Wait…Why are we talking about my weight?

Raise your hand if you look forward to going to the doctor…

People, Weight Bias, Weight Stigma

Me neither.

Not long ago, I had a check-up that I had been dreading more than usual. I contemplated canceling several times. As I was considering whether or not I would go to the appointment, I thought about all that would be done at the check-up. One of the first things that came to mind was getting my weight checked. Lately, I’ve encouraged several of my clients to decline weighing at the doctor’s office if not medically necessary for their care as few of my clients look at the number on the scale as “interesting data.” I felt convicted to practice what I had been preaching to my clients, so I pondered what it would be like if I said “no” to the scale that day. When I started thinking about speaking up and not getting weighed, I -much to my surprise- started to feel nervous…my heart was beating fast!

I’ve had clients share that it’s easier to just get weighed to avoid getting questions or receiving funny looks from the nurse who is in charge of getting vital signs. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. I, too, was wrestling with the idea of refusing to be weighed! Many people fear making their doctor mad, seeming ungrateful for their help, or acting like they know more than their doctor. I’ve also had clients share that they were treated differently after refusing to be weighed at a doctor’s appointment, but it wasn’t until this particular day that I began to understand why my clients struggle so much with the scale in the doctor’s office.

I chickened out.

It truly felt easier to just step on the scale that day. The nurse took note of my weight. I saw my doctor, expressed my concerns, and attempted to get my questions answered. During my appointment, the doctor was not particularly forthcoming with lots of helpful information, but I was – for some reason- completely shocked at what she was forthcoming about. Right before walking out of the room, she decided to tell me, “And just so you know, you’ve gained [x] pounds over the last year.”

I stared at her blankly, basically in shock, wondering why she felt the need to tell me this information. I certainly hadn’t asked about my weight. Before I could formulate a response (or close my mouth after my jaw had dropped), she continued, “You’re still fine. It’s just something I tell everyone just so they know.” I think I managed to utter an puny “OK?” before she left the room.

Immediately, I was so disappointed in myself. I began thinking of all the things I should’ve said in that moment. Even more, I began thinking about my clients and the weight bias and weight stigma they have experienced. My weight remains in a range that is deemed “healthy” or “normal” by the medical community’s [sometimes arbitrary] standards, so IWait...Why are we talking about my weight? Weight Stigma & Bias by Healthcare Providers cringed thinking about how this conversation may have gone for a person who was considered “overweight” or “obese.” I thought to myself, “No wonder people decide to delay or avoid medical care!

I also thought about those who have struggled to gain the weight they need to be healthy. Hearing this comment could’ve been a major trigger for them. What if a patient gains muscle, making them stronger and healthier? What if the patient was recovering from an eating disorder? What about all of the other factors that can lead to weight gain?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt terrible about this one-sided conversation. It’s estimated that 20-30% of people will be strongly impacted by weight stigma from professionals but will not speak up for themselves, even when they know the truth about weight and health and want to be treated accordingly. The percentage is probably higher for those who receive unsolicited comments about their weight.

When it comes to weighing and weight, what can healthcare providers say and do to respect their patients?

What will I do differently next time (and what could you do in a similar situation)?

  • Plan and rehearse some responses beforehand to prevent being caught off-guard and subsequently left speechless when comments about weight are made or when asked to step on the scale.
  • Ask my provider, “How is my weight connected to the medical problem I have?”
  • Do my best to remain calm and engaged throughout the conversation. Ask as many questions as are needed to fully understand my provider’s perspective and assess whether or not it lines up with the research.
  • Consider sharing research with the provider.

Unsolicited comments about weight are not appropriate. Period. Fortunately, I’m at a point in my life where I feel confident and content with my health, shape, and size. It certainly hasn’t always been that way for me, and I’d venture to say it isn’t that way for most people in this world. As I look back on this experience, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my perspective and hopefully prevent similar doctor’s office incidents. I’ve learned a lot from this recent check-up and couldn’t let it go before sharing it with you.

I’d love for you to send me your feedback and share your experiences. Have you ever been the recipient of an inappropriate comment about your weight? If so, how did you respond?


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22 thoughts on “Wait…Why are we talking about my weight?

  1. It IS really difficult to speak up. I’ve been admonished about my weight pretty much every time I’ve gone to a doctor or any kind since I was a teenager. Going to the doctor always brings feelings of dread. I usually end up in tears trying to explain to the doctor how many times I’ve lost and regained the same weight. And it is incredibly frustrating when they tell you to “quit drinking soda and walk 10 minutes a day” when you already never drink soda and exercise quite a lot more than that. I do not mind discussing my weight at this point. But I do mind when people assume they know my behaviors without asking me. Doctors should know better. It’s a shame.

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    • Exactly. You are SO not alone in finding it difficult to speak up…that’s why I shared my experience because even professionals like me who work in a health at every size, weight neutral environment day in and day out struggle too. It’s just that hard sometimes!

