable with yourself”. I could have hugged her for that! She’s said over the years she’ll do diabetes/cholesterol checks if *I* want them.

    I always say I don’t know what I’d do without her if she ever moves away.

    I’m sure my SO has problems with the male doctor he sees, because he can’t get his chronic sinus and back problems resolved. He gets on the roundabout of “you need to lose weight to help your back problem”, when his back problem is causing him strife exercising! Then gets all depressed because he thinks its a moral failing. I’m starting to have real issues trying to explain the HAES “back problem is behind the weight, not the other way round”. He’s getting a lot of screwed up messages from people around him about the morality of food and weight. Unfortunately, I used to be one of them, and he’s having trouble understanding why I’ve changed my tune about “weight loss”. I can’t show him any FA or HAES writings, because it makes him so mad. Please believe me, he’s a lovely person, just a great example of how the bigger world narrative screws so completely with peoples heads. We have come some way to an agreement about size issues (he doesn’t bug me to go to the gym or do diets, I don’t criticize that he does them – though it really hurts about the diet thing). I can only persist in telling him that I love him whatever way he comes, but its difficult when he won’t love himself.

    Sigh. Sorry for the rant. That’s been kept inside for a while, because I don’t know anyone around me who will believe me.

  5. Sim

    I can SO relate. I agree, lazy doctoring.

    I recently had to call an ambulance because I had sudden onset severe backpain and couldn’t move. I got to the hospital, the doctor looked at my back, gave me some painkillers and told me to lose weight. Um, hello, did I mention SUDDEN ONSET. Did I mention CAN’T MOVE??? I also mentioned that my back pain in general pre-dated my weight. (I have chronic backpain but nothing like this before!)

    If I were a thin person in that situation i’m pretty sure there would have been some testing at the very least. Grrr. At least my doctor is awesome, spent an hour with me the next day calling testing centres and specialists and getting me appointments when there were none available. I love my doctor :)

  6. Rhiannon Saxon

    I was in hospital with cholecystitis (gall-bladder infection) when I was 38 weeks pregnant with my second child.
    Firstly I had to deal with the concerned and nice triage people who couldn’t believe I might actually know more about my body than they did.
    ‘I am 38 weeks pregnant and I have severe pains in the gall bladder which I think is cholocystitis.”
    ‘Are you sure you are not in labour?’
    ‘Yes, I have had a baby before and I have had an infected gall bladder before and I know the difference.”
    ‘SO….are you sure you’re not having contractions?’
    This conversation was repeated again….and again…and again…until I ended up in antenatal ward.
    ‘Oh yes,’ they said, ‘A and E are terrified of pregnant women, they think they might have to deal with a birth!’

    Anyway after four days of nil-by-mouth, antibiotic drips, morphine drips, constant nausea and vomiting from the morphine, terrible headaches from the dehydration (note – I don’t think 2 litres of saline sluggishly flowing through an arm speckled with canula scars and extremely tired veins, over 24 hours, is really enough for a heavily pregnant women who is not allowed to eat or drink any actual… anything.)
    I was having to beg the nurses for ice cubes to rinse my horrible vomity mouth out.
    (I should add that all the nurses and midwives were great, just constrained by the prescribed ‘care’ I was receiving. Except that they kept telling me different things every time I was put on another drug – morphine, panadeine forte, endone – all my fears about my baby were met with a ‘Oh well, only one percent of the drug passes the placental barrier! Oh that’s all right then I thought – my baby is only getting a LITTLE morphine, endone, codeine, paracetamol, antibiotic….)
    Anyway I finally saw a surgeon who happily said that wouldn’t bother inducing so that they could remove my gall-bladder (lucky as it turned out but anyway) and I could just stay in hospital on pain relief until either the stone moved out of the bile duct, the infection disappeared or I had the baby. Either one.

    At this stage I burst into tears and said that I couldn’t bear the thought of more days on nil-by-mouth, morphine and constant vomiting.
    AS he turned away he said loudly,
    “Oh well YOU’RE in no danger of wasting away!” and left.

    Yes – I was a big fat (A whole 89 kilos I might add – at 38 weeks pregnant) pregnant woman – I didn’t need consideration – it didn’t matter if my last weeks of a pregnancy were rendered absolutely hideous by constant dizziness, vomiting and sucking ice-cubes, because I was in no danger of wasting away.

