Swollen eyelid? It’s a bug bite, you’ll be fine, you have a healthy immune system. Now let’s talk about your weight.

Amelia writes:

I wanted to tell you my story. It’s not as bad as what some people have faced, but I just needed somewhere to vent.

I made an appointment with my doctor’s office to come in immediately, as my eyelid had begun swelling the night before and now covered half my eye. This was causing me a lot of discomfort and I didn’t know what the problem was — so understandably I wanted it to get checked out! Well, my normal doctor wasn’t available on that day, so I saw someone else at the practice. She started off perfectly nice. She examined my eye. She said I was right for coming in because they always want to be careful with eyes, but that it was an allergic reaction to a bug bite on my eyelid and nothing to worry about. She said that I did need to look out for signs of a secondary infection, such as more swelling, redness, or warmth, but that I did not currently have a secondary infection due to a healthy immune system! This is where it got bad…. I figured I was good to go, since I had come in about my eye and she had already examined it! But I was wrong. After being told I should be sleeping adequately to maintain a strong immune system, she then told me I should be eating healthy too and proceeded to inform me what it meant to eat healthy.

I am only 15 pounds overweight, and with good muscle mass. I run 30 miles a week. I have normal cholesterol levels and very low blood pressure!

Never mind that I know exactly how to eat healthily! Did she ask me what my diet was like, or if I was educated about nutrition? No, she simply told me that half my plate needed to be vegetables, and that I should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Very confused as to what this had to do with my eye, I responded, “I do eat tons of vegetables and fruits,” which is true. The doctor then asked me whether I ate breakfast, and I said I normally did. “What do you eat for breakfast?” she asked. “Usually cereal,” I said. I was by this point really really perplexed by what this had to do with my eye! The doctor responded that I should eat a good breakfast with protein, not carbs. She suggested an egg. “But I need carbs to fuel me for my run,” I said. “I run in the mornings right after I eat breakfast.” (6 miles five times a week.) I was then informed that “Cereals are not healthy, eat a piece of fruit if you want carbs.”
Well, that’s great, but I actually have experimented and breakfast cereal with milk is the best thing to fuel me for my SIX MILE RUNS five days a week. If I ate an apple I would get runner’s diarrhea, and if I ate a peach I would be starving on my run and inadequately fueled, leading to a decrease in performance and ability.
I guess I looked sort of upset and mad at this point, because she said, “I don’t understand why this is such a touchy issue.”
“Well,” I said, trying to maintain my composure, “My cereal does have protein because I have it with soymilk.”
“Oh, soy is bad.”
“What?!?”
“Most soy products have lots of added sugars.” (Right, like tofu.)
“I drink unsweetened soymilk.”
“Ok, but your cereal has added sugar. That’s bad for you.”
I sort of gave up at this point and didn’t engage any further. We concluded the appointment and then I left.

What I didn’t tell this doctor (which maybe I should have, in retrospect, but I was sort of so shocked that she would start critiquing my 200 calorie bowl of cereal when I came in about my eye that I didn’t think to) is that I’m struggling with an eating disorder. Cereal up to this point was actually one of my “safe foods,” one of the few things I could feel comfortable eating, partly because of its low calorie count for a bowl or two. I’m trying to recover from my ED, but I’m still definitely engaging in ED behaviors a lot. This doctor’s behavior was so incredibly triggering for me. Even though I tried to rationalize why it’s ok for me to eat cereal, I was really triggered. I threw up two meals that day (after not having purged in a week), one the next day, and one the day after that. I did not eat cereal before my next morning run because I knew I’d feel really guilty about it. That was definitely not a good decision — I was exhausted on my run.

This doctor was absolutely ridiculous, and I know that. She did not ask about my protein intake throughout the rest of the day (if I don’t purge, I get perfectly adequate protein). She did not look at my chart, because if she had, she would have seen that I have very low blood pressure and normal cholesterol. She talked about my diet when I had come in to ask about a problem in my eye! She criticized my 200-calorie bowl of cereal because it contained carbs. She triggered my eating disorder symptoms.

I kept telling myself the cereal was fine. After all, what do marathon runners eat during their run? Gu or other gels or sports drinks, containing electrolytes and carbs from fast-acting sugars! What do I need to eat before my runs? Carbs with fast-acting sugars!!! For immediate energy to fuel my body!

