This article first appeared on Plus Mommy and has been republished with permission.
What to do if you’ve been fat-shamed by your doctor.
“Doctor knows best” – or so we’ve been conditioned to believe. That is unless you have a BMI over 35. The mistreatment of people of size by the medical community is pervasive. Being fat-shamed by your doctor is not okay and yet many people feel as if they must accept this substandard level of care. We are mistreated and misdiagnosed all the time and are then shamed and ashamed about it. We need to talk about not only what’s occurring behind closed doors but what people who have been fat-shamed by their care providers can do about it.
This is often what it feels like to be a fat person receiving medical care.
“Maybe you’re so big that you need to be on oxygen.” These are the words a doctor told me as I was struggling to breathe. I had a medical condition that had nothing to do with my weight, and yet all this doctor saw was my BMI.
I would go on to suffer for weeks before almost losing consciousness from coughing while driving on the highway. That was my breaking point, as I had already passed out at home from being unable to breathe.
I went to urgent care to get the inhaler I had known I needed but the first provider refused to give me. In my car that day, I could’ve killed myself, my son or a complete stranger because I was too fat for a care provider to treat me like a person in a medical crisis.
That experience left me broken in part because I know what it’s like to receive evidence-based, compassionate care.
When I was plus size and pregnant, my midwife helped me to believe in the strength of my body. She encouraged me to be healthy without ever making me feel ashamed of myself or my size.
Being fat-shamed by a care provider during this respiratory event turned me into a statistic because I gained a significant amount of weight and didn’t go to the doctor for over two years following.
Due to the weight gain, I was starting to have new complications with my health that I had never experienced before. After my loved ones kept begging me to go to the doctor, I made an appointment.
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I was able to get in with a Nurse Practitioner and heard from many that Nurse Practitioners tend to be more size-friendly. I told the receptionist how I had been fat-shamed by my doctor and wanted to connect with someone who wouldn’t make me feel bad about my size. They assured me this provider wouldn’t do that.
I went into this visit afraid but hopeful. I was cautiously optimistic, you could say. The medical assistant taking my blood pressure reassured me once more that this care provider would treat me great. Sadly, that’s not what occurred.
Without even examining me, or listening to how I was making changes to my lifestyle, this provider asked if I had considered bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery).
Yes, you read that correctly! Without even giving me a physical, let alone touching my body, this “care” provider asked me if I had considered major surgery within the first few minutes of meeting me.
And that, my friends, is the standard of care for fat people these days. While this provider didn't outwardly shame me, she didn't listen to me and that's just as damaging.
Below are countless heartbreaking stories of people sharing what it’s like to be fat-shamed by your doctor.
I’m not going to give-up on finding a doctor who will treat me with evidence-based, compassionate care. Please join me in continuing this conversation. Share your stories and join the conversation about substandard care! Being fat-shamed by your doctor should not and cannot be the standard of care!
Have you ever been fat-shamed by your care provider? Here’s what you can do!
1. Fire Your Care Provider And Speak up!
Shame is not an effective tool for health and wellness, and yet it is a go-to for many providers. If you’re fat-shamed by your doctor, refuse to be seen by them again and speak up! Don’t allow providers to get away with mistreating you. Care providers will continue to shame people of size if no one ever tells them they’re wrong. If you’re not well-received, or if you want to take it one step further, make a formal complaint. If for whatever reason you’re stuck with this provider, be sure to read the other tips below and continue to be your own best advocate.
2. Work With Size-Friendly Care Providers
Whenever possible, work with a care provider who provides patient-centered care and meets your individual needs. Here’s a guide on how to connect with a size-friendly care provider during pregnancy. A lot of the information is excellent to use whenever searching for a new doctor.
3. Bring A Friend
Bring a friend or loved one with you to your visit. Care providers are less likely to mistreat you if there’s a witness in the room (sad but true).
4. Plan Ahead By Writing Down Questions
Write down questions you have for your provider in advance so you can be a good advocate for yourself. Here’s a helpful acronym if you’re feeling unsure about a recommendation your care provider is making. You can use this tool to assess your comfort level on anything from medications to surgery.
B – What are the benefits?
R – What are the risks?
A – What are the alternatives?
I – Always listen to your intuition!
N – What happens next or if we do nothing?
You can also ask your care provider if they would make the same medical recommendation for a thin patient. This helps to reframe the conversation around your actual medical concern and not just your weight.
5. Have A Support System
Phone a loved one after your visit to share how things went. Have a support system in place so you can vent if you felt mistreated or unheard. If you had a great experience, then share your provider’s information all over social media and give them a positive review. We need to celebrate size-friendly providers because they do exist!
6. You Deserve Dignified Care
Know that you’re worthy of proper medical care and to be treated with dignity! You are a human being with a beautiful human body needing the same evidence-based, compassionate care as every other person and you are absolutely deserving of dignity as you receive it!
Below is a Plus Mommy Podcast episode with Joni Edelman, RN where we talk about the medical bias against people of size. She speaks from her experience as not only a nurse but also as a fat patient. I share more about what I experienced at my most recent doctor’s visit and my plans for the future.