Rants For Thought

It’s Okay, You’re Just Fat: Medical Care & Fat Acceptance

I’ve recently not felt the greatest. The heat has been harsh in Toronto, humidexes up to 45C, and I haven’t been sleeping that well. I am on several medications for some chronic conditions I have, and because I don’t have a family doctor in Toronto, I have to go to urgent care walk-in clinics to get my prescriptions filled. It’s irritating and I’m trying to fix the issue so that I no longer have to be at the mercy of walk-ins that open and close whenever they please, but the recent treatment I’ve experienced, seeing several different doctors every time I go to the clinic, has inspired this post.

It’s not something that many people talk about when they are ill and need to see the doctor. Like many things surrounding obesity, most people who are obese prefer to swallow their pride and their hurt and try to access treatment for their illnesses, anyway, despite the roadblocks that are thrown up. But I am tired of being someone who smiles tightly whenever my weight is brought up at any doctor’s appointment, no matter if I’m there for my blood pressure or if I’m there for a sore throat. I’m sick of the fatphobia that seems to plague the medical community when it comes to treating fat patients. I have tons of experience with this. It doesn’t seem to stop.

To illustrate what I mean, here’s a timeline of my medical history from the past six or so months:

I go into the doctor for a routine check-up. I feel generally fine, no issues. I’m fairly surprised when the doctor tells me that I have high blood pressure.

“Oh,” he says, his blood pressure cuff on me, “your blood pressure is high. Well, lose weight and you’ll probably be fine.”

“Should I have other tests done?” I ask, frowning slightly. I’m overweight and I know that can be a contributing factor, but I’m also active and trying to eat a lower-salt diet. I tell the doctor this, and he just shrugs.

“No, you’re just overweight. Lose weight and you’ll probably see your blood pressure fall.”

I go into the doctor two months later for my stomach issues. I have chronic gastritis and IBS. They started after I had my very diseased gallbladder out at 23, and are common secondary conditions related to cholecystectomy. Lately, my gastritis has been awful, acting up badly no matter what I do to take care of myself. I’m fairly proud of myself, actually: I’ve recently lost 10 lbs and have seen a difference in my energy levels. I’m certain that my high blood pressure will have fallen, as the doctor said. I’m also certain that I just need new medication for my stomach to help it feel better.

The doctor shakes his head slowly. “Your blood pressure is very high. You know, you’re quite overweight. Probably most of the complaints you have are due to this.”

I shake my head slowly, trying not to feel hurt. “I’m actually losing weight. Shouldn’t my blood pressure be going down, not up? Maybe I need other tests done.”

“No. You’re fat,” he says, his voice like a whip, sharp and disgusted. “Try losing weight and see if you feel better. I don’t think we need to do any other tests at this time. I’m not going to prescribe you anything right now – see if you can lose weight and come back.”

I suffer with my stomach issues for another month before going into another walk-in clinic, this time in desperation. The doctor there prescribes me pills, but looks me up and down, his lip curled slightly in disgust. My blood pressure is again mentioned. It’s high, as usual. Nothing I’m doing is causing it to drop, and I feel tired and frustrated. I’m doing as the doctors have said. Why isn’t it working?

Again, I’m told no tests need to be run. Again, I’m told to lose weight. It will take another two months before I’m prescribed blood pressure medication that finally makes my blood pressure drop. I’m finally told that tests need to be run another month after that.

I don’t tell these stories to get people to feel sorry for me. I’m telling them because this is the standard of care for fat people, it seems. I’m by far not the only person who’s been written off because of her weight. I’ve been told by someone who went in for a strep culture that she was lectured about her weight before any medication was prescribed for her strep throat. I’ve been told by others like me that further medical testing is waved aside, that every ailment fat people present with is due to being fat, and being fat alone. People have gone without medicine and without any help for conditions that may or may not be related to their weight.

I’m tired of being treated like a second class citizen because I’m fat. I’m aware that many illnesses can be related to obesity. I read the research and I’m not stupid. I know that obesity can cause serious health issues. And I’m not here to argue that one can be healthy and fat, though it’s true for many people. There are lots of people that advocate health at every size – and I’m one of them.

