What Did Your Doctor Say About Your Weight?

Doctors and Obesity

I’m not a doctor and I don’t pretend to be one.

Before I start this, I know not all doctor’s 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 just 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.  Sliding the weight 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 or get frustrated with my continual weight gain?  The waiting in the exam room seemed eternal, and it actually was, 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, for because John and I had lived in the same town for a long time, 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, only two or three times in the ten years I was obese did a doctor ever comment 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 the lot 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. I was very good at ignoring advice, much to my own detriment.

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. I have a doctor friend who told me he brings up patient’s weight when necessary, but says he often gets little response from the patients. He said that some of them look surprised he has said anything, while others get a bit defensive with him. I’m sure it is hard for doctors as well.

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 needed to hear it often. 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.

What do you think a doctor’s response should be to an overweight patient? Did your doctor say much to you? Diane

25 thoughts on “What Did Your Doctor Say About Your Weight?

  1. Dr. J says:

    I’ve never had a doctor talk about my weight as I was never overweight. I did have the positive experience when seeing my doctor as a teenager (I had asthma), and when I told him I played sports and was active in spite of that, he was very encouraging to me to keep at it! That important moment has stayed with me.

  2. Susan says:

    This is exactly why my mom never, ever goes to the doctor. She doesn’t want to hear anything about her weight. The crazy? She isn’t overweight! She’s just 60+ and not the weight she was when she was 18.

    Me on the other hand? For seven years I was morbidly obese, and during that time, I always went to the doc (OBGYN). But my self-esteem has always been what you you call healthy. I’d actually go there and NOT get on the scale. I was constantly on a diet, and so I’d be peeved if the scale was more than the one at home. So I’d tell the nurse, “You’re not administering drugs to me today. You don’t need to know my weight based on your scale. But here is the number I was at home.” Again, I had no problem stating my weight, just not getting on their scale that would put me 5-10 lbs more.

    By the way, if you deliver this announcement with confidence and no apologies, the nurse won’t push you to get on the scale at all.

    The worst doctor/weight talk I ever got (and it was the only one I ever did get!) was when I was about three months pregnant with Child #1. The doctor was a man who had about .5% body fat and talked about his “fit marathoner” wife. When he saw my weight, he literally said, “It wouldn’t kill you to eat a carrot every so often.” I quit that practice and signed up with another one that very same day. Ass.

    -Susan

  3. Pam says:

    I always say that a person is not going to do anything to lose weight until they make up their own mind to do it! It doesn’t matter what well-meaning friends (?), relatives, even parents say to you. If you are not ready to make those changes, nothing they say will make any difference. It has to come from inside of you.

    I dreaded going to the doctor all those years (30+) I was morbidly obese. I got to the point where things at the doctor’s office didn’t fit all that well anymore. They had to use the thigh cuff to get my BP, the examining table fit, but where do I put my arms, my body took up the entire width of the table, and I could get the examining gowns on, but they were tight in the sleeves. One nurse told me to be sure and always ‘request’ the thigh cuff for my BP, since it gave more accurate readings. I th0ught, “Oh great, I get to call attention to my fatness.” I always tho0ught somehow if I ignored it, my obesity wasn’t real, and it would just go away. The doctor didn’t preach, but he always mentioned my weight problem, suggesting WLS and self-help organizations. But let’s face it, unless your doctor has a weight problem, they have no concept or understanding of what it takes to lose weight and KEEP IT OFF! It’s certainly not as simple as eating a piece of chicken and taking a walk. Good Grief! But too often, that’s the kind of advice they hand out.

    All that being said, my doctor’s words in December 2009, are what made me see the light, whether he realized it or not. I had gone to see him for a routine blood pressure medication check-up. He made me come in when the prescriptions expired, otherwise I would never go. I complained that my heart pounded after any exertion, so he ordered an EKG. Afterwards he said, “The EKG seems to show you’ve ALREADY HAD A HEART ATTACK.” I was 58, had one grandchild and was hoping for more (today…I have 3!), was happy in my marriage and really wanted to be around for quite a while. So even though the tests he ordered with a cardiologist proved his interpretation of my EKG to be wrong, my heart was still okay, I realized it was just a matter of time until that would NO LONGER be the case. I was ruining my health and as 60 loomed closer, I knew I was running out of time. From that day in December of 2009 until today, 170 lbs. lighter and maintaining the loss for almost two years now, I have truly changed my life.

    My doctor’s words still ring in my ears. “The EKG seems to show you’ve already had a heart attack!” Those words were really the impetus that got me started on my j0urney to lose weight and regain my health. I hope my doctor knows that. I have told the story so many times, it has been in magazines, the local paper and I was even on the Today Show last November. I guess I should personally thank him sometime. But I’m not sure that he understands all that is involved with trying to lose weight and keep it off, even to this day. Do you think an overweight doctor has more insight into our situations? I wonder……

  4. Tracy L says:

    This is a tough one. When we’re overweight we don’t want our doctor to bring it up. But yet, our doctor has a responsibility for our health. Is a doctor doing his job if he ignores our excess weight, he knows how it effects our health? I think the key is in how the message is told. The discussion should begin with compassion and tact, a kind and gentle reminder that without weight loss we risk diabetes, increased blood pressure, etc. End of story and without judgement.