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  2. My doctor brought up my weight at my last appointment and I literally started laughing because I couldn’t believe she was even mentioning it. Thankfully this happened to me now, at a healthy mindset (and weight for that matter), rather than a few years earlier when it would have completely rocked me. Next time, I’ll be more prepared and will happily let her know that I’m incredibly active and have a very healthy body composition so there’s no need to be concerned, let alone bring it up. The last thing women need is to be encouraged to hyper focus on the number on the scale.

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  3. So glad you wrote about this. I’m a dietitian and a formerly thin person (after years of increasingly restrictive dieting that unnaturally suppressed my weight and made me a crazy person around food) and now when I go to the doctor, I mostly refuse to weigh (I know what my weight is, I just don’t need to see it every time I go to the doctor). This past visit, I went for completely weight-unrelated issues, and I started talking casually about how one problem was probably created by stress and that now that I had changed jobs, my stress level had decreased, I no longer had a stressful 60 mile commute and I was walking to work which I found completely relaxing – in short, my stress level has decreased tremendously. She then said, “Do we have a weight for you?” I explained that I don’t usually like to weigh as that act had such a powerful hold on me and my mood for so many years. She tried to convince me, so I said, just put in my weight from last year. Then she said, “Now that you’re walking to work, maybe we’ll see that weight come down.” (it hasn’t). I had not asked her about weight, my problems were not remotely weight-related, and she hadn’t even thought to say that before I told her my weight. I had to explain to her, in the time frame of 30 seconds, my history with dieting, my HAES philosophy now…she was fine with all that but it was demoralizing nonetheless. I live a healthy life, have always exercised, I eat moderately and well, but somehow it all became about my weight. When she hasn’t been able to help with other problems, she focused on the weight? I call BS. Chastising someone about their weight has become the proxy for good health care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Isn’t it such a sad reality? Why does so much focus get placed on a person’s weight? I absolutely love your philosophy and have enjoyed listening to your podcast as well as your interviews on other podcasts. Keep up the great work…you are an inspiration!

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  4. I used to always go with a blind weigh-in, or ask the necessity of being weighed, depending on why I was there. Thankfully, my doctor’s office has always been very accommodating, and I have a doctor who believes in the tenants of HAES. Everything changed for me last year, however, when the office started sending me home with printed-out sheets documenting my visit. On that sheet, they show my height, weight, BMI, and my “Ideal Weight.” It’s a single number, not even a range… and it’s so absurdly low, and a weight I have not weighed since fifth grade (not to mention, it would classify me as very underweight per BMI). The first time I saw it, I sat in my car and laughed and laughed. Since that day, I am no longer triggered by being weighed or knowing my weight. It’s such a freeing thing – I wish it for everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are/were so fortunate to have a physician who believed in the tenants of HAES. I wish so many of my clients could have the same experience you did of looking at that generic sheet of paper with that one single number and be able to laugh out loud. All too often, my clients end up with that specific number stuck in their head…or perhaps an image of a printed graph that has charted their weight. It can be unbelievably triggering, but I’m so glad you’ve found freedom from that.

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  5. I like this post Blair, it’s a good reminder for me to ask clients if they would like to be weighed and just not automatically do it. Sometimes I ask and sometimes I don’t. I have gotten clients that look at me like I’m crazy if I say its up to you if we take your weight. But perhaps there are others that would really appreciate it.

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  6. I’ve been told to “lose weight” by a nurse prac. who himself was over weight. And this visit was for a skin infection, not at all weight related. I looked at him and said, “well Doc, practice what we preach!” He too was overweight. He says to me that’s what he says to everyone who’s overweight. Ugh… I took it with a grain of salt. I was overweight, but he didn’t need to remind me, or offer no help in doing so.
    Another time I went to see the gyno (a few years later) and she says the same thing to me. I told her that I just lost 40 lbs and continuing but it was slower going now. She says “Oh good, keep it up.” And that was that. I just shook my head.
    Doctors are not nutritionists, they can’t tell you how, only to do. If they can’t they should at least know where to tell you to go to find help. Perhaps prescribe a nutritionist to consult with.

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    • I agree! I’m always willing to send out some business cards. 😉 It’s never appropriate to simply say “lose weight” or “eat less and exercise more.” It’s so much more complicated/complex than that as it sounds like you already know…and often times, weight isn’t even causing the problem yet it unfortunately becomes the focus of the appointment.

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  7. I stopped seeing a specialist, an otolaryngologist, because I was weighed at every appt and he would suggest bariatric surgery twice each visit. So much so I started to assume he was getting a spiff for the referral. Although weight loss would lessen the sleep apnea for which I was there to be treated I felt it was a step too far suggesting that type of treatment. I lost 50 lbs anyway and don’t see him anymore. He can call someone else fat and probably is.

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    • Wow, an unbelievable recommendation, especially considering the limited research in support of bariatric surgery as a “successful” intervention or one that produces significant, long-term weight loss. So glad you’ve moved on!

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  8. Stepping on the scale backwards is something I learned to do in treatment. That way, I don’t see the number and my doctor has the info he/she needs for the appointment. I don’t ask, and they know not to bring it up unless necessary due to the triggering response. Maybe this can help someone else who isn’t sure how to go about it!

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