Content warning: This story contains discussions of weight stigma and weight loss that some readers may find upsetting.
Have you ever walked into a doctor’s office and immediately felt a sense of dread — like you’re not going to be treated like a person? Perhaps you’re fat, or disabled, or they believe that you don’t have the ability to know your own body because of what they think they know about ‘women’s health’.
Recently, I walked into the doctor’s office wearing a great outfit and killer lippie. I was having a generally good day being me. But what the doctor saw was just someone who needed to lose weight, by any means necessary.
I was returning to see her after she'd picked up something which she wanted to discuss — something I'd already spent some time internalising shame over. (Unfortunately, you can never predict when old feelings about your body might come to the surface and have you arguing with yourself about what you know, now versus what you believed in the past).
We went through a few of the routine things you do at a doctor’s office and then we started talking. I knew right away that I needed to steel my nerves. I could tell that the doctor was ready to take me down like in that scene in Mean Girls, where Cady leaps across the table after Regina tells Aaron his hair looks sexy pushed back.
I told her I had been doing what she asked when we last met (going for more walks, being more mindful of eating fresh food, you know the drill — all the stuff we know is actually good for us). She responded with, “But you haven’t lost any weight?”.
I raised my eyebrows (and my heart rate, probably). No, I hadn’t, thanks for asking. “I feel really fine about how I look; I think it’s more important that I focus on doing these things, right?” She responded that it wasn’t about how I looked, but that she could say categorically that for every kilogram I lost, I would be better off. I was taken aback but tried to continue to have a productive conversation.
The doctor turned to her computer and typed, “Very sensitive about weight.”
We then got into a conversation about whether I have diabetes. I don’t, according to previous tests, but it does run in my family. She said she thought maybe she should put me on “the injections” to treat my weight, because I probably do need them anyway. Sorry… what? I started to wonder what it would be like to come into this office not knowing what I do about how weight stigma, and that weight isn’t an indicator of health.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that weight stigma, more than weight, is harmful to people's health, and correlated with higher mortality and chronic disease. We also know that anti-fat bias in medicine results in fat people receiving poorer quality of care.
But after discussing her recommendations, my doctor turned to me and asked me, “So what have you tried to lose weight?” I felt my blood rise into my face and my heart rate increase again – my Apple Watch probably thought I was doing a workout by this point. I locked eyes with her and said, “Name something.”
I could feel myself shutting down. Since talking more with friends in the neurodivergent community, I've started to notice how I'm responding to things physically, and I could tell I was not going to win in a battle of medical ‘facts’ with this person because I was about to start crying.
I continued: “I’ve done diet drugs, bulimia, Jenny Craig, gym obsession, counting calories and weight loss surgery. This conversation is really triggering for me – and I think it’s important to say…” And then I said a whole bunch of very Bodzilla things about BMI, the long-term effects of dieting and my personal stance on weight stigma.
The doctor turned to her computer and typed, “Very sensitive about weight.” It took everything I had not to cry right there. I couldn’t believe how this whole interaction had me feeling.
I know that I don’t owe the world thinness, or being a ‘good fatty'.
I walked out and went home with my family. They went inside, leaving me sitting in the car and when they were gone, I pulled out my phone and send two heartbroken voice notes to my besties in the group chat (of course, prefacing with a warning not to listen if they didn’t want to hear me cry).
I cried for two hours. The shame inside me got as big as it has ever been and I genuinely thought for a few moments that I deserved all of this.
But then I remembered something — I remembered that I know that I don’t owe the world thinness, or being a ‘good fatty’. I don’t have to do anything to change myself. I can do more to love my body in the ways it needs — more time outdoors, moving for joy, eating food for fuel (and sometimes just because it’s yummy)!
Nobody deserves to feel the way I did when I left that doctor’s office. I never will again either, because I’m going to see someone else from now on. I'll start my first appointment by making sure they know that I'm not “very sensitive about my weight.” I’m very sensitive about being ignored, undermined, not listened to, invalidated, shamed and given frankly terrible advice.
Remember that next time a doctor tries to tell you that your weight is the problem without finding anything out about you or your body, that their job is to provide you with safe and effective healthcare that makes you feel human. You deserve that. We all do.