how I deal with weight stigma at the doctors office

DISCLAIMER: IN THIS POST I AM SHARING MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND BELIEFS- I AM NOT A LICENSED NUTRITION PROFESSIONAL. I AM NOT ATTEMPTING TO DIMINISH OR DISCREDIT ANYONE ELSE’S EXPERIENCES OR THOUGHTS. I UNDERSTAND NOT EVERYONE WILL AGREE WITH ME AND THAT’S OK! I’M ALWAYS OPEN TO CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION IN THE COMMENTS, I JUST ASK THAT YOU ARE RESPECTFUL! 🙂 THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS!

Oh the doctor’s office. I don’t know about you guys, but the doctor’s office is not my favorite place. Not because I’m scared of needles, seeing blood, or getting shots – but because of weight stigma.
If you’re not familiar with weight stigma, let me fill you in. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), weight stigma can be defined as:

  • Shame placed upon individuals based on weight or body size
  • Judgment and biases predetermined by weight, body size, and lifestyle
  • Judgment of a person’s character, work ethics, and personality based on weight
  • Suffer prejudice and discrimination because of their weight
  • Inequalities in the employment, health-care, and educational settings due to negative stereotypes that “overweight” and “obese” persons are lazy and incompetent (author’s note: I added parentheses around those 2 words because I, personally am not a fan of them)
  • Can be communicated both directly and indirectly
  • Negative attitudes affecting interactions
  • Subtle and overt expressions

Now, you may be thinking, “Ok, Becca, I get what weight stigma is, but what qualifications do you have to talk about it?”

I’ve been experiencing weight stigma at the doctor’s office since I can remember. I couldn’t specifically tell you at which age I began being told I should “lose weight” by my doctors, but I can tell you I was still in single digit age and not even in Junior High yet.

As a kid, I dreaded going to the doctor because it meant I would be raked over the coals for my weight and the way I looked. I knew I was fat, I didn’t need the doctor to remind me. My friends and family will tell you that I don’t have the best memory on planet earth, but the funny thing is, I can remember all the times I experienced weight stigma at the doctor like they happened yesterday.

I can vividly remember sitting on that awkward table with the crunchy parchment paper under my butt, being talked to about my weight; the doctor showing me the chart in my file where they plotted my weight (mind you, this chart began when I was born, so naturally the arrow went up). But, as young as I was, I only saw an arrow going up, not a progression of natural growth for my body. I remember the doctor taking the tip of his ballpoint pen and running it up the graph, showing me that I wasn’t in a “healthy” BMI range for my age. I remember him telling me I needed to adjust my eating habits and lose weight. I remember being confused because I just had my blood pressure taken, ears, nose, and throat looked at and everything looked to be in good condition. So why was I suddenly being told I wasn’t “healthy” even though I felt perfectly fine?

After multiple failed attempts at weight loss as a child and adolescent, I was convinced I was the problem and it was my fault I looked the way I did.

I was told that my chronic ankle and foot pain was because of my weight. Funny, because when I lost weight, I still had the pain. I was told I needed to be more “active”. Funny, because I was on the swim team and was taking 4 different dance classes. I was told I weighed “too much” and that I would be healthier when I was “smaller”. Funny, because when I was “smaller” I was my most unhealthy – mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I was never told about the history behind how BMI was created (Google it, it will blow your mind), how dieting doesn’t work, or how harmful the pursuit of intentional weight loss can be on your body – so I continued this yo-yo diet cycle until age 24, when I discovered I had an eating disorder. I’m not by any means placing full blame on my doctor for the development of my ED, because I understand it was a treasure trove of events that aided in the development of this deadly mental illness, but I do always wonder what would’ve happened to me if I had been treated differently as a kid. Instead of being shamed for my weight and prescribed something that fails 95% of the time, what if instead I was encouraged to keep dancing, swimming, and eating foods I enjoy? Unfortunately, I’ll never know, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help others from experiencing the same things I did.

Before we get into the meat of this post, I would like to remind you that this is how I personally deal with and attempt to prevent weight stigma at the doctor’s office, using what I’ve learned and what has worked best for me over the last 25 years. I am not suggesting that my tactics will completely erase any sign of weight stigma you may experience – but I sure hope it will decrease it significantly. Coincidentally, as I was writing this post, I checked Facebook and saw that Linda Bacon, the Author of Health at Every Size, posted an article on Facebook called “How to advocate for yourself at the doctor as a fat person” (another great read after reading this blog post!) 🙂 So remember, I’m not the only one writing about this topic – there are TONS of articles and blog posts about dealing with weight stigma both inside and outside the doctors office! Remember this, you are not alone.  

{forgo being weighed}

If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: It is 100% within your rights as a patient to refuse being weighed. I actually didn’t even realize that I was allowed to say I didn’t want to be weighed until I discovered Health at Every Size about a year and a half ago.