    Even the wardsperson who came in to wheel me down to ultrasound was a bit shocked!

    I have never weighed more than 95 kilos, even during both of my pregnancies, and I rarely get taken seriously by doctors.
    Even my older sister who was a WHOPPING 68 (YES! Can you believe that anyone would ‘let herself go’ to THAT EXTENT!!! A 28 year-old woman who weighed 68 KILOS!!!) when she became pregnant for the first time was warned severely by her doctor that she was really overweight and should be very careful of her diet.

    I have kind of wondered sometimes if doctors tell me that I am overweight because they genuinely think I am too stupid to realise it for myself.

    • I know what a gallbladder attack feels like (though thankfully not with an infection), and what labour feels like, and you are right, they are not the same! I’m sorry that happened to you, it all sounds awful.

  7. So pretty much I think you DO need a new doctor! I also need a new one too, cause I have an enlarged thyroid and my doctor is reluctant to do ANYTHING about it, even though I am only 0.01 whatevers off have an inactive thyroid. TECHNICALLY though, I am in the ‘normal range’.

    So I went to a naturopath and she basically rocks my socks. She’s just into helping me have engery again, and getting my body and brain to work together. Yay!

    Also, I can’t believe how annoying it is when people don’t listen to you. Like your doctor. I know they’re not all like that, but jeeze, I’ve heard so many storie slike this lately, including my own!!

    • lilacsigil

      “Technically” in the normal range was what my doctor told me when I had thyroid cancer. It’s very unlikely that you do, as it’s pretty rare, but get a referral to an endocrinologist if you can – most hypothyroidism, including what my endocrinologist calls “functional but not clinical” hypothyroidism, won’t go away on their own. Naturopathy can certainly help your body function better, but it won’t address underlying problems.

  8. Angie

    I went to the doctor recently because I’ve been really tired and she told me to go and lose some weight too. I eventually got a blood test ordered, but she really felt the problem was my weight even though I’ve only been feeling really tired for a month or so and I’ve been overweight for 2 years… I should go back but I just am getting so sick of being told to lose weight. I want to feel good, not necessarily be a few dress sizes smaller!!

  9. Rrrrrrrrgrmph.

    You certainly stayed polite and kind during an unbelievably frustrating interaction, though!

    By the way, I loathe feeling fatigued and am rooting for you to get some actual medical help that, um, helps you feel better.

  10. Rhiannon Saxon

    Oh and yes, i think another doctor would be a great idea – IF you can stand doing the rounds to find one that is nice! I guess you could work out a short questionnaire to interview prospective doctors with –
    “Are you interested in any of the specific health issues that any patient has regardless of whether or not they are fat?’
    ‘Are you interested in finding out what my diet is like, or do you prefer to simply make assumptions that I can’t stop cramming junk food down my gullet and therefore am immoral and deserve any ill-treatment I receive?’
    ‘Are you interested in boosting the self-esteem and general health of your patients so that they might feel inspired to work on their general health and fitness if they feel that is in their interest, rather than fat-shaming and depressing them into a total lack of motivation?’ And so on.

    Anyway I actually came back to comment because I have just read the wonderful Clarissa Dickson-Wright’s book ‘Rifling through my Drawers’,
    (and apropos of Clarissa, when she and Jennifer Pattison were interviewed when ‘The Two Fat Ladies’ was first produced, an interviewer asked them if they found the title insulting or demeaning – they looked at each other in bemusement and said ‘Well – there’s two of us, and we are both fat…but we don’t much like ‘Ladies’…it makes us sound like a public convenience!”)

    Anyway – in this part of her memoir she is in hospital getting tests.
    “…she was quite taken aback when she did my tests, because as you know I’m not slim, to discover that I had immaculate blood pressure, perfect cholesterol, faultless heartbeat, excellent oxidisation or whatever it’s called when you take the oxygen into the bloodstream, and she kept re-doing the tests without telling me why. Eventually I told her, ‘Look, it’s not the machine, you know, I actually have these virtues.’
    She said, ‘And you do not have diabetes’. And I said, ‘No, I do not have diabetes, I’m just fat.”
    It’s a curious thing, you know, being fat in this politically correct age where quite rightly you mustn’t mock people being of different nationalities or of different sexual orientations, but you’re still allowed to throw mud at them for being fat. Consequently those of us who are get a lot more insults hurled at us because the human race is given to bigotry and insult.”
    (Dickson-Wright, Clarissa “Rifling through my Drawers’ Hodder and Stoughton, page 249)

  11. I just got diagnosed with PCOS too. My doctor pretty much said it was because of my weight, despite myriad other factors. She also framed the weight-loss side-effect of Metformin as a *benefit*, so matter-of-factly that it took me quite a while to figure out what she was talking about!

