Does going to the doctor make you feel awful?

I was sitting the waiting room at the walk-in medical office, casually perusing Facebook. I was there because of a pain in my foot, thinking I just needed a quick xray.

I hadn’t a care in the world, until I noticed the nurse directing each person to step on a scale before they were taken back to the treatment rooms.

I felt my anxiety kick in and my mood took a nose-dive.

For all my confidence and experience helping women navigate just this kind of situation, I was petrified of how to handle it myself.

I can’t count how many women I’ve advised to just say, “I prefer not to be weighed.” It sounds good, right? I’ve even done it myself, at my regular doctor, who knows about my eating disorder, in a private room where no one is watching.

But this was an unfamiliar setting, with unfamiliar people, and the scale was in a public space.

I spent the rest of my wait debating about the best thing to do. One of my options was to just go ahead and be weighed and not make a big deal out of it. But the more I thought about it, the more indignant I became. I was here for an injury. They didn’t need my weight to administer medication or track a pregnancy. There was no reason for it.

And if I wasn’t willing to speak up, how could I advise other women to take a stand?

I started fretting about the best way to say it. I settled on, “I prefer not to be weighed,” but then of course I started panicking about how to respond if she asked, “Why not?”

‘None of your business...It’s personal...I’m in recovery...It’s not necessary…’ UGH, it was so exhausting worrying about all of this.

I didn’t want to make a political statement in the doctor’s office. I didn’t want to stand up for myself and reveal my personal issues or make a scene. I just wanted to get my foot looked at.

It turns out she didn’t ask why. She told me to step on the scale, I said, “I prefer not to be weighed,” and she looked at me and said, “Uh, ok.” And we walked back to the treatment room.

The world didn’t implode. No one noticed the interaction. It was smooth and meaningless.

However, what was supposed to be a routine, quick visit to the doctor turned into a stress-producing nightmare that sent me into a tailspin.

The fact of the matter is that doctors work for patients. They are providing a service and we are paying them for it. They have a responsibility to be inclusive, responsible, and thoughtful regarding the clientele they will be seeing at their business. Just as with any other business, if they aren’t doing a good job making their customers feel comfortable, they need to be educated and their customers have the right to take their business elsewhere.

Furthermore, it has been shown that the stress of navigating a biased, judgmental, or otherwise unfriendly environment as a person in a larger body contributes to negative health consequences. So, if I doctor isn’t accommodating every body size or is making people in larger bodies uncomfortable (with either overt or unintentional bias and discrimination), it’s actually undermining the patient’s health. In addition, people are much less likely to seek health care if it means facing discrimination or an unwelcoming environment.

It’s your right to receive unbiased and high-quality health care. If you’re not comfortable at your doctor, you have a right to seek more appropriate accommodations or find a provider who better meets your needs.

Here’s a quick checklist of the bare minimum accommodations that doctors should be making in order that all their patients feel comfortable:

  • Wide, armless chairs in the waiting room and treatment rooms

  • Only weighing patients when medically necessary

  • Having the scale in a place where patients can be weighed privately

  • Making no assumptions about lifestyle based on a person’s appearance

  • Making the same recommendations for care regardless of body size

  • Not suggesting or requiring weight-loss as a prerequisite for any kind of treatment

  • Speaking about health-promoting habits without suggesting weight-loss

  • Ensuring that the reading materials in the waiting room are unbiased and inclusive

I know it’s not always easy to speak up and advocate for yourself, particularly in an unfriendly environment. But seeking medical care should not contribute to shame or poor self-confidence. Your doctor should be your partner in self-improvement without judgment.

I have a wonderful resource published by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) called “Guidelines for Healthcare Providers with Fat Clients.” It does a great job of explaining how bias and discrimination impact a patient’s health, and gives a very detailed overview of the ways doctors can better accommodate their patients. If you’d like a copy to share with your doctor, please email me and I’ll send it right over to you.

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