Fat and Physicians – my own experiences

Inspired by Shapely Prose’s initiative: the First Do No Harm blog, I am re-posting an entry from my old blog which covered some of my own experiences of medical discrimination against fat people. Each of these experiences left me emotionally shattered, shamed and distrustful of doctors. Thankfully, I now have a GP who has never mentioned my weight.

I’ve had at least 3 or 4 bad experiences with the medical profession because of my weight. Fortunately, as my life progresses, I have become much more assertive and able to stand up for myself in this regard.

Age 18

At 18, I went to a doctor who had been recommended to me by a (super thin) friend as having helped her lose weight. When I told him that I wanted to lose weight, and needed his assistance, he looked at me scathingly, and said in a really rude tone of voice:

“You know, you fat people are always looking for excuses. Only a small portion of the population have endocrine problems, but if you really want to go to all the bother we can take a blood sample and run the tests.”

I was horrified!

  • Firstly, I hadn’t gone in there saying that I thought I had a metabolism problem, I had simply asked for help with weight loss – be it a ‘Dr approved’ diet or otherwise.
  • Secondly, his attitude towards me was more than rude, simply because I was a fat person asking for assistance. I guess he was of the old “you just need to eat less” school.
  • Thirdly, he had been helpful to my already quite slim friend in her efforts lose weight (I think he prescribed some kind of medication), but for me – whom in his eyes ‘needed’ to lose weight in order to be worthy of politeness – his prescription was scorn.

I had the blood tests, but needless to say, didn’t go back for the results. I did not want any more humiliation. In hindsight, I am glad that he wasn’t ‘helpful’ as diet drugs are pretty dangerous things.

Age 24

When I was about 24, a doctor found that I had high blood pressure. Without enquiring any further in to circumstances, he assumed that the problem was my weight. His prescription was for me to lose weight and take high-blood pressure drugs for the rest of my life (I went on the drugs for a while, but they made me feel worse). In fact, my high blood pressure was a result, not of my weight, but of a number of factors that would increase anyone’s blood pressure.

  • Stress – I was in a very stressful job at the time working as a PA to the CEO of a major international corporation. Work hours were horrendous, and of course, when dealing with that level of executive, everything needs to be spot on every single time, and you need to anticipate what they want before they know they want it. AAARRRGGG!
  • Time – when I was going to the doctors office for tests, I was rushing to and from work, trying to get back to my job in the minimum time, and knowing the pile of work would have increased when I got back.
  • Depression – I didn’t know it at that time, but I have had Depression all my life and, at that time, was right down in depth of the abyss. So I was functioning on sheer will power alone, feeling like I was failing at every step, and feeling physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally drained.

I stopped taking the blood pressure meds after a short time, and made some lifestyle changes that removed some of the stressors. After the settling down period, my blood pressure came down to a normal level, without dieting or meds.

Age 30

At 30, I was diagnosed with Depression (as I mentioned above). The first psychiatrist I saw was a fat phobic freak and ignorant to boot. She kept raising the topic of my weight as an issue, even though I didn’t raise it or see it as such. Specifically, she wanted to refer me to an endocrinologist who “had had great success with helping my (the psych’s) patients lose weight”.

I had issues with that on a number of levels:

  • I know that some endocrine problems can cause sluggishness, and depression-like symptoms, but my GP had already checked it out, and the psych knew it.
  • I had said to her on a number of occasions when she raised the topic of weight loss that my size wasn’t the issue, and that I was feeling comfortable in my own skin at my current weight…but still she kept raising it.
  • She seemed to be implying that all I had to do was lose a bit of weight and I would feel better ( In fact, she actually used those words in our last session). Now what was a psychiatrist doing displaying such an ignorant attitude to depression.
  • I kept getting the feeling that she had made the wrong career choice – perhaps she would have been better suited to being a Jenny Craig consultant because she was really doing the hard sell on “lose weight or else”. She gave the impression that she sent a lot of patients to this endocrinologist.

It gets worse, though. I actually only saw this psych on three occasions, and on each occasion she badgered me about my weight.