    I know my story’s mild compared to some of the other stories here, and was even mild compared to what I was expecting, honestly, but it made me very uncomfortable.

  12. lilacsigil

    I’d like to add a good experience with doctors, just to let people know that it can happen, even for the death fatties like me. I had a terrible experience with cancer not being diagnosed for 18 months because obviously I was just fat and lazy and recently I’ve had to have further treatment to do with that same cancer. After my original experience, I was really, really worried about seeing several new doctors and having more surgery. In fact, every one of the doctors – from the endocrinologist to the anaesthetist – was entirely respectful and discussed my weight only when strictly relevant, and then in neutral, factual terms, such as when discussing anaesthetic issues and thyroxin doses. I was amazed, and expected fat-hatred right up to the minute I left the hospital – but I was in there for four days and not once did I have a problem.

    Even better, when I told the surgeon that I had concerns about going to a Catholic hospital because my partner is also a woman and I didn’t want to have to fight them over that, he was happy to do the surgery in a public hospital – and all the staff were absolutely lovely. Apart from some minor (not weight-related) complications, things could not have been better.

    • That’s all good to hear. I have to say, I have had similarly positive (or neutral) experiences too. For example, my obstetrician never mentioned my weight except once when it was relevant, and in fact he never weighed me. At the time I didn’t think much of it but I am starting to realise that it’s quite rare for obstetricians not to engage in some form of fat-shaming these days.

  13. silentbeep

    Well I had some back problems a few years back, very sudden back spasms in the middle of my back that would keep me up all hours of the night. My doctor never once blamed my weight. I described my symptoms to her, and to an ER doctor at one point, and they both said it sounded like tension muscle spasms. In fact, one ER doctor told me to go get regular massages, he never told me to “go lose weight”.

    I was in my regular doctor’s office at one point asking for an MRI and she just flat out told me my back spasms were caused by “stress.” I realized she was right. My life circumstances at the time with a bad relationship, family and work obligations were all driving me up the wall. Certain toxic relationships ended and my back problems went away. That was two years ago. Haven’t had a back attack like that since. Also, I’ve since become a massage enthusiast and that’s probably helped tremendously too.

    Of course I had certain “friends” in my life that automatically blamed my weight for my back problems. They are no longer around. :)

  14. thank you so much for sharing your story. i recently moved and need to find an OB/GYN and primary care doc here, but frankly i’m a little scared b/c of the all-too-typical response by docs to anything i bring up. sleepy? lose weight! Knee hurts? don’t be a fattie! This will be the first time i’ve gone to a doc while truly embracing FA (and learning more about HAES ), so it’s incredibly helpful to see how you interacted with your doc and that lame-ass situation. thank you again!

    • I love your blog title! It can be daunting, going to a new doctor, when you’re fat. It’s a serious problem because it’s very hard to get good, consistent health care when you have to keep trying new doctors just to find one that will treat you as a human being :( Good luck with finding a HAES friendly OB/GYN. As I said in my comment above, they do exist!

  15. A very interesting post. Blogs that open a window to perspectives and experiences I’ve never had to think about before are important and illuminating. I have had similar experiences with doctors and mental health. The conversation is always steered towards ny mental state with assumption that my concerns stem from hypochondria and low mood. V frustrating.


  16. I’m not overweight (according to BMI charts) but I do have PCOS. I’ve never taken medications for it and it’s “managed” by my GP (she gets me to get my hormone levels checked every so often). I asked her once when she decided to refer to an endocrinologist and she said if a woman was having trouble conceiving or was overweight. Hmm. Metformin has never been suggested to me and I’m sure that’s partly because I’m thin but also (hopefully) because I’m not insulin resistant.

