by Sandra Meunier, Fattitude Guest Blogger
I go to the doctor for a cough and, without even examining me, he says, “You’ll feel better if you lose weight.”
I know I am fat. But I also know I am sick. I hit my chest several times, King Kong style, with the sound of *cough*cough*cough* resonating in the room. I am clearly unwell.
“Yes,” continues the unfazed GP, “A bit less weight would do you good.”
My years of educated hypochondria and current throat excretions prompt me to ask, “What about a chest infection?”
He responds, “If you were to lose some weight, you would feel better.”
I am then handed a brochure on how to eat properly, clearly diagrammed on a 2-page leaflet, made with the assumption that the reader, likely a fat person, not only eats poorly but is also not educated in regards to nutrition.
People who are big and visit their GP are more likely to be shamed and berated for their size, without any further investigation or help. Talking down to someone because they might look “unhealthy” is not only outrageous, but also causes patients undo stress and concern because they trust their doctor is coming from an scientific position. A tip: looking up and down at people before giving an answer is not part of any scientific method!
GPs were given a leaflets[i] on how to speak to patients about their weight issues including words to use on the subject. As if we fat people speak a different language, as if we are not part of the same tribe! With ‘safe phrases’ to use – just to avoid getting the ‘fatties’ onto the warpath after hearing they might be fat. That was to help them bring up the subject up, because we have an ‘obesity epidemic’- and it needs to be kept down. Cue ghastly images of ‘shoot the fat’ nightmares…
I have no doubt that being fat could potentially indicate a health issue (e.g., PCOS). I also have no doubt that being thin can relate to some health issue (e.g., Crohn’s disease). But as it also happens, I have no doubt that ignoring legitimate medical issues can also precipitate more serious health issues. You cannot look at someone, scan them up and down quickly *with your naked eyes* and decide that how they look is the issue.
Judging people on skin color is wrong and illegal. So why can’t it be the same if your judgement is based on skin size and its volume? It is still nothing short of misconstrued prejudices. Do I play sports? Yes, probably more than most; I am terrified of public transport so I walk daily and also swim and roller-blade. Do I eat properly? Yes, I love my food to be full of fruits and vegetables….
I am so sorry I am fat and that I do not fit into your ‘prejudices’ of lousy & lazy couch potatoes; but looking at me and stating that ‘what I look like must be why I feel unwell’ is just a reminder of terrifying ghosts from the past.
Being fat can be linked to lifestyle, but also to genes, to medical conditions, to eating disorders, so stop pointing the fingers!
A GP is there for support, for investigation, to help you finding the problem and hopefully help cure it. When your complaints are simply wiped out and dismissed by a health professional, it triggers several things. First, an actual investigation might have revealed a serious health issue. So many cancers and serious illnesses are often misdiagnosed – it is scary to think it might have been dismissed first as ‘being too fat’. Second, it makes one feel unimportant, un-cared for and alone. Why should you go back to the GP to be ignored. Why should you look after yourself and your health, if none else believes you ought to? Third, it might trigger psychological issues. If fat is linked to food, and fat is bad, then food is bad, and….eating disorders are on the high. Self-loathe is on the high. Do we need to add to them, by putting in a not-even-slightly-disguised note on how fat you look?
Yes, doctors are over-stretched, but it should not stop them from focusing on you and your actual issues. Respect goes both ways.
A few tips on how to make sure your GP does not ignore you or get stuck on the wrong subject:
- Remind them they have limitations. They are not dietitians – many GPs have given me advice that was laughed at and dismissed by the dietitian
- Before the discussion, set your goals for the appointment. Write them down to remind you. Prioritize one issue at a time if possible.
- Do not bring up the topic, even as a joke, and do not let them bring it up if you think it is irrelevant. Your weight has no place in the discussion unless you decide for it to be included.
- Your concerns deserve to be addressed. If you feel your GP does not focus on the right thing, remind them, and take charge of the conversation.
- Do not just give yes/no/short answers—giving a longer answer will help facilitate the conversation and give a fuller picture of your symptoms, and will also put you back in charge of the communication.
- If your GP still does not ‘hear’ you properly, consider asking to see another doctor or filing a complaint against him or her.
- Make sure you are not just a number for your GP, be it 5.9, or 80, 27, or 75 … you deserve the respect any patient expect.
Sandra is a ginger-haired actress, comedian, and a sometimes writer, living in London with her cat Rigel. She has performed burlesque dancing and was a semi-finalist at “Funny Women” in London! Sandra was raised in French Speaking Belgium and has degrees in Communication studies & Cultural Anthropology, Geosciences, Linguistics, and a MA in English.
*This blog post is the opinion of a particular guest blogger – and does not necessarily reflect the position of Fattitude, Inc.