The second time I saw her was just after a suicide attempt which very nearly succeeded, and the only thing she wanted to discuss was my weight – not adjusting my meds, not what was going on in my life. My weight. Because that was my problem.

The third time, I actually noticed that she had a set of scales ‘discretely’ in one corner. Hello!! Was that because she anticipated my compliance to her prescription of endocrinologist aided weight loss? Or was it there because she weighed every patient at some point? Or was it because she was totally obsessed with her own weight, and needed to hop on the scales at every opportunity? In any case, it was highly inappropriate to be in a psychiatrist’s consulting room, if you ask me. Once again, she went on about how much better I would feel if I lost weight. I told her emphatically no, and that I didn’t want to hear about the subject again, as it had no relevance to my treatment whatsoever.

Now, here comes the good part. She began to list every single reason she could think of why I should lose weight. She basically tried to frighten suicidal me in to losing weight by throwing medical statistics at me. How surprised was she when I argued her on every point based on my own reading on the topic? Very. Indignant, in fact, that I was challenging her authority. I walked out of there that day in tears.

Once I got home, however, I rang her office, cancelled my next appointment, and sat down to write her a letter on why her treatment of me was inappropriate. I researched thoroughly, and ended up sending her not only the letter, but 50+ pages of supporting documentation! Maybe that was a bit of overkill, but I really wanted to make sure she did not treat anyone else in a similar manner to how she had treated me – even though I didn’t want to report her to her professional association or anything drastic. She did actually call me and thank me for the information. I don’t think she had ever thought about how her behaviour was fat phobic and offensive. Who knows if she has actually changed, though.

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12 Responses to “Fat and Physicians – my own experiences”


  1. 1 zezebelle Thursday, 29 November 2007 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I’m sorry you had such an awful time with that psychiatrist. You should have reported her.

  2. 2 Shade Friday, 30 November 2007 at 12:13 am

    Wow. Just wow.

    As someone who has struggled with depression up to and including suicidal urges, I firmly believe that psych should be drummed out of the business.

    I wanted to add one thing: I am one of those “endocrine problem” people, and I just want to say that it isn’t depression-like, it’s the real thing–a black hole of hopelessness and self-hatred. The only difference between me and you is that mine cleared up (permanently, I hope) relatively quickly once I was properly diagnosed. (Which took 8 years, BTW. Docs kept telling me to just lose weight, and all my problems would magically evaporate.)

  3. 3 fatadelic Friday, 30 November 2007 at 12:35 am

    Thanks for your support. :)

    I’m glad to hear you were finally diagnosed. Depression is horrid, and 8 years of it would have been hell.

  4. 4 vesta44 Friday, 30 November 2007 at 12:55 am

    Been there done that with depression. The first counselor I saw (from the county Mental Health, all I could afford) told me there was nothing wrong with me that having more money wouldn’t cure (I was 26). I didn’t go back, and didn’t even think about trying to get help again for another 10 years (a good friend finally persuaded me that I couldn’t go on hiding from the world and to get some help). Well, it took 10 years of therapy and Prozac, off and on, before I finally got a handle on it.
    When I finally got a good job with very little stress and started eating better, I found out I didn’t need the meds anymore, and have been doing a lot better.

  5. 5 Thene Friday, 30 November 2007 at 6:17 am

    GUUH. ><

  6. 6 Orodemniades Friday, 30 November 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Everyone knows fat people are depressed! That’s why they’re fat! Cuz they eat too much! Which would make anyone depressed!

    I was very suicidal at one time and sought professional help, which I ditched after the second visit. The ‘shrink’ told me he thought he could solve – that’s right, solve – my problems in 4-5 visits.

    I decided to keep the 1/3 of my weekly salary that was going to this man by cancelling all future appointments. I may be depressed, but I ain’t dumb.

  7. 7 evilgumball Friday, 30 November 2007 at 1:15 pm

    This happened to a close friend of mine. She was under medical supervision at our local hospital after a serious suicide attempt and had complained to the psychiatrist in charge of her case that the antidepressants she was on suppressed her appetite and made her feel nauseous.