When I started my ED recovery I would do blind weights, but that didn’t stop the nurse or doctor from talking to me about my weight… even after I had previously requested them to not talk about or discuss my weight with me. It was an extremely triggering event. So I’ve now stopped being weighed at the doctor all together.

I’ve been told by various healthcare providers that it’s “annoying” when patients asked not to be weighed, but to them I say this: “sorry not sorry.” But in all seriousness, I will not sacrifice my mental and emotional health just to appease someone else.

My personal philosophy is “I don’t weigh myself at home, so why would I weigh myself at the doctor?”

Ask yourself this, what can the number on the scale tell the medical staff that I couldn’t tell them myself?

Will the number on the scale tell them the symptoms of the cold you came in to get checked out? Will the number on the scale tell them your blood pressure? Will the number on the scale tell them your activity level? Will the number on the scale tell them your worth in the world? HECK NO IT WON’T! 

{inform office staff to not to discuss or mention your weight}

From the moment I get behind those doors exiting the waiting room, I let the nurse know my ED history, requesting to not be weighed or have my weight, or previous weights, discussed.

But not to worry – even if you don’t have a history with an ED, you’re still allowed to do this. You don’t even have to give them an explanation – you can simply request to not have your weight discussed.

If it does come up, because sometimes the medical staff will forget (not on purpose, remember how many different people they see in a day) your request, a friendly reminder is always appropriate.

{ask the doctor what they would prescribe to a patient in a thin body}

If you’ve ever been or will be prescribed weight loss to “solve your medical problems” by a doctor of any kind, ask them this simple question. It’s actually sad how many doctors prescribe weight loss as a “fix” for fat people, but prescribe medication and other further medical treatment to thin people.

If you feel as though you are being victimized due to your weight, you are well within your rights to ask for other options.

{ask the doctor/nurse to provide research}

Again, if you are being prescribed weight loss as a “fix all”, ask the doctor or nurse to provide you with research that shows intentional weight loss is effective (it isn’t) and how it can be sustained long term (it can’t).

Remember, the purpose of a medical professional is to “do no harm”, so questioning something that is severely harmful is well within your right as a patient.

{speak up}

This is one is so so so important – but I’m not going to lie, this one took me a loooonnnggg time to work up to. Even after all the research, reading, and learning I had done, I was so intimidated to speak up. My whole life I was led to believe that doctors knew everything and that I should trust them 100%. Although that’s true for the most part, when it comes to weight stigma, it’s most definitely not.

Btw, I’m not saying every doctor willingly or unwillingly puts weight stigma on their patients. What I’m saying is that they know a lot, but most of them have not been exposed to Health at Every Size. They haven’t read the studies that show patients who experience weight stigma from their doctors and others have negative health outcomes – not because of their weight, but because of the shame and stress they experience from being victims of weight stigma.

Just like you would speak up for your best friend if they were being bullied, speak up for yourself. You are your own advocate.

Your voice matters and you should be heard. 

That’s all she wrote…

Please know that if you’ve experienced weight stigma, you are not alone. Remember, you are a strong, capable, and worthy individual no matter what society tells you. You are worth all the love, respect, and opportunity as everyone else. You are allowed to stand up for yourself and what you believe in. You are allowed to seek medical professionals that understand you and will not shame you  for the way you look. You deserve proper healthcare, free of judgement.

You are so so worth it! 

How do you handle weight stigma both inside and outside the doctors office?

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4 thoughts on “how I deal with weight stigma at the doctors office

  1. This is such an excellently articulated post about something way too many people, but especially women deal with. I am seriously shocked that medical professionals still use BMI as any kind of health metric when it has been proven to be so inaccurate. So much of this resonates so deeply with me and I love all of the advice you give in this post. I didn’t know any of those things were options and I would love to keep in mind having conversations like “what would you prescribe someone else” and really making a medical professional answer to their bizarre weight biases. Thank you for this!

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Emily! 🙂 I’m so glad to hear that my post was not only able to resonate with you, but also empower you to ask further questions and advocate for yourself at Doctor’s visits. Like you, I am dumbfounded that the medical community still uses BMI, or weight for that matter, as a “measure of health” even after all of the research that has been done to discredit and disprove it’s validity. Also, please remember that I’m always here, so let me know if you need any continued support as you encounter your next medical visit! <3

  2. Who knew you could refuse to be weighed?! I have always thought it was crazy that I came in with the flu and you need to know my weight to prescribe me medication? Or I broke my ankle, but first things first, how much do I weigh? So good to know!

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Taylor! 🙂 I know, crazy right?! Your intuition was spot on- there’s no need for that in those situations whatsoever! Always remember, you are the patient, they are providing you with a service- it’s your call with what you want to do! <3

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