My Quest for a Fat-Friendly Doctor

I’m fat, I’m happy, I’m chronically ill, and I deserve good medical care.

Content Warning: This post discusses my experience with an eating disorder and over-exercise, as well as medical and casual fatphobia, menstruation, chronic illness, and also mentions cancer and death of a family member.

I used to love going to the doctor when I was deeply entrenched in my eating disorder. They’d tsk tsk at me about my BMI, but my blood work always came back beautiful, and they had nothing to really complain about. I told them how much I worked out, how I ate a clean, vegan diet (or a clean, paleo diet or a clean, smoothie every day diet). They were impressed.

I was killing myself.

A hundred pounds down from my highest weight, I was starving myself in the name of health and compulsively over-exercising. Sure, I was “thin,” but I would never be done. There would never be a point where I was satisfied, even if I did reach the goal I had to lose half my body weight.

I was inspired (read: haunted) by before and after photos, goal bodies, and the latest diet. I did intermittent fasting, I went gluten free, I cut out sugar. The weight dropped. Doctors were impressed, and my friends and family oohed and aahed over my transformation.

But my body ached constantly, I realized I could not relax my muscles no matter how hard I tried, I was barely sleeping, my face was broken out, my eyes looked like I was constantly on the verge of tears, and if I blinked for too long putting on my running shoes in the morning, I’d fall asleep on the couch and beat myself up over not caring enough. My periods were so intensely painful that I would regularly vomit from the pain and be covered in sweat, and I continued chasing the cleanest diet possible, believing that when I found the right diet, it would end my period pain.

#Goals.

The Last Weight Loss Resolution

In January 2019, less than a year after leaving an abusive marriage and losing my stepdad to lung cancer, I once again decided I was going to get back on track with my health.

I thought that meant losing weight, but I ended up changing my entire life in a new way.

After a month of tracking food, I realized my eating had become disordered yet again, even when I wasn’t trying to “diet,” I was just trying to “build better habits.” I started researching online and found The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner and Health At Every Size by Lindo Bacon. These books and outlooks changed my entire life.

I realized I didn’t just have a “disordered relationship with food,” I had a full blown eating disorder. A medical condition, not bad habits or a lack of self control.

I quit dieting, cold turkey.

I stopped working out, because I could not disengage exercise from the goal of weight loss.

I gained weight, but I expected it and was okay with it — for once.

What I didn’t expect was for fatphobia to come rushing at me as soon as I broke the spell of my eating disorder. Sometimes people are only okay with your fatness if you’re trying to change it and become smaller.

After three weeks, the partner I lived with announced to me that I was too fat for him. (That’s paraphrased. What he said was, “You’re approaching the upper limit of weight I find attractive.”)

At my next physical at a doctor I previously loved, she noted my weight gain and asked me point blank if I ate vegetables. Despite me telling her that I was in recovery from an eating disorder.

When I posted about my recovery on Facebook, I had supporters. But I noticed quickly that the number of people encouraging and celebrating my body changes were far less in number than they were when I was deteriorating before their eyes in the name of fitness.

People love to celebrate shrinking bodies, regardless of your actual health.

Addressing My Health

2019 was a banner year for addressing my health.

Firstly, I got into therapy right away to address my eating disorder. Using EMDR, I addressed long-held beliefs like “I am not allowed to eat” and other triggering thought patterns, processing them until I had internalized a new belief: “I am allowed to eat.” We also worked on other trauma from my abusive childhood and marriage.

Previously believing that my full-body aches and muscle tension were proof my workouts were effective and that soreness was to be celebrated, I was confused to find myself still in pain even without exercise. A few doctor’s visits later, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and put on a daily pain medication.

I realized that my small Honda Fit was too low to the ground and was hurting my back when I got in and out, so I got a taller SUV. I bought a new mattress that was more supportive and comfortable.