    I have found that a low-GI diet helps a lot and has brought my hormone levels pretty much back to normal and kept some symptoms in check and got my periods in order. I think I lost a little bit of weight when I started it but wasn’t speficially trying to do so. I think some people use it as a weight-loss diet but it doesn’t need to be used that way, or be overly restrictive. Exercise helps a bit too.

  17. I admire how calm you have stayed throughout the consult in which you clearly weren’t being listened to or for that matter respected. I have a great doctor and have never had an experience like this – so I can only imagine how damn frustrating and even heart breaking it would be. Yep – I reckon you need a new doctor.

  18. Jesijames

    I have to say, it sounds as though you were treated horribly.
    I have PCOS too, and while it took 5 years to get a diagnosis after suffering severe symptoms, I was so happy when I finally did.
    The endocrinologist I saw (and still do on rare occasions) told me to be realistic about my weight, that with PCOS, even with very hard work, I would be unlikely to ever get down to my pre-onset weight.
    When I had no symptoms and no weight gain issues during pregnancy and the first 2 years of breastfeeding with both kids, I asked if we could in some way bottle the hormones of pregnancy and breastfeeding to stave off the PCOS and weight gains. She laughed and told me that if it was working for me, maybe I should just keep having kids and breastfeeding as long as possible! Yes, a doctor said that!
    She referred me to a dietician to get help with low GI diet as she felt it would help with symptoms – and that it might also result in bonus weight loss but that it may not. She encouraged me to be active for my heart health, and to read as much as I could to understand the situation – she used to email me pertinent articles!
    My suggestion – Change doctors! Your fella is clearly an idiot who has ears full of wax!!! Privately message me if you want the name of my endo…. she is in the Melbourne area!

  19. Claire

    When I had PND I lost weight (I’m fairly slim anyway) partly because food became one of the few things I felt I could be in control of. My GP raved about how lucky I was to have my figure back so soon after giving birth. I really wish GPs understood that unless your patient is asking about their weight it may actually harm them to comment on it.

  20. Jenny

    Yes, you need to get a second opinion. I had funny erratic GI symptoms for a year and the first gastroenterologist I saw was such a bully he had me in tears – and let me tell you – that ain’t easy.

    The second one (many months later after GP referred me for tests the specialist refused to order and found the main cause of the problem) was infinitely more helpful and gave me USEFUL information which has helped a lot to manage the condition.

    Doctors shit me. You need to keep looking until you find a good one. Also don’t discount “alternative” therapists – sometimes they can have amazing benefit.

  21. Ugh, what a horrible experience! I’m glad you had the strength to blog about it. I hope you don’t get (m)any troll.

  22. Melissa

    I am so so sorry that happened to you. Want a hug?

  23. Thanks for sharing this. I think pretty much every fat person has a nightmare doctor story to share – if you don’t, you’re lucky. Soooo lucky. I also have PCOS, if we’re doing PCOS shoutouts or something… :)

    A couple of years ago I went to a new dr. for a pelvic exam and to talk about getting back on the pill, and she immediately started in on my weight, without even letting me say anything first, and then continued to speculatively diagnose me with cervical cancer. And I hadn’t even opened my legs yet. It shook me up so much that I just stopped her right there and left. And I was still charged $80 for the humiliation.

    It took me a couple of years to not be ashamed to talk about that experience, so I have mad respect for anyone who is willing to talk about shaming or abuse or just flat-out frustrating experiences with medical practitioners. It requires a good deal of gumption.

    • Yes, it was hard for me to write this post. I suppose I fear that people reading it will be thinking ‘yeah, listen to the doctor, fatty’ rather than accepting that it was unjustifiably frustrating/humiliating/erasing etc. We are so conditioned to suffer in silence as fat people… don’t complain, be grateful for what you can get, etc. Thanks for stopping by.

  24. I could write a book about the stigma I’ve received from doctors and psychologists. Oh, wait a minute. I did (shameless plug: Taking Up Space, Pearlsong, 2005)

    But I have to say the story that hurts me the most is what happened to my father. Never really a fat man, when he turned 68, in May, 1997 he started gaining weight, mostly in his abdomen. Recently retired, he thought at first it was just lack of activity (he was a mechanic). But he started have shortness of breath and went to the doctor, who weighed him and told him to go on a diet. He protested, stating that he felt so much pressure in his abdomen that he wasn’t really eating that much. The doctor told him to lose some weight and come back in 3 months. He went back and was told to lose weight even though he protested and he was basically chastised for gaining. In short, the doctor called him a liar in no so many words.