  5. Caron says:

    This definitely is a tough one. It’s kind of like telling a smoker that it is bad for them. They already know that, and still they are smoking. I’ve gone to the doctor so little in my life that the only time I really worried that he would fuss was when I was pregnant. Each time I gained around 30 pounds and they never seemed concerned, but I would worry A LOT before my appointments.

  6. That guy... says:

    There’s a great scene in the movie, The Tao Of Steve. An ER doc bluntly tells the main character tht he’s obese and needs a life style change. The doc then just walks away.

    For whatever reason, I have always appreciated that.

    In truth, most people I know distrust GPs as they distrust congress. However, when the heart surgeon speaks, the ears become much larger. Funny how that is…

  7. JenB says:

    I’ve never moved into the “obese” category, but I have been overweight. I’ve stayed pretty healthy, so I generally didn’t make many trips to the doctor. I don’t remember any of my doctors saying anything about my weight through my pregnancies. I did lose the weight after my last baby. During my most recent physical, my doctor did ask routine questions about my physical activity, and I was happy I was able to answer in the affirmative. I am “overweight” now and did mention I had lost some and was actively working on getting back down to goal weight. He nodded that I was on the right track … not a lot of discussion, but we did talk about it.

  8. PlumPetals says:

    Even though it would be hard to hear, I would want my doctor to be firm about me having to lose weight. There are SO MANY health issues that are related to being overweight that it should not be an issue of pride. Providing proper advice, getting further consultation with a dietician, and scheduling a routine follow-up are all things that I think are worth investing both time and money in. I may not want to hear that I’m overweight from my husband or my friends, but I want my doctor to be straight up with me because he can’t deny that if weight is not controlled, then the chance of future illnesses and pains rises.

  9. Nancy B. Kennedy says:

    I was pretty consistently 30 pounds overweight for years. It doesn’t sound like much, but just try lifting three 10-pounds bags of flour to see how heavy that is! Only once did my doctor say anything, and it’s like she was anticipating an argument. After ending one exam visit, she started for the door, but then over her shoulder, she said, “Watch the fats!” Well, that’s just about as helpful as your doctor saying eat chicken and take a walk. But it did catch my attention, even if negatively, and I’ve remembered it all these years. I think she should have been bolder in calling me on my weight.

  10. Hope K says:

    I’m a very willful person, so often I would refuse to get weighed, or I would tell the nurse, “Don’t tell me how much it is. I already know I’m overweight, and it will make me more depressed than I already am,” and then I’d turn my head so I couldn’t see. My primary care physician told me. “You need to lose weight. Seroquel makes you gain weight.” Derp. As if I didn’t already know that. He gave me no help at all.

    I brought the weight issue up to the man who prescribed me the Seroquel, my psychiatrist. He said I looked fine, (what the heck?!) and told me not to get anorexic (double what the heck?!).

    So I set out on a mission to try to find out how to fix this situation. And I’ve lost 29 pounds so far.

    I think doctors should address patients’ weight every time they go. AND, THEY SHOULD NOT JUST TELL YOU TO LOSE WEIGHT, THEY SHOULD HELP YOU! Did you hear that, all you doctors out there? Tell people how to lose weight. Make up a pamphlet of diet and nutrition basics. Send people to good nutritionists and gyms. Something. Good grief.

    OK. Rant over.

    Everybody have a great day!

  11. Janis says:

    These types of threads make me glad I’m not a doctor. The fact is that no one wants to hear what they need to do to lose weight, and a doctor CANNOT DO THAT FOR YOU. It’s daily work that people need to do themselves without handholding, and if you don’t want to hear it, it could come from the mouth of Jonas flippin Salk and it’s just going to go in one ear and out the other.

    I wouldn’t be a doctor for all the money in the world. It’s a miserable, thankless job.

  12. HappinessSavouredHot says:

    I wish my doctor had told me I was gaining too much weight during my second pregnancy (I gained 55 pounds). She (and the nurse) always seemed to dismiss my concern. Well, they were not the ones who had to shed the weight after!

    • Babbalou says:

      I knew I was gaining too much during my first pregnancy (I gained 75 pounds). During the first six months I was so nauseated that I didn’t care about the weight – I was just trying to keep from throwing up, particularly during business meetings with clients, and eating crackers and drinking milk were helpful. Once the nausea went away during the last three months, no matter what I ate I gained 5 pounds a week. I was panicked (my doctor told me to “eat turkey breast and salads”) but even limiting my calories to 100 per hour during my awake times I still put on a steady 5 pounds a week. I dropped 40 pounds during the first 4 weeks after the baby was born, and then steadily lost the weight until after a few months I was within 10 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight. I think doctors are sometimes in a no win situation regarding weight gain, particularly during pregnancy. To be honest, I was a bit offended by my doctor’s comment – since at that point I was getting by on brown rice cakes, eggs, skim milk, vegetables and tiny amounts of peanut butter.

