What My Doctors Said

I’m not a doctor and I don’t pretend to be one. Before I start this, I know not all doctors are the same – I just wanted to share my experiences as an obese woman and the reactions of my various doctors through the years. I never liked going to the doctor and once my weight ballooned my intense dislike of doctor visits increased exponentially. I was never sure which was more embarrassing, standing on the scale, listening to the nurse’s sharp intake of breath, or having the doctor see the number on the chart.

Standing on the scale held a shame of its own. My mind would race with ideas on how to avoid the scale, but each idea was as fruitless as the one before. I’d reluctantly follow the nurse all the while trying to decide whether it would be more embarrassing to take my shoes off or weigh one pound more. I usually took my shoes off, often joking with the nurse, “These shoes are really heavy.” She’d nod knowingly and proceed to get the scale set. She’d start the big weight at 150, quickly see that wasn’t going to work, and loudly clunk it over to 200. Clearly she had a perception problem. I wanted to yell at her, “I weighed 275 last time woman – do I look any smaller to you?!” But I restrained myself, and stood obediently on the scale as she once again flipped the big weight.  Now we were getting somewhere. Sliding the thingy over, she’d record my weight and cheerfully say, “Follow me.” We’d walk single file to the exam room where she’d leave me to anticipate all the terrible things my doctor might say about my weight gain.

Would he yell? Would he get frustrated? Would he cry? The waiting in the exam room seemed eternal,  but the doctor would finally come in and say, “How are you doing today Diane?” I’d exchange pleasantries with him, but the whole time I was anticipating his comments about my weight. I had reason to worry.  I had had the same group of doctors for years. They had seen me expand from an average size to a plus sized woman and beyond. But surprisingly, in the ten years I was obese, only a couple of doctors ever commented on my astonishing weight gain. My anticipation and anxiety were ill placed, and unfounded, but I still experienced it each and every time I visited the doctor.

The first time a doctor commented on my weight was when I went over the 200 mark. He said, “Diane, you are such a young woman. You really should do something about your weight.”  I nodded and said I had joined Weight Watchers recently. I didn’t tell him I had also stopped at McDonald’s for a chocolate milk shake for fortification on the way there though! He then continued, “You’d lose weight on your own if you would just eat a piece of chicken for dinner and take a walk.” I looked at that man in disbelief. That was his advice? Eat a piece of chicken and take a walk? I had been eating enough chicken to turn into one, and I certainly hadn’t lost any weight. And as for walking, did having to park in the back of his parking lot because there were so many cars count? I dismissed his advice as lame and went merrily along. The second time a doctor commented on my weight was several years after the first incident. An OB/GYN said to me, “You know, it’s pretty unusual to be able to get pregnant at your weight. A lot of people with weight issues have fertility problems.” That was it. I took it as a compliment, and kept right on eating.

These days I have mixed feelings about doctor’s weight loss advice. It seems to me that some doctors avoid the subject entirely, and some can’t seem to let it go. With the obesity epidemic climbing I would like to see doctors offer real life, practical advice to overweight patients. As a previously overweight woman I didn’t want to hear it, but I should have been hearing it. In the weight loss classes I’ve taught the situations are mixed. Some of their doctors offer advice and others ignore their weight like the proverbial “elephant in the room.” My advice to you is this: If you are having trouble with your weight, talk to your doctor even if he/she doesn’t bring it up. Initiate a conversation with them about your concerns and perhaps their advice and your concern can help you get motivated to change. Diane

41 thoughts on “What My Doctors Said

  1. moonduster (Becky) says:

    I had mixed experiences with doctors. Most avoided the subject; some blamed every ailment I had on my weight.

    Here in the UK, a doctor was successfully sued for advising a woman to quit smoking, so I think doctors might be AFRAID to say anything about weight.

    It owuld be great if doctors could give practical and helpful advice to people who want to lose weight, but you and I both know that nothing is going to help that person get their excess weight off until the person who needs to lose the weight really CHOOSES to make it happen.