I have seen four doctors over the past six months. Every one of them has looked me up and down in disgust. My truthful assurances that I am losing weight, that I am trying to eat a healthier diet, are waved aside and brushed off. After all, I’m still fat. If in six months I’ve only lost 10 lbs, then I must not be trying hard enough. The general impression I get is that I deserve to feel disgusting. I deserve to not feel well because of my weight.

There are a lot of people, some in the medical community, that I’ve spoken to. And they sneer at people who refuse to see doctors for their illnesses. They sneer at people who end up very ill, very fat, because they “brought it on themselves”. But I wonder if these people realize that if you are ridiculed and brushed off every time you ask for medical help, you eventually stop asking. No one wants to hear over and over that they’re fat and everything that’s wrong with them is due to their fatness. No one wants to be sneered at, to be looked upon in disgust, to walk away empty-handed and still feeling disgusting with the entreaty to “lose weight and you’ll probably feel better”.

Fat people are as deserving of medical care as thin people are. If a doctor wouldn’t ignore a thin person’s high blood pressure, why is it okay to ignore a fat person’s? Not everything is due to being fat alone. There are very often underlying issues – some of which may be CAUSING the obesity – and those deserve to be looked into.

I don’t know what happened to “good beside manners”. I certainly haven’t experienced it in the past year of trying to obtain help for my medical issues. While I may be fat, I’m also still human, and I’m coming to you for help because I want to feel better. If all a medical professional can do is sneer in my face about the way I look, then I think you need to examine why you got into the medical profession in the first place.

First do no harm?

Not if you’re fat.


12 thoughts on “It’s Okay, You’re Just Fat: Medical Care & Fat Acceptance

  1. I can so relate. Won’t bore you with details but i absolutely do not go to the doctor for my knee – with which there is something very wrong, and has been for a year or more – because I know that I will get the full “fat person” routine, and I am just not up for it. Thank you for your willingness to write about things that are difficult, that others shame us for.

  2. Oh, Liz. I *am* sorry about this, even though that’s not why you posted this. I can’t believe how some of these doctors have spoken to you, the words they have used, the looks they have given you. As someone who has been through the ringer in the past with doctors not having answers, I can’t even begin to imagine the dismissive behavior you and thousands of others have had to deal with. I remember one time at the height of my pain I asked my doctor if I might have a particular condition (I had done some research on it), and he told me, “No, you’re too thin for that. That’s usually something fat people get.” I remember feeling too shy/shut down to ask him why he wouldn’t run tests ANYWAY just to be sure, but more than that, I felt offended that he would say something so rude and full of generalizations, because if he’d say it to me, wouldn’t he say it to anyone then? And while yes, you’re right, some illnesses can be related to obesity, illnesses can be of their own manifestation, that have nothing to do with weight. It’s so disappointing that the people we turn to when we need medical assistance aren’t willing to do their job in full – instead they often just do whatever they can to get out of the room quicker. I guess that means blaming the patient.

  3. Can so relate to this, too! No, I do not feel sorry for you, I feel ANGRY.
    Angry, that despite those doctors studying medicine as a science they still fall for the “easy” solution. They should not be so easily gullible, they should behave as scientists, do their research, not just believe what public opinion tells them. *rant mode in full swing*
    And besides – your high blood pressure each time you see a doctor could have TWO reasons, apart from being overweight and besides any other disease – reasons which are rather common:

    They use the wrong kind of instrument. If they chose a too narrow kind of cuff, the results will be wrongly too high, if you have a fat upper arm! Sometimes it is as easy as that! I get measured not ony my upper arm any more – and my blood pressure results have a stable, not too high number.

    Secondly you could suffer as well from the “White Coat Syndrome” – because you got so much negative input you already fear for high blood pressure results, which pressurizes you even more, and stress is – a source of high blood pressure! Vicious circle there. I started developing it when a doctor insisted on me having my blood pressure measured each time I went there – even though I just went in for a feverish bad cold.

    Only solution – find a doctor who is a fat – and then willing to look at your real problems. Weight MIGHT be an issue – but it is no excuse for the docs to do their work properly!

    If justice would work like that, suspicion alone would get everybody into jail.

