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Dealing With Doctors When You're Plus Size

Posted by Jen Anderson on

Dealing With Doctors When You're Plus Size

A few years ago, I fell and hit my knees on the sidewalk so I went to my newish primary care doctor. I explained the new injury and how it seemed to have aggravated an old injury. And this doctor with a flourishing practice, loads of medical education, et cetera and so forth said to me, "all women your age have bad knees. You just need to lose some weight."

Sigh.

There's a good chance that you've put off going to the doctor because you worried they would harp on your weight. Since many illnesses are a lot more treatable when you find them early enough, please stop doing that. I don't take any nonsense from doctors anymore and neither should you.

Doctors Have Preconceptions

Your doctor makes diagnoses based on past experience. If you come in with flu-like symptoms during flu season, they're gonna give you flu medication. The problem is that not everything in your doctor's brain is based on reality, so they can jump to conclusions.

woman wearing a black sleeveless shell

That doctor who brushed off my knee injury? Apparently he thought that all women in their mid 30s have bad knees (including the thin ones) and that the solution is losing weight because....I got nothing.

This means that doctors aren't perfect and you don't have to accept everything they say.

Finding Non-Fat Phobic Doctors

Ask your plus size friends and colleagues for recommendations. Also, if your insurance allows it, go straight to a specialist. When I took my injured knees to an orthopedist, it was a completely different experience - x-rays, physical therapy, sympathy - the whole megillah.

Prepare For Battle

Not that you should walk into a doctor's office looking for a fight, but plan to counter any unhelpful nonsense. I encourage you to learn everything you can about Health At Every Size. The phrases I rely on include:

  • BMI is not a reliable indicator of health, and was not intended to be.
  • Mental health is also health and harping on my weight is bad for my mental health.
  • If I exercise and eat right (for me), then I've succeeded regardless of how that affects my weight. 
  • How would you approach this in a thin patient with the same symptoms?

If a doctor refuses to order tests because they think your weight is to blame for your symptoms (and your previous research says that may not be the case), then ask them to document in your chart that they refused to order a test you requested. That usually makes them come around.

woman wearing black plus size separates
Dress The Part

I dress for doctor's appointments as if they were job interviews. When you dress to look smart, people tend not to talk down to you.

But you also need to dress comfortably so you can get up on the examination table. Vikki Vi Classics like Pull-On Pants and Sleeveless Shells are great for this. Wrap skirts and knee-high boots? Not so much.

 

Have A Gown Plan

In the past few years, doctors have moved away from making you change into a paper gown at every visit. But sometimes you do need to take it all off. If you're not sure the office has plus size gowns, bring along a lightweight robe and wear that instead. I felt silly the first time I did this, but I discovered that it's really empowering. It reminds me and my doctors that I know more about my health than they do, so we need to work as a team.

You're The Boss

I like to establish the dynamic that I'm an expert in my health and the doctor is an expert consultant. Chances are that you're the only person in contact with all your doctors, so no one knows more about your health than you.

Check out our other posts about plus size life.

5 Comments

Had a doctor tell me that my carpal tunnel wouldn’t be a problem for me if I lost weight. For once I had an answer. I told him “yes, if I walked on my hands!” I thought his nurse was going to die trying not to laugh out loud. He just glared at me and stalked off. No, I did not continue seeing him.

— Zoann,

Thanks for this article. I recently had to go to a new primary care doctor. She must have told me I am morbidly obese 3 times and also what my BMI should be and that mine was totally unacceptable. I had serious questions regarding my health concerns, however, the weight was all she could see.. My other doctors are completely fine with a reminder to lose weigt and exercise more if possible..
It was a terrible experience and at 82 years old I am well aware of my weight problems.

— Lois rosezweig,

My comment to my doctor was, “When you stop smoking “. I never heard another word. I lost weight, but I’ll never know if he stopped smoking.

— Barbara corin ,

Read the book, DOCTOR, YOUR PATIENT WILL SEE YOU NOW. While it is written by a doctor, he said at an author’s forum, that patients must take control of their own medical situations. He said he did not realize, until he was hospitalized himself, the necessity of this.

— Nancy,

Every time I see my cardiologist he asks me if I want bariatric surgery. I put up with this for a year and finally said to him if you don’t want to treat me due to my size let me know and I will find another doctor.

— Imaureen,

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