  2. Fran says:

    My doctor never said anything either that I had a bit of overweight. I think they have a kind of obligation to point the risks of overweight, smoking and unhealthy lifestyles to us. Then you can decide what to do with it and for some it’s an eyeopener when the doctor says it to you.

  3. Miz says:

    my personal experience with doctors has been uneventful.
    my experience with my daughter? meh. already eventful in a NOTTHEKINDOFEVENTSILOVE way.

  4. Cammy@TippyToeDiet says:

    My doctor never said anything about my weight either, not even after I’d lost 100 pounds. I assumed it was because he’s a little chubby himself. (He looks like Lou Costello from Abbott and Costello.) Maybe it’s a class they take in med school?

  5. Susan says:

    Unless I brought the subject up my doctors did not mention my weight. In light of the obseity crisis we have going on here in America I think doctors should talk to their patients about their weight before it gets too far out of control and they get the high blood pressure, diabetes etc…
    One time when I asked about which “diet” he recommended my doctor said both WW and South Beach he would recommend as being pretty healthy.

  6. MrsFatass says:

    Love this post, but have to wonder if there really is a way for a doctor to bring it up that would inspire a patient? I know that I wasn’t ready until I was ready. When I was ready? I didn’t talk to ANYBODY. So. I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing to think about.

  7. Desert Agave says:

    Back when I was in my twenties I had a doctor who brought up my weight, but his advice wasn’t very helpful. He told me to stop weight lifting because I was already big enough and not to bother with my walking routine because it wouldn’t be enough exercise to matter. So, I told myself he was an idiot and kept on gaining weight. More recently a doctor of mine told me to get a personal trainer and that’s what spurred on my recent losses. However I already had a pretty close relationship with her, so I was more likely to listen to and take her advice.

  8. Debra says:

    The sad truth is that most doctor’s are taught about obesity in med school but they aren’t taught how to truly treat obesity. 9 times out of 10 they are going to give you a diet sheet and tell you to come back in a month for a weight check and maybe “oh go for a walk after dinner every day.” It would be so much more wonderful if HMOs and insurances would pay for nutrition consults and fitness consults and if the physicians would make referrals to these people.

  9. Alissa says:

    I’ve found that talking to my doctors about my weight is one of the worst things that I can do. The ones that I talked to didn’t know how to help me even though I was desparately asking for their help. I would leave feeling discouraged and hopeless. Since I started losing weight, one doctor never commented- and the other was very encouraging and she notices my weight loss at every visit. Doctors need to get special training on these issues or something to know how to handle them better!

  10. Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman says:

    I honestly wish doctors would take a people skills class in med school. I’ve been to too many who could use a little work when it comes to knowing how to deal with patients. Fact is, the most important thing for most patients is having a doctor who sympathizes (or pretends to) and at least pretends to care about what you’re going through. Any advice would be so much better if they started from that place.

  11. Dr. J says:

    I like how you ended this post, Diane! That’s good advice.

    From what I’ve read on blogs, when a doctor brings up a weight issue, it get mixed reactions. I think a doctor’s responsibility is to inform the patient and offer referrals if they do not manage weight problems. In the end, it’s the person’s responsibility, in my opinion. This reminds me a little of how too many parents feel that teachers have the job of raising their child. There is only so much another person can do to help us.

  12. Barb says:

    Have you considered working with your local health unit to design an informational package aimed at health professionals and obese people? You write effectively, you have a tremendous well of experience from which to draw, and I think you could do a real public service.

    Just a thought.

  13. Roxie says:

    I think doctors might be in a bit of a catch-22 on the whole weight thing. Honestly, if he had come down hard on me, would I have continued to be concerned about my health? Would I have continued to face that wrath each and every check up? Would I have discovered the cancer while it was still early enough to treat?

    Of course, he did talk about this stuff in a factual way, but gently. Once I asked for help, he was a great resource. He now tells me I am his “superstar” patient and he tells other patients about me (without divulging personal information) and that obesity can be tamed.