But even though I know that intellectually, her comments are still causing me damage.
I’m so frustrated and mad at her.

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15 Comments

  1. nonegiven

     /  July 30, 2012

    I think I would have written almost this same letter to the regular doctor with a copy to the sub and a copy to the head of the practice.

    Reply
  2. Allison

     /  July 30, 2012

    Ugh! If only doctors like this could comprehend the harm they are doing to people! I often hear stories from other folks who have suffered from eating disorders and body dysmorphia about similar doctor visits when they were teenagers. Kids and teens are especially vulnerable to doctors who tell them how unhealthily fat they are and put them on starvation diets. As this letter shows, even adults who know how wrong the doctor is will experience ill effects as a result of these encounters.

    Reply
  3. AnnaB

     /  July 30, 2012

    Oh, man. This hits home. I’m also an ED survivor, and so the normal fat policing that some doctors do is SO amplified through the disorder. The last time I saw my GP (who’s not normally a fat policer), I made mention of my disorder in the context of some issues brought up during the appointment. I had put the ED in my health history when I started seeing her, but she must have forgotten. She looked horrified to have been unaware of the ED all this time, and she seemed to be mentally cataloging anything she had said during our past visits that might have triggered me.

    Thank god she at least cared, even if she’s made some minor slip-ups. There are other doctors who would have no idea how an ED interacts with fat policing – or even worse, some doctors know exactly what they’re doing and don’t care, because they just want their patients to lose weight. I’ve been triggered big time by doctors’ visits. Heck – I told doctors about my ED behaviors while I was fully practicing them, and they didn’t see a problem with them, because I wasn’t visibly underweight according to BMI. They actually encouraged me to keep going.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, and I hope you’re feeling better and safer ASAP.

    Reply
  4. Please please please complain to the clinic. You don’t even have to tell them which patient you are or what specifically was said. You can make things better for the next patient- I gaurantee this Dr is saying the same stuff to anyone whose bmi isn’t in the “normal” range.

    Reply
  5. Send this complaint TO THE CLINIC. They need to be aware. Even good doctors screw up and this doctor needs to be educated.

    Reply
  6. shedelurks

     /  July 30, 2012

    Ugh. I am so disgusted by this. I’ll add a third voice to the idea that, if you don’t think it will be triggering to contact them again so soon, the clinic & doctor in question should get a harsh complaint from you. Courage & strength to you.

    Reply
  7. Fat Grad

     /  July 30, 2012

    First of all, I am so sorry that this happened to you. What a terrible experience! I have had horrifying experiences visiting doctors, and it almost always triggers anxiety when I make an appointment. I agree that you should send in a letter of formal complaint. You don’t have to write anything new, just put this post in letter form, name the doctor specifically, and send it to the office. Not only does this clinic need to know about this doctor’s unacceptable and lazy doctoring, but I believe that it would make you feel a lot better to let this doctor know how negatively her behavior affected you. Peace and blessings.

    Reply
  8. JenC

     /  July 30, 2012

    It seems to be the new norm that doctors have to criticize whatever you’re eating or not eating. I just took my son for a checkup [he's 14] and of course was quizzed on how we eat. ‘What kind of milk do you drink?’ I told her 1%. Her immediate response was ‘Switch to skim.’ I said No, since I had just been told by a nutritionist to switch from skim to 1% because 1% had less sugar. Her response was: ‘Oh.’ Then we had an argument about whole wheat pasta. She asked if we had switched to whole grains, brown rice, etc. And I told her yes, but not whole wheat pasta as we don’t like it. “Oh, but it’s soooo much better for you…blah…blah…blood sugar spikes…blah…blah.” I said I don’t find whole wheat pasta appetizing and neither do my kids. Sorry. We don’t like it. “Oh, but there are so many brands, you really should try…” What part of ‘We don’t like it,’ do you not understand? It’s as though they feel they MUST correct something about your diet in order to be doing their job. When my husband told his doctor he’d started bringing an orange to work with him as a snack, the doctor said, “Bring an apple, it’s better for you.” What the doctor didn’t realize is, it’s not a choice between an orange and an apple. It was a choice between an orange and a candy bar. But they have to tweak every molecule that goes into your mouth or they’re not doing enough to ‘fight obesity’ I suppose.