    By October he had put on 30 pounds (he was only 165 when he started) and he was eating virtually nothing, feeling worse and worse. On Halloween night he was taken to ER and they pulled 27 pounds of fluid out of his abdomen and discovered he had liver damage from a totally treatable condition called hemochromatosis, where iron builds up in the blood because the liver cannot process iron. If they had tested him 4 months earlier when he started going to doctor, he could have been blood-letted and the iron in his blood would not have damaged his liver. Then it would have been a matter of keeping iron low in his diet.

    He passed away 18 months later, just shy of his 70th birthday. This insanity is nothing short of medical malpractice though few people will call it that.

    I believe some day, generations from now, people will look back on the “obesity epidemic” in the same way we look at insane asylums and diseases like “dropsy” — in a word, barbaric. (NOT bariatric)

    At this point in my life, if the doctor had spoke to me the way he did with you, I would have walked out long before you did. I admire your patience. I have, in fact, said to a doctor before, “It is obvious to me that you are not going to be willing to help me, so I think it is best that I just go and find someone who will. Don’t bother to send me a bill. I’m not paying.” He didn’t, BYW.

  25. Sorry for broken link. is the website for my book.

  26. Ugh, I’m sorry you’ve gone through this love. I suffered 30 years of that kind of shit before I found my current doctor, who is AMAZING. But she’s also not a young woman and I dread the day she decides to retire.

  27. I had a very similar experience to this with my GYN earlier this year. I was referred to her for testing for PCOS, which I finally got her to do after I got off the pill. I was asking about symptoms I thought were due to hormonal fluctuations after 5 years on the pill, and all she could talk about was a low carb diet and how it’s not about depriving yourself, it’s about finding foods to replace the ones you really want to eat. And the blood tests for PCOS all came back within normal ranges, as did my thyroid, so I was left with the low carb recommendations and a referral to a dietician. I was asking, “Why do I feel so worn out and tired?”, and she was hearing, “Do you have any new and fabulous weight loss tips?” Ugh.

    • That’s what I found really strange: we know that people who are dieting often have lower cognitive function because they lack calories/carbs and people who are on weight loss drugs or have had WLS report many symptoms, including fatigue, sleep disturbances etc. How on earth does a health professional think that those things will increase energy? I think perhaps the idea that fat people are just exhausted from carrying around fat is really that pervasive. I’ve been fat and fit and fat and unfit and I can tell you, it’s not the fat that has made me tired, it’s illness, lack of fitness, or sleep disturbances.

  28. I also have PCOS – welcome to the club. I have an endocrinologist (he’s in Melbourne at St Vincent’s if anyone needs a name/referral let me know) who looked at my tests, suggested that weight loss might help (and it apparently does with PCOS), but made no further suggestions. He then prescribed me Metformin – a drug usually given to diabetics, but in PCOS insulin resistant women, helps the body actually deal with insulin properly. This is a good thing. I felt more vitalised, more awake… and the side effects SUCKED (for me). I’m now on slow release metformin which is MUCH better.
    Having a body that copes properly with insulin means that I am less likely to crash from insulin overload and manage better overall. I don’t want to exchange this doctor for anything.

    • Glad it’s working for you! And yes, the PCOS club is huge. It’s a wonder more doctors aren’t great at dealing with the syndrome since it is so incredibly common.

  29. T.A.

    Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. What a terrible story.

    My only question is: why on earth did you pay him?!

    May I suggest an official complaint to the Victorian Health Services Commissioner ( and a request for a refund?!

    • I paid him because he did his job, as he saw it, and because I have a real fear of being labelled non-compliant for some reason (also he wrote me a prescription which may prove useful, and a referral which may also prove to be useful. But on the whole… yeurch. I’ll definitely consider lodging a complaint.)

