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Doctor Visits and Weight Talk

Many disregulated eaters who are heavy have had difficulty talking with medical professionals due to their treatment of “overweight” patients. We know from anecdotal experience that this is true, and now a study in the journal Obesity gives us proof. But don’t despair, you can learn to get the most out of medical visits.

Says Dr. Kimberly A. Gudzune of John Hopkins School of Medicine where the study was done (Sarasota Herald-Tribune (5/7/13), “The bedside manner may improve with slimmer patients. Doctors seemed just a bit nicer to their normal-weight patients, showing more empathy and warmth in their conversations. It’s not like the physicians were being overtly negative or harsh. They were just not engaging patients in that rapport-building or making that emotional connection with the patient.”

No surprise to many of you, I’m sure. While this is disappointing news, it may feel good to be validated. It can be hard to know whether or not you’re imagining people’s judgmental attitudes, and disregulated eaters often have self-trust issues to start with, wondering if they’re being “too sensitive” or if the health practitioner is truly being inappropriately weight-focused or dismissive. Either way, these encounters with medical professionals far too often keep people from seeking health care when needed.

Let’s examine the reasons health practitioners might react as they do. They’re as much a part of our fat-phobic, thin-obsessed culture as anyone, so they’ve likely absorbed societal bias about fat people. They may believe you’re not trying hard enough or don’t care about your health. Sadly, many people feel this way about fat people. Moreover, they may feel helpless because health providers are used to providing help and solving problems. That’s their job! When they feel helpless, they may blame you rather than acknowledge their helplessness. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re to blame.

Some suggestions. At the outset of an appointment, bring up the fact that you’d like to be healthier and the steps you’re taking to get there. By your words and tone, let doctors know that you are in charge of your body and what your health and fitness goals are. You’re not obligated to bring them up, but it will help set their minds at ease. If they bring up weight in a way you’re uncomfortable with, gently tell them. If you’re not getting air time to talk about your immediate health concerns, steer discussion back to them with an, “Excuse me, but here’s what I came to talk with you about today.” Don’t act like a victim because you’re not one. Take charge and the visit will go a good deal better.