Crippling pain? Try strenuous exercise!

Contadine writes…

5 years ago, at 230 pounds, I decided to go on a diet. It started off typically: planned meals, calorie journal, joining the gym. Before long, I was restricting myself to no more than 500 calories a day, and exercising upwards of 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. I was biking, running, lifting, doing yoga. I dropped 70 lbs in 5 months. Down to 160 lbs and a size 12 from a 20.

At about the 6 month point, I started having all these aches and pains. First in my wrists, then my shoulders, then my hips. Pretty soon, I was in horrible pain all the time, all over my body.

I went to the doctor to check out what was wrong. I got around 10 seconds to describe my pain. Her response? “That’s what happens to people your size. You’re putting too much pressure on your joints. Try eating less, and start exercising.” We hadn’t talked at all about my food intake or exercise routine. She handed me a flier for an Overeaters Anonymous group that met at the hospital and showed me out of the room.

Flash forward 4 years.

By this time, I was in such pain, so stiff, so tired, I couldn’t exercise anymore. Many days I couldn’t even bathe myself, do basic household chores or go to work. The weight all came back, plus 30 lbs. I had to move home with my parents to have them care for me.

I’d seen dozens of doctors, had MRIs, CT Scans, XRays, every blood test available.Nothing ever showed up, so the only treatment I got was the suggestion to lose weight. And some mentions of gastric bypass.

I finally found a great nurse who realized that what was wrong was that I had fibromyalgia. The first step in the treatment plan was to see a physical therapist.

I showed up for the first appointment, and before asking me any questions about my health, the therapist said, “You know, 30 isn’t too young to have a heart attack. As big as you are, you really need to worry about that.” Without knowing any of my vital statistics, or asking me why I was there, she started laying out a plan that had me exercising 2+ hours a day, with the goal of dropping at least 100 pounds that year.

When I explained that I had FMS, and that light exercise was good, but too much exercise would actually cause a flare and make my symptoms worse, her response was “Well, you’re just going to have to deal with the pain until you get down to a normal size. The fibromyalgia will probably just go away then, anyway. I think most people who get diagnosed with that condition really just are too fat and too sedentary and want an excuse.”

Fortunately, at this point, I’d suffered enough, and knew my body well enough