  30. vesta44

    I recently walked out on my doctor, then wrote her a long letter telling her I wouldn’t be back to see her and why. I’ve been seeing her for 4 years, and in that whole time, all I’ve ever heard from her is “eat less/move more, it’s calories in/out, and if you’d just lose weight, your back wouldn’t hurt, your legs wouldn’t get numb, and your arthritic knees wouldn’t hurt.” I asked her what more was I supposed to do – I had dieted, I had done all kinds of diet drugs, and I’d had a WLS that failed, spectacularly. It’s not that I can’t lose the weight, I just can’t keep it off forever, and when it comes back, it brings friends with it (and I’m done with that, I am so done with that). I’m post-menopausal, 57 years old, my metabolism is slowing down from aging (not to mention it’s f’d 7 ways to Sunday from all the yo-yo dieting), so just what am I supposed to do? Oh, and I also have a very enlarged thyroid, but with normal hormone levels, which she refuses to do anything about (she doesn’t think it’s a problem, even though there’s a family history of thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism). Then there’s the fibromyalgia that she thinks I probably have, but refuses to refer me to a rheumatologist because there’s a long wait (yeah, well, at least I’d eventually get in and maybe something could be done to help with that). She refuses to prescribe anything stronger than relafen or ibuprofen for my arthritis (and nothing for the fibro, she thinks I’m looking for narcotics, like I’m a drug addict or something), and when I asked her about the vaginal bleeding I’ve been having for 2 1/2 years (had an endometrial biopsy 2 1/2 yrs ago, negative), she says it’s probably cancer, I need another biopsy (without even checking me, without checking for drug interactions). So I have that done 3 weeks ago by the gyno, and I still haven’t heard anything. If it’s cancer, I guess they’re not in any hurry to do anything about it, and if it’s not, they don’t care that I’m worrying while they’re twiddling their thumbs waiting to call me with the results.
    I forced her to give me a referral to an endocrinologist (I found her, and made my ex-doc give me the referral). The endo said my thyroid is very large and probably should come out, referred me to a surgeon, and ordered an ultrasound to compare to the one I had a year earlier. The surgeon says we don’t have to hurry, and with Minnesota winters being what they are, I’m waiting till spring for another ultrasound, see what it says, then we’ll probably go for taking out my thyroid.
    In the meantime, I’m looking for a new doctor that isn’t fat-phobic. I’m thanking all the powers that be that my orthopedic doctor isn’t a fat-phobe. He actually wrote me a prescription for something that helps my knee pain, and told me that I’m looking at least one knee replacement in the near future. And even though I’m DEATHFATZ, he’ll do the surgery without me having to lose weight first, and he’s never shamed me or blamed me about my weight.
    I’m thinking that the next time I see the endo, I’ll ask her if she knows of a good GP that isn’t fat-phobic, since she really gets it about weight (we had a nice long talk about it when I went to see her about my thyroid).

    • I don’t normally use this expression but OMFG. I am so glad that you wrote a letter to explain just how shitty all of that was for you. I feel like I need to write some letters of my own because the more of us who speak up, the better it has to get for others, right? At least, I hope so. Good luck finding a new GP.

  31. I absolutely can not stand adipophobic doctors. I’m on the heavy side, definitely fat but not to the point where most people consider me obese. Except doctor, pretty much every doctor I’ve met thinks I’m clinically obese, so… Anyway, as a transsexual woman without health insurance the list of doctors who will treat me at all, at least when it comes to endocrinological issues which are very important, can be counted on one hand so I don’t always have the most freedom when it comes to selecting a physician.

    I just got rid of my old practitioner who was remarkably bad. All she did was berate me about how fat I was and how I was going to come down with diabetes and generally be sick and die young. Her job was to give me prescriptions for hormones and make sure they didn’t cause damage to my liver and to keep an eye out for soaring prolactin levels. She didn’t once take my blood to check my pituitary or liver. Instead she spent her entire time ordering blood sugar tests, blood lipid tests, and lecturing me about how fat I was.

    She also held me hostage by telling me that if I didn’t loose a certain amount of weight she’d take away my hormone medication, which I actually need.

    Even when other stuff came up she wouldn’t do it because she was so fixated on my weight. For example, my family has a history of breast cancer that reads something along the lines of “if you are female you will get breast cancer, sorry.” After a couple of years on the pill I asked to have a routine breast examination because, you know, I needed one. She basically told me that she didn’t want to do it because it would take too much time and people like me don’t get breast cancer anyway (which isn’t true).

