Healthcare Providers Don’t Trust Larger Bodied People, and it’s Not Okay

Why don’t healthcare professionals trust larger-bodied people to tell the truth?  Well, I know why – it’s because our culture is full of weight bias and prejudice towards individuals who inhabit large bodies. But it just infuriates me, and it’s unacceptable.  I know that this bias isn’t just happening in healthcare facilities – it’s happening everywhere, but it’s especially problematic in healthcare settings, because this is where people go to get help making sure they’re well and healthy.  We need to have doctors that we trust and who trust us.  When doctors just dismiss legitimate medical concerns as, “oh, that problem would go away if you just lost weight” it is 1) completely rude and dismissive of that person’s own experience 2) lazy on the part of the provider – not to look for the real cause of the issue and just instead blame the person’s signs/symptoms on what they (the doctor) perceive to be a problem – their size, and 3) dangerous.  How many actual diseases/problems are going undiagnosed because of a healthcare provider’s prejudice?  And when that legitimate medical condition is finally caught/diagnosed – how much time was wasted by blaming the patient’s weight/size?  This of course can and does certainly lead to worse health outcomes for these patients.  It’s not right, and it needs to stop.  A Canadian woman’s obituary made headlines last year when she wrote about the fat shaming she endured from doctors that caused them to ignore/miss her cancer.  Another woman’s sister shared her similar story after her death from endometrial cancer in 2016.  This is happening everyday, and we need to take action.

What sparked these angry thoughts in me recently, was an event I witnessed at a health fair I was attending last week.  I was there with my little table set up and my Intuitive Eating assessment quizzes, my eating disorder screening sheets, and my laminated Health at Every Size fact cards, ready to meet some nice people and tell them all about our behavior focused (not weight focused) approach to helping people to make peace with food and improve their health.  Across the aisle from my table, was a table for a sleep center. There was a very friendly and outgoing nurse (at least I’m pretty sure she was a nurse) at this table, who was calling out to people as they walked by, asking them if they snored and how their quality of sleep is.  She would often jokingly tell people they “were lying” if they said they didn’t have sleep problems, and I eventually realized she was targeting the larger bodied people when she was making these accusations.  It was particularly evident when she got a group of young adult men to come over to her table.  There were probably 5 or 6 of them, of varying shapes and sizes.  The one with the smallest frame said he often didn’t sleep well and the two largest guys claimed they slept just fine and didn’t snore at all.  She actually said, “So the skinny guy has the most sleep problems?!?  You’re all lying.”  First of all, let me just say that I know she wasn’t trying to be rude. She was trying to be funny, but witnessing this I was supremely bothered.  Not only was this in actuality, very rude to assume the bigger guys were lying, but it also completely invalidated the experience of the thinner guy.  She was so invested in her own assumptions that the larger guys must be having sleep issues, she didn’t even help the thinner man with his very real sleeping problems. (Or maybe she did and I just didn’t see it.)  How is this good practice??  It’s not.  It’s very bad practice.

So how do we fix this?  What can we do?  First of all, call your healthcare providers on their weight-bias bullshit when you see it.  Don’t accept that they know best just because they’re doctors.  You have the right to stand up for yourself and demand a fair and non-biased practitioner.  If you don’t like the care you’re getting or feel that your complaints aren’t been heard or believed, leave.  Find a new doctor. They’re out there – the good ones.  But you have to let them know that you deserve fair treatment. We all deserve the same care and concern from our doctors no matter what body we’re inhabiting.  If you need help finding a provider (doctor, dentist, physical therapist, dietitian, etc) who will treat you as the amazing person you are rather than just a number on the scale, use this handy search tool from the Health At Every Size community resource page.

Secondly, educate yourselves – especially if you are a healthcare provider yourself.  Read the books and the research articles that reveal the true nature of the relationship between weight and health.  Spoiler alert – thinner is NOT always healthier. And weight management is often NOT simply a matter of diet and exercise.  Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon is a perfect place to start.  In this book she draws on information from over 400 resources, articles, and research studies.

And now I want to hear from you.  Does this make you guys as furious as it makes me?  Have you had your own negative (or positive) experiences with doctors that you’d like to share?  Please do so in the comments section below and we can keep this discussion going!

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