  13. Jody - Fit at 55 says:

    I can’t remember back then so I can’t comment to your question BUT I do wish doctors would find constructive ways to help overweight patients & not ignore it – it is tough but they are the doctors & it needs to be done…

    • Janis says:

      Maybe if dieticians were better trained — too often, I’ve heard stories about them handing people cheap photocopies of ten-year old “food journals” and little else. Otherwise, I think it’s a difficult topic for a GP to tackle, especially when the reaction can be so varied in patients, everything from, “My doctor actually told me I was obese! How insensitive!” to “Why didn’t my doctor ever tell me I was obese?” to people refusing to so much as get on the scale and then wondering why the doctor never brought it up to them! (If the doctor tells you to get on the scale and you refuse, why should they believe that you’ll suddenly cooperate if they tell you what to cook and how to exercise?)

      I can’t imagine walking that minefield; no matter what they do, people are going to react badly. I would truly hate to be in a doctor’s shoes in any of these cases.

    • Janis says:

      The reason I suggest better training for dieticians is that the GPs can at least hand their overweight or obese patients off to someone with good training and advice with some confidence.

  14. GiGi Eats Celebrities says:

    I truly believe doctors should take note of patients weight and recommend that they do something about it if it is in the unhealthy range. That being said, I am not sure they should actually recommend a diet or fitness regime, but they should recommend a nutritionist.

  15. blackhuff says:

    I think that a doctor should be straight forward with obese or over weight patients. I also got remarks and comments like these from doctors but I always did not take them seriously, as they did not sound serious to me.
    I wish there were doctors that were straight forward to me. Who did tell me how it was. “Marleen, you should lose the weight because you are to young to be this fat with health complications coming as well.” If I heard a doctor say that, then maybe it would have sunken in.

  16. Tanvee says:

    Hi Diane, my doctor had mentioned it a number of times to me but was always very sarcastic, don’t worry about your weight I will increase the size of my door, or you eat very little you should eat a bit more….rude!!! he was very rude, and because he was our family doctor and everybody else was happy with him so I had choice but to go to him, I hated my doctor visits..I still get scared…

  17. Kyra says:

    I’ve had doctors say something, but it usually was rather snide. It’s the nurses that really got me. The thing was, even when I was thin I would get comments. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Geeze I thought you looked fine, but I NEVER would have thought you weighed 150 lbs! You need to do something about that…” uh no, I don’t, I’m freaking 5’10 – look at your BMI chart please. It got so bad, that I refused to weigh in at the doctor unless something needs to be prescribed, and I still do that to this day. They do not need my weight every time I am there. So, I only allow it when it pertains to the visit. And the advice, good grief. I had one doctor with a pot belly and powdered sugar caught in his mustache tell me that running was the worst thing I could do, and I should just try not eating.

  18. Madijo says:

    My doctor has always been concerned about my weight. She weighs me every time I see her. She talks about what help is available, and asks what she can do to help. I have gone for counseling, visited dieticians…nothing worked, that is until I was ready to do it.

    Though nothing she did really helped, I knew she was honestly concerned about my weight, and that she wanted me to be healthy. She never made me feel bad, or that I was a failure. She never gave up hope. Now that I am loosing weight she wants to make sure I am being healthy about it. I lucked out when I found her, and I thank my lucky stars that I have her.

  19. Carrie says:

    I’ve been lucky in that no doctor has ever been cruel about my weight – I know people who have had that experience. The part that I find most frustrating about my current doctor was while she mentioned my weight gain each time she saw me, she rarely mentioned it when I lost weight. Now that she’s seen me continue to lose through my battle with breast cancer, she knows I’m serious and always gives me the props I deserve.

  20. Jenea Mason says:

    I was lucky and had an amazing doctor who brought up my weight gain. She was with me over the years that I gained and then when I was subsequently diagnosed with diabetes. She expressed her concerns but in a way that let me know she truly cared. We discussed different options for me to lose weight, including surgery. When I finally decided to do something about it I couldn’t wait to go and get weighed at the doctor to show her that I am sixty pounds down from the last time I weighed in. She was ecstatic. Now our conversations about my weight have a different tone.

  21. susan says:

    I think if the doctor explained how obesity ties into the issues the patient is having… high blood pressure, diabetes, fatigue, gi issues, joint pain, etc.. that is a reasonable non judgemental way to discuss a patients weight problem. A just the facts sort of conversation. But the doctor needs to provide the patient with some concrete stratagies to solve the problem as well. At subsequent visits the doctor can follow up with the recommendations and modify or suggest different ones if they aren’t working. Also help the pt troubleshoot why some aren’t working. I feel this would placenobesity in the medical problem catagory rather than the I’m judging you catagory.

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