    She once took an entire appointment fat-shaming me and arguing me after her electronic blood pressure cuff gave a very high reading. Of course, I have a neurological condition that causes twitches and muscle spasms which tend to confuse every single electronic blood pressure cuff I’ve ever seen. I told her she needed to use a manual cuff and she proceeded to lecture me about how I was being stupid and ignorant.

    It was hell seeing her but what made me really unsafe was how she was threatening to cut off needed medication if I didn’t comply with her weight loss regime.


    My second story was actually from just a couple months ago. I have chronic pain throughout my entire body, including in my arms. It’s very unpredictable and it’s been getting worse and worse every year. I had a particularly bad outbreak and I decided to see my doctor. It went something like this:

    Me: “I’ve been living with chronic pain for many years now. I tried to get a doctor to look at it when I was younger but all they would do was tell me I was fat and that I probably slouched anyway.”

    Doctor: “Oh my gosh! That’s so horrible! Here, let’s do an examination and figure some things out.”

    [Ten minutes of questions and a neuro exam later]

    Doctor: “Well, there’s definitely something wrong with your joints. I don’t think it’s arthritis but it’s definitely not normal. Here’s a referral to our dietitian to help you loose weight and a referral to our physical therapist to make sure your posture is good.”

    Me: “Seriously? What about trying to figure out what’s causing it?”

    Doctor: “Oh, it’s obviously not that bad and if you lost a bit of weight maybe it wouldn’t be an issue anymore!”

    To put this in perspective, this is chronic pain that’s bad enough to force me to avoid certain household chores like washing dishes, playing my musical instrument, or doing frivolous things like using a ballpoint pen.


    I recently acquired an absolutely wonderful doctor, however, who’s been nothing but wonderful to me. I suppose I should count myself lucky because of how hard it is to navigate a medical establishment that’s hostile in so many ways. If a doctor isn’t fixated on my weight they’re more than likely to blame every health problem I have on my hormone regimen which, you know, isn’t an option.

    • Oh how awful. These stories make me really angry. Thank you stopping by and sharing your experiences. It’s great that you now have a wonderful doctor: hang on to hir, as this thread shows they can be hard to find!

    • Your doctor should be reported. How dare they speak to anyone in such a fashion!

  32. Politicalguineapig

    Oh, yeah. I got back from my yearly physical remembering how much I hate my regular doctor, a GP. She doesn’t think I’ve seen a vegetable in my life, and for the life of her, can’t seem to give a painless pelvic exam. I think I’m going to ditch her and just go to Planned Parenthood.
    It’s a funny thing, though- I had to go to two seperate male doctors recently for a paralyzed facial nerve. I didn’t hear a peep about my weight, but I think that was due to the fact that they were too astonished by my age. And when you’re reassuring a panicked twenty-something that no, she didn’t have a stroke, I suppose concerns about weight take a back seat. I got the feeling that they didn’t see many twenty-somethings with Bells Palsy.
    (When you wake up with half your face paralyzed, panic tends to set in pretty quickly.)

  33. While i sometimes feel bombarded with fat-shaming, body-bullying messages (as we all are, regardless of how close or how far we are from the thin ideal), it is hearing stories like this that really help me to understand thin privilege.
    I remember reading a similar post over at Dances With Fat, but this post is the one that has really hit home how difficult it must be to have any & every health concern you may have attributed to your weight. How awful to have your wants & opinions so openly ignored – even if he did throw in comments such as “Yes, fair enough.”, or “Oh, yes, that’s right.”, it’s clear that he was not really listening to you, & i can only imagine how invalidating that must be.
    I am lucky that when my doctor asks “What can i do for you?”, he actually listens to my answer. I hope you are able to find a doctor who will offer you that same courtesy & respect.

  34. Pingback: Gender Across Borders » Blog Archive » Global Feminist Link Love: December 13-January 2

  35. definitely need a new doctor. he sounded like a broken record, wasn’t listening to you at all

    i hope you’ve come closer to sorting things out *hug* i know how hard it is to just want answers as to why you’re feeling a particular way and not being able to find them.

    xx Fae

  36. Pingback: the doctor | the taking up of space

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s