  14. Pam says:

    I never had but one doctor mentioned I should think about losing weight, and it was AFTER I had lost about 75 pounds. I brought it up to my one doctor who just told me I was going to have to deal with it on my own, unless I wanted pills, and she’d give them to me. Not what I wanted to hear either time. I finally have one, but because it was what I initially saw him for, he has tunnel vision about it and mentions it every time I see him, no matter what I go for. I would love to find one in between these people!

  15. Karen says:

    I remember years ago talking to a doctor about it and she commented that my weight was fine. She was much more overweight than I was! Last year, when I was at a skinnier place in my yo-yo, my doctor commented that I had lost and asked how I had done it because she was struggling:)

  16. Joy says:

    Several doctors told me to lose, but no one had any advice for how. And no one believed me that yes, it was my fault for eating junk, but hormonal meds sure had made the problem worse. One doctor told me the American medical profession had let me down, because if I lived in Europe I could get pills for weight loss.
    It was a friend’s off hand remark about what had worked for her that led me to the new eating plan I’ve adopted. When I saw my DR a few months back and proudly mentioned my weight loss, he asked what I’ve been doing, then told me not to stick with it too long because it wasn’t healthy. Hello! Then why do I move, look, and feel better than I have in years, and why does my skin look better than it has in 20 years? It was my old way of life that wasn’t healthy.

  17. Amy says:

    The problem is that doctors don’t really get much training on healthy nutrition and lifestyle remedies for weight los in medical school. So sometimes they don’t know any more (and often a lot less!) than the average overweight person who has tried a dozen or more diets. One exception, of course, is Dr. Oz! I hope more doctors follow his example of how to care about patients.

  18. Babbalou says:

    I’m sad it’s not the norm. I have a fabulous doctor. When I was trying to lose weight she talked about diet and exercise, recommended a consult with a dietician and gave me the name of a personal trainer and gym she used personally. She supported me every step of the way. I’ve gone to her for so many years that she’s like a friend and we’ve talked about many personal things. I wish everyone could have a doctor who suits them as well as mine suits me. I agree with Barb’s comment that it would be great if you could work with your medical professionals on a informational program for patients. I appreciated your comment about the advice to eat chicken and walk! Way back when I was pregnant (23 years ago!) and was gaining weight at an alarming rate, my OB told me to eat turkey breast. Useless advice! I actually started counting calories and eating only 1500-1800 a day I still gained 5 pounds a week! In the end it turned out to be a little fat, a big baby and a whole lot of water weight – so despite a 75 pound pregnancy weight gain I ended up a few months after the birth exercising to lose that last 10 or 15 pounds. And I didn’t eat turkey breast for a good five years after that – I couldn’t even make a turkey for Thanksgiving because the thought of turkey just made me gag.

  19. Gina Fit by 41 Maybe 42 says:

    I went for a check up last year. My doc was very tactful and used the BMI as a tool to discuss it. He said losing just 20 pounds would be helpful. I really liked that he didn’t point out an ideal weight (I can easily spare 70 pounds) but gave a reasonable goal.

  20. 'Drea says:

    What is it with doctors and chicken?

    When I finally went to the doctor because of an allergic reaction, she didn’t hesitate to mention the weight and it what range I was supposed to be but I was a bit annoyed when her first words after that were something like, “You might want to go easy on the fried chicken…” Fried chicken wasn’t my main problem at that point…

  21. Biz says:

    I absolutely love my diabets doctor – I have never had such control of my diabetes than in the last few years.

    However, at the end of each appointment as he’s writing out my insulin prescription, he never forgets to mention “someone your height should really weigh around 120 pounds.” I weigh 169 pounds at 5′ 2 inches.

    So in his own way I think he’s nudging me to drop some weight!

  22. Big Clyde says:

    Thanks for this honest post.

    I had heard the simple advice of taking a walk, but never thought it really would work (as a start-up exercise plan). I wish I would have listened years ago.