Having eschewed Big Pharma’s medications and the risk of side effects from birth control, I had been charting my menstrual cycles as birth control for several years and finally accepted hormonal birth control pills as a treatment for probable endometriosis. My periods no longer hurt, nor are they so heavy that I Google symptoms to see if I’m dying.

After breaking up with my partner in May (three months after the “too fat” incident), we lived together for another few weeks before I moved into a new place. In one of our conversations about our breakup, he lamented that he simply couldn’t stand watching me in pain and not doing anything about it.

Fatphobia translation: You’re no longer trying to lose weight, which means you are not taking care of yourself.

Despite every doctor’s appointment I had been to, specialist I had seen, medication I had gone on to address my pain. Despite two major purchases to make my body more comfortable in my daily life. According to him, I was “not doing anything” about my pain now that I had stopped dieting and trying to lose weight.

My message to anyone dealing with chronic illness, eating disorder recovery, or mental health issues: You are doing the best you can. Other people’s problematic beliefs about what it means to try hard and be healthy have no bearing on what you are doing for yourself. You do not have to do yoga, eat kale, go gluten free, or get acupuncture in order to be worthy of rest, nourishment, and the accommodations you need to get through your day. Your weight is not an indicator of your health — and also, your health is not an indicator of your VALUE AS A PERSON.

Facing Medical Fatphobia

Since the incident with my doctor asking if I ate vegetables, I haven’t had a physical since. On top of the risk of medical fatphobia and the frustration of trying to find a fat-friendly doctor, there’s a global pandemic raging and going to a doctor in 2020 has not been at the top of my priority list.

However, I have been resting and taking better care of myself mentally and physically for nearly two years now, and I know that checking in medically to make sure my body is doing well is important. I don’t want to let potential issues go unchecked because I’m afraid of the doctor. I want to know that my blood work is still good and I am in good health, besides the obvious chronic illnesses I’m already treating.

But I also want to be compassionate with myself, because there is trauma here. My mother blamed her mom’s death on the fact that Grandma was fat and didn’t go to the doctor. “Do you want to be like Grandma?” echoes in my head when I struggle to bend over and put on socks (Between my fat and my fibromyalgia, sometimes bending is rough, even if I can do a forward fold from a cold start).

According to my mom, if Grandma hadn’t been fat, she would have gone to the doctor more often, and they would have found her cervical cancer earlier.

But maybe the problem isn’t fat people avoiding the doctor. It’s the abuse we face when we’re at the office.

So often, fat people’s medical concerns are waved away and not addressed until we lose weight. But we deserve medical care in the bodies we are in now.

Resolving not to go back to the doctor who made me uncomfortable, I set out to find a new one that would provide the care I deserved.

How to Find a Fat Friendly Doctor

I started, as most of us do, with a Google search. “Fat friendly doctor list,” and “Fat friendly doctor database” led me to a few outdated resources. “Fat friendly doctor Cleveland” wasn’t much better.

I tried the Health at Every Size website. Luck! There was a search tool to find community resources including fat friendly doctors. I clicked “Physician” and searched in Ohio and got exactly one result back. She was in Cleveland. And, after checking my insurance website, she was in my network.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much privilege is involved in finding one fat friendly doctor in my state who is only four miles away and is also covered by my insurance. Not everyone has access and choice when it comes to their medical providers, but for those who do, a resource like the registry from HAES can be extremely helpful.

When I scheduled an appointment in the online portal on the doctor’s website, I commented that I found her on a list of fat friendly doctors from Health at Every Size. I will also decline being weighed and ask not discuss weight loss during my appointment.

If we need to discuss cholesterol, or blood sugar, or blood pressure, we can discuss those things and their treatments without it being about weight.

Remember: doctors are people we hire and pay to provide medical services. If these people we hire and pay act abusively toward us, we should stop employing them.

It can be hard to make the change, because sometimes the anxiety and uncertainty of trying a new doctor feels as scary as facing the one you know mistreats you, but it is my hope that everyone can find medical providers who are compassionate and body-positive for all patients regardless of size and health status.

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