  4. I’ve had some of this, too, but less, probably because I’ve been with the same doctor for a number of years now. I’m wondering if it’s time to come up with an exit line. Just before leaving each of these appointments, you could say something like, “Your attitude towards my body size and shape made me feel horrible, and that makes me less likely to seek out treatment for my conditions. You might want to think about how your attitude towards fat and fat people is driving them away and causing them to be less healthy, not more.”

  5. First, congratulations on writing this piece, insisting on proper health care AND your 10lb weight loss. I too am “fat”. I have some medical concerns that I have not gone to my doctor with because of this “need to lose weight” band aid answer. The icing on the cake was a pap test approximately 9 years ago, he was taking what I felt a little too long performing the test, I asked if everything was ok. The answer was, “I’m just having a difficult time…….ummm, to put it lightly your vagina is chubby and I’m having trouble to get where I need to be.” A CHUBBY VAGINA, you are kidding me right! I left the office in tears and have never had a PAP test since Thank you for your post.

  6. I have a lot of the same experiences and issues with doctors. As an overweight woman, I can 100% relate to being spoken to about my weight, even if I’m at the doctor for an ear infection. Somehow, it HAS to be mentioned.

    For years I went to doctors for chronic stomach issues, ranging in diagnoses from IBS or Crohn’s to Celiac. I do have to say for years I told doctors my stomach issues had nothing to do with being overweight and was more tied to my genetics, as everyone in my family has stomach issues (and were overweight). I hate to admit it, but around April of this year I completely changed everything in my life health-wise. I went from living off of whatever was handy to a primarily vegan diet, while working out every day of the week. I’ve lost 40 pounds and don’t have anything close to the stomach issues I suffered with for 20+ years (this being said, I still have another 70 to lose). I’m not saying weight and stomach problems are related, but I think changing our eating styles and healthy lifestyles can have positive benefits for the entire body. Doctors just need how to communicate this without being hurtful. What happened to the days of encouragement and support?

  7. I always get told, more or less, it is because I do drugs. I don’t do drugs. I have dyed hair and low income, so they assume I do drugs. Or want drugs. The only ones who accept I don’t do drugs are the free clinics who deal with real addicts, and they don’t have time for me since I am not on any programs because I don’t do drugs. It is getting better as I get older, but still happens.
    Elitism of all sorts is prevalent in any community based on elite higher education. They are told they are special from the day they are accepted. A friend who graduated Stanford said he had the hardest time staying in the school because the cultism of being a “Stanford Student” was so powerfully overwhelming. He said many of his teachers begin classes with lectures of how people of the world will have a hard time being on their level now that they have been to Stanford. He said he watched the people around him become filled with a sense of superiority and judgementalism.
    When the person providing care for you feels above you and doesn’t listen, when they assume they know right and you must only know wrong, it is not a good system.

  8. So my story is about cancer. I’ve been overweight for some time. I have generally (historically) low BP, so no commentaries there. Until I switched to a GP that was focused on women’s health issues, I wasn’t getting regular paps and the like. Up until this time I was having all kinds of irregular feminine cycles and I just chalked it up to stress. Then came back an abnormal pap result (first pap I’d had in years). I was referred to a GYN and within a week of my pap results I was diagnosed with stage 2 endometrial cancer.

    The big belly I had from what I was being told was being fat, was 20 lbs of cancer!

    I might have been able to harvest my ovaries had I had regular paps and this was caught sooner. But there are days I think, I never was reminded to get my paps, because of my general size and weight. I’m alive and all that, but now I have nothing to leave behind of my own genes.

  9. Reblogged this on fatness to fitness, our journey and commented:
    Doctors should first treat the person and let their prejudice influence their decisions. I was recently told a true story about a guy who went to the doctor and asked about an odd patch on his arm – I can guarentee its nothing was the reply after a glance – I can remove it or their is a special clinic for it. He opted for the clinic – 6 weeks later they sent a letter to ask him to return as it was a new variant they had not seen before and could they check him over again and and take sample of tissue for reasearch. He queried that the doctor had “guarenteed” it was benign and not malignant. The guy hummmed and said nobody can give you a guarantee – happens all the time!

    Lucky he went to the clinic – it angers me when a professional disregards their training and logic and uses their judgement in areas they are not a specialist in and put patients at risk.

    If you think – isolated incident – why the “happens all the time!” comment. Get any suspicious skin blemishes checkout!

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