  23. Michelle says:

    Although I read your blog regularly, I don’t always have time to comment. Today I couldn’t pass it up because this subject is one that I’ve dealt with in the last year.
    I should start by saying that overall, I like my doctor. I go every year for a complete physical because I am nearly 200 pounds overweight (that’s right–200 pounds OVERWEIGHT-I don’t weigh 200 pounds) and have lost both a parent and sibling to heart disease before the age of 55. But my blood work always comes out showing me to be in a very healthy state — in his words, my cholesterol levels are excellent-normal blood pressure-normal blood sugars-perfect kidney function and with the exception of the fact that I was severely anemic at my last visit,
    I’m in perfect health. So–if I’m in perfect health, why am I nearly 200 pounds overweight? He has never really mentioned my weight and finally this past visit, I asked him for help. I explained that I had tried several methods to lose weight but have had very limited success. Unfortunately, he sort of laughed it off and said that at my age (44) I should expect that it’s going to be more difficult to lose the weight. Then he suggested that I give up all the whites (which I eat very little of anyway)-no white rice, white flour, white sugar, or white potatoes. It’s not so much that it was bad advice, it’s just that doing only that has not really helped me and therefore I felt that he really wasn’t listening.
    This summer, my husband gifted me with a gym membership. To some women it may be a bit of a slap in the face, but to me it was a cherished gift because he knows my struggle and not only gave me something new to try but also assured me that he would babysit our youngest two children so that I can utilize the gift.
    I’ve been going for a month now and have lost 6 pounds and 7 inches. Not huge results weight-wise, but I have a renewed hope that maybe this will finally work and I will be able to get back down to a more normal size.
    I will be returning to my doctor’s this fall and plan to approach the weight issue with him again–I’m not going to let it go—maybe this time he’ll listen.

  24. Jeremy Logsdon says:

    Sadly, I had very few doctors ever say anything to me. And even when they did, it was very gentle… “you should consider losing weight…” As if a 360 plus pound man might have a valid reason for weighing that much. At the same time, I understand their hesitation, as it is probably very easy to push someone away without meaning to and make it even more of a stumbling block to get them to health.

  25. marsial2010 says:

    Hi Diane, I’m back. I somehow mistakenly removed you from the blogs I follow when I was doing a little housekeeping on my blog. After a few days I thought, “Gee, I’m surprised Diane isn’t posting lately.” Then I realized you were, I just wasn’t seeing them because I had accidentally removed your link. Duh…

    I’ve had all kinds of reactions from doctors also about my weight. But I like my current GP. I’ve been seeing her for about 8 years — she’s just about my age, so she’s been aging right along with me. She never critized me about my weight, but always mentioned it. At my annual physical last December, she was really excited that I had lost 5 pounds from the previous year. She tried to convince me that even that small amount was an accomplishment. I knew better. Sadly, by March, I had regained the 5 pounds. Now I’m down 20 pounds for the year and hoping to have another 10 off before my December 2010 physical. Won’t she be ecstatic!

  26. LovesCatsinCA says:

    I had stage 2 hypertension and my doctor said he’d allow me to try to lower it on my own before trying medication. He talked about sodium. (I still don’t have a low sodium diet–better than it was though….)My blood sugar levels were kind of borderline too.

    What the doctor didn’t mention at all, which would have helped (although I did figure it out myself) was that obesity might have something to do with it. There are loads of articles out there that talk about 30 and up being obese and 25 and up being overweight, with 18.5 to 24.9 being “normal”. But most people don’t know their BMI–and it doesn’t take muscle into account. Also, that’s general and not by race. In Asian countries (which is my heritage,) the standards are lower because we have smaller bones and body structures, so health risks begin at lower BMI’s. Normal is 18.5 to 23, 23.1 to 24.9 is overweight and 25 and above is obese there!

    So with a nonmuscular BMI of 27, I was obese. And he didn’t MENTION it!!!

    Funny thing… I started to lose weight. Those BMI charts are right (at least if you’re not a bodybuilder or extreme athlete carrying lots of muscle.) Guess when my blood pressure dropped to almost normal? When my BMI went down to 23….