    Reply
  9. ali

     /  July 30, 2012

    you should definitely tell the doctor, or someone. that is not okay and they need to know what kind of effects their comments can have. eating disorders kill people all the time and are very serious, and it’s horrible that she triggered you that way.

    Reply
  10. Dominique Millette

     /  July 30, 2012

    She should be reported to the Order of surgeons. You should detail what effect her words had on you, in addition to the fact that SHE IS WRONG.

    Reply
  11. I agree with the other commenters, if you can then send this post to the practice so they know – doctors are fallible too, sometimes they seem to forget though.

    Reply
  12. @Jen C

    That kind of diet advice seems to be all dr oz does on his show. Maybe it is rubbing off on other MDs? Its really annoying.

    Reply
  13. Elise

     /  August 2, 2012

    I’m sorry you had that experience! But I’m glad this website exists – it’s so rare to see the comments be overwhelmingly supportive rather than shaming.

    The subject of doctors and nutritional advice is something that gets me quite wound up. If I’ve noticed anything about my interactions with doctors is that they are great for some things and absolutely rubbish about telling you what is best for your body. I can feel a tirade coming on, so I apologise in advance!

    I used to be a little on the “underweight” side of things, and I was eating within conventional nutritional guidelines. I felt terrible. I lost my period. I became suicidal. Doctors said I looked perfect and my diet was great. Nowdays, I feel amazing and strong, but I eat a lot of saturated fat and sugar. I know that I am doing well *because* of, not in spite of these things. Now that I am “healthy” on the bullshit classification system, nobody bothers me about what I eat. If they knew, they’d have a fit. Egg yolks, butter, homemade icecream, liver! I should be keeling over with a heart attack, or I should have more body fat. But nope… I just feel good. I think it’s rubbish that just because I conform to ideals of normalcy in our culture nobody bothers me about my eating habits. I also think that doctors don’t know the first thing when it comes to nutrition, because not everybody’s body reacts the same way (for example, I just can’t handle any grains except for white rice, and uncooked vegetables give me problems after a while. Fruit and potatoes are much better staples for me).

    So if you think that cereal and soy milk is a better combination for you than just an apple, you know what’s best for you. Also, those taken-for-granted nutritional “truths” have to be scrutinised in light of our culture. For example, we favour low-energy foods such as beans, fish and vegetables where our ancestors would favour nutrition and energy density – animal fats and proteins, fruit. I think it makes more sense to aim for nutritional punch than just eating as much vegetation as you can to fill up your belly with nothing. At the end of the day, nutritional advice changes all the time as we make new discoveries. So don’t trust anyone, not even me!

    Reply
  14. MandaPanda

     /  October 21, 2012

    I had some thing like this happen. I went in for my yearly with a new doctor and once it was over she looks me dead in the face and asks me if id ever considered gastric bypass. I almost started crying. I told her no, to which she responded,”you should! I bet it would help a lot!” I haven’t been back to any doctor since. I’m too afraid to go.

    Reply
  15. This exact thing happened to me. I had either pink eye or an eye infection. Having no insurance I went to a clinic and paid a lump sum to be seen by a doctor and to get a prescription. He examined me and said it was an eye infection. Then he gave me this serious look and proceeded to lecture me about my weight. I had just had a baby and was JUST starting to get back to exercising. Also during my pregnancy I had only gained 19 lbs! He said “Someone as young as yourself shouldn’t be carrying so much weight on them. How old are you 19? 20?” I was giving him the screw face at this point. Number 1 for not reading my chart to see that I had just given birth. Number 2 for not reading my chart to realize that I’m 29! I know I look younger but wtf! I told him my age and that I had a baby and he was shocked but unapologetic and decided to continue with his scolding about my weight which, btw, included no actual information or tips on how/what to eat or shed pounds. It was just a general “get your act together” speech. I cut him off after a while, stood up, and demanded my prescription so I could go. I actually think in my case this situation was class discrimination (it was a clinic that serviced an inner city neighborhood), race discrimination (he probably does see a lot of overweight Black teens/young women and figured he was doing his civic duty to alert each one, including myself, to the consequences), as well as “fat discrimination” in general for assuming I eat bad which I don’t. I’ve always had some cushion on me and indeed could exercise more, but I’m happy in my size 10! But arrrrgggghhh I wanted to yell at him “I’m a single mom working part-time with no benefits and getting my Masters at the same time so don’t lump me into some random category please.

    Reply

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