    He told her that her depression and bipolar disorder were caused by her overweight, and that once she lost about 30 pounds she’d feel all better. He not only kept her on those antidepressants, he threatened not to release her from the hospital if she refused to take them. He also warned her that if he changed her prescription, he would also have to put her on a mandatory weight-loss program.

    My friend is 5’2” and 130lbs. She is not even overweight on the severely flawed BMI scale. How can someone be considered a mental health professional that takes a girl with a relatively healthy body image and turns her into a self-conscious wreck? I can almost not imagine more inappropriate behaviour.

    Sorry for the novel, the topic of the post just really touched a nerve. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  8. 8 fatadelic Friday, 30 November 2007 at 11:51 pm

    vesta44:

    Yeah, and you are so vunerable during depression that a dissmissive comment like what can set you back big time. But being off the meds is good.

    evilgumball:

    That resonates with me, as well. How is hounding a person about their weight following a suicide attempt ever appropriate? “Suicidal? Well, you feel like shit because you’re too fat, so it’s simple, right: lose some weight, fatso. What’s that? Where’s the razor blades? Top shelf on the right.” Bullshit.

    And refusal to take that specific medication is not non-compliance. I really think some doctors/psychiatrists are entirely ignorant about the medications they prescribe – the side effects don’t sound so bad when the drug companies list them – but living with the reality can be hell.

  9. 9 Literate Housewife Saturday, 1 December 2007 at 1:32 am

    Thank you for this post. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone. I guess I typically blame myself for things and not the attitudes of others. I stopped going to my psychiatrist for the same reason. I was being treated for my meds by my ob-gyn (a GREAT doctor who helped me so much with PPD), but she would be on maternity leave for 3 months and I started having suicidal thoughts. My therapist recommended the psych. Everything was about weight for her. I wouldn’t truly get any better unless I lost weight. Net result – I’ve gained more weight since I started seeing her and have stopped taking meds. I’m trying to build up the gumption to see my GP about them. I hate going to doctors.

  10. 10 Doctors Directory Tuesday, 25 December 2007 at 4:38 pm

    you cant say that its a discrimination . its just that . the extra efforts . as the fat people have more cholesterol level . different blood pressure .. and lot more things to be considered . that why their treatment is different

  11. 11 Fatadelic Tuesday, 25 December 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Nope. Sorry.

    You don’t know what an individual’s blood pressure is until you take it. That goes for whether the person is fat or thin. Nor do you know a person’s cholesterol level unless you do a blood test.

    What I am saying is don’t make assumptions as to health based just on weight or size. Take blood tests, take blood pressure, perform tests and scans. GATHER INFORMATION and THEN make your diagnosis on the actual evidence – not what you THINK you know.

  12. 12 Kathryn Wednesday, 9 January 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Yes. I’m a bit overweight at the moment, and my blood pressure is still only 120/70. When I was overexercising (within “normal” weight, although I still got hell for being heavy-set and heavily muscled – no-one 5’8″, under 10 st, with a 26″ waist should have nurses tell her her thighs are too heavy and she should try a diet) because everyone said it would treat depression, it was 90/50 on a good day, and on a bad day I was passing out regularly. Occasionally it went the other way, and I’d get crippling migraines (although they still put me on the combined pill, because I wasn’t high BP normally – eventually a family planning specialist changed that too). I was told this was fine, because I was otherwise healthy – suicidal, undiagnosed asthma, fainting, migraines (and contraindicated drugs), but not fat!

    I found a GP who eventually put me on the happy pills and referred me to counselling, after the third time in a month I broke down in his office (as opposed to telling me “you’ll get over it, one way or another” when treating me for wrist injuries from trying to cut them with a pair of paper scissors because my friends had hidden the kitchen knives), and within a fortnight I wasn’t compulsively running or cycling, and eating regular, healthy meals (rather than living on coffee and one big dinner every couple of days). My blood pressure stabilised (I’ve fainted twice, both times when ill), the migraines have stopped (none in nearly 2 years), and I *do not care* if I’m 13 stone, I’m healthier than I’ve been since childhood. I still get the frowning headshakes every time I see a nurse, though interestingly less so than when I was (by any sane definition) too thin and overexercising.


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