    I think doctors should really look at their patients’ weight histories–if you carry an extra 10 or 20 pounds because you got older and had babies or whatever, that’s one thing. I could probably lose another 5 pounds if I cut out red wine, cheese and chocolate–but I don’t want to or really need to….

    But if one is putting on 20 pounds a year, something is wrong and it should be mentioned. I actually got up to my peak weight not with huge gains, but with 2 or 3 pound gains per year. The most major weight gain I had as an adult was 10 pounds in my sophomore year of college (following 5 as a freshman.)

    Small gains do add up, so I think doctors should really mention if one’s annual gains are more major or if one is crossing the line into where it might affect health.

    BUT I think it should be done intelligently…. like write down what you eat for the next month and bring it in, and let’s examine where there’s room for improvement….

  27. Melinda Neely says:

    My mother is overweight, and I’ve always been surprised by her doctors’ less intrusive advice: “Just take another pill for high blood pressure or high cholesterol or whatever.” Instead of being told, “Let’s see if we can help this problem with exercise and diet adjustments.” I realize I’ve never been in the room with her at the time of an appointment, but she has never told me a doctor has recommended life changes as opposed to more meds.

    Sadly, our medical system is to treat a problem and not cure it.

  28. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    Hard stuff to think about. So many doctors are very overweight themselves… others are afraid to bring the subject up. I have not had to deal with this but only wish I could afford health insurance… that is the bigger issue in this country. Not having the availability for everyone…

  29. Sagan says:

    Our society is facing a real dilemma lately – health problems are skyrocketing, but at the same time people get offended when they are offered advice on health care, so it seems like there is a major communication problem. Of course, there are also some doctors out there who aren’t putting the effort in – but I think that ultimately it’s really a problem of communication and our society working TOGETHER. That’s the only way we can all progress.

    It’s a pity that there isn’t more focus on nutrition and fitness in med school.

  30. Shira says:

    Diane, this is a great post. I felt so guilty about my extra weight that I would always make lame jokes putting myself down before the physician ever had time to bring the subject up. I had a gyncologist who was supportive and tried to make helpful suggestions and never forgot that. I ended up changing doctors because of insurance and then, about eight years after my weight loss, returned back to her. To this day, she still is complimentary about the weight loss maintenance and it makes me feel good.

  31. karen says:

    My mom was EXTREMELY obese. In fact, it was listed as her primary cause of death 7 years ago. She saw her doctor regularly in her last few years but nothing was ever done about her weight. She wasn’t diabetic. Her blood pressure was fine. Her cholesterol was fine. Her doctor did NOTHING about her ever increasing weight. Her numbers were “fine.”
    About 2 weeks after my mom passed her doctor called me to offer her condolences. She asked if there was anything she could do for me. The only thing I asked of her was to stop focusing so much on the numbers that were “fine” and realize that the next patient who walked in practically as wide as they were tall would probably die from it. And to do something to actually help them.

  32. Hope says:

    Oh gosh, I was so like you. HATED the scale. I would turn around so I wouldn’t see the number. One day I finally decided to talk to my doctor about it, and that was the beginning of the end of being overweight. She told me a bunch of health reasons to lose the weight, and it convinced me.

    But more that anything, like you I would like to see doctors giving people practical advice on how to lose weight, not just “eat a piece of chicken and take a walk.” Dumbest advice ever. My doctor told me to join Weight Watchers, as she thought it had the most practical and healthy approach to making a lifestyle change. Other than that, I actually never had a doctor make comments about my weight. But I’m so glad that I took the initiative to ask her myself.

  33. John says:

    I never liked my doctor after realizing(In my opinion)he should have at least brought up my weight gain. I mean it wasn’t like I put on 10lbs…I had put on 40+ my first year of college. I have a feeling I wouldn’t have listened but you never know.

  34. Quix says:

    Doctor at 26 – commented, I said I knew, I was trying to do something about it, and did he have any suggestions. He tried to sell me his diet plan for 300 bucks not covered by insurance. Got physical, found out my levels were astonishingly normal, and moved on without much of a thought. I moved states and didn’t visit a doctor until 30 and was a healthy weight so that’s about the only experience I had while obese (I avoided doctors like the plague, hehe).

  35. Alan (Pounds Off Playoff) says:

    Great topic. I have had the same experience expressed by many – my doc never brings up my weight. Finally, I brought it up, and he basically conceded diet and exercise are good things to pursue, but I could tell he was beyond skeptical. Docs MUST bring this up.

  36. South Beach Steve says:

    To me it seems that we often expect our family doctors to be experts in everything, when in reality they are not. Weight loss and fitness just happens to be one of those areas. Yes, they do know when we are overweight, and they do know that we need to do something about it, but I don’t give a lot of thought to their advice on how to go about doing it.

    This reminds me of a funny quote an old doctor in this area used to say, “They don’t call what I do practice for nothing!”

  37. Leah says:

    The first GYN I saw after gaining 30 pounds the first year of marriage told me there was no way I gained that from using the birth control pills, like I told her I had. She was rude and offered no advice on what to do. So, of course, I dismissed her comment and didn’t do anything.

    My OB/GYN with my son was wonderful. He didn’t address my weight to me, however, but when it came up once he told my mom (we had the same doc) that it’s basically burn more than you eat. He was kind and loving and just offered the simple truths of what will help control our weight. Honestly, I loved him because he was a very large man and so grandfatherly. I think I also loved that he didn’t make me feel bad for being so large when he was so large himself. BTW – He had a heart attack a few years ago and now I wonder if he wishes he would’ve taken better care of himself.

    Shortly after losing 40 pounds and putting about 10 back on I felt huge. I went for an annual visit and the new-to-me doctor sent me for bloodwork to check my thyroid. I saw that he wrote “OBESE” on my chart and was mortified. I weighed 180 lbs. He offered no help, nor did he address my weight.

    Do I wish the doctors would’ve taken more care to address this with me? You know, I’m not sure. I think it would be good if they addressed it, but then again I knew what needed to change and I can’t say that I would’ve been motivated to lose weight just because my doctor pointed out my need to do so. I think a reminder from the doctor isn’t a bad thing, but the desire for change really does have to come from deep within ones self. Maybe some of our weight issues are more than an everyday doctor has time to listen to, so they feel better letting it go.

    Oh, and my mom had a wonderful doctor a few years ago who encouraged her to take care of her weight and set her goal at … losing 5 pounds. He said something about “Let’s just work on those first five, then maybe the next five, and we’ll go from there, okay?” I think he handled her weight issue great. No pressure, no beating her up, just simple encouragement. It’s working too…these few years later. 🙂

  38. Rose says:

    I really wish all the doctors I had would mention my weight. I have brought it up to many doctors and they retort back with, “Well, you don’t have high blood pressure, you don’t have cholesterol issues, you don’t have anything wrong with you. You’re healthy as a horse!” Ummm…..I know that I don’t have those issues YET, but could you please advise me on how I should prevent those things. Maybe direct or refer me to a dietician? So here I continue to try losing over 100 lbs.

  39. Deniz says:

    Diane, I agree totally. Yes, do say something if you are worried, even if the medical professionals don’t mention it first. There’s no shame in needing assistance or encouragement or in telling someone that you are concerned. I guess it’s a bit like recognising that you have a dodgy leg, and asking for a walking stick.

    It’s one way of YOU taking control to manage your own weight and health, so it can help YOU to talk to your doctor. OK, the doctor you see may not be willing (or even able) to advise you or to offer practical help… but, then again, they just might.

    Back in 2007, my doc actually looked rather relieved when I brought up the ‘losing a few pounds’ topic myself, having looked through my asthma review records and seen things were getting worse. He had never vocalised to me the fact that I was seriously obese (how I wish he had done, but that’s another story), but it was obvious that he could see it. We both knew it was contributing to my health problems.

    Bless him, after I’d spoken up about it, he made an appointment for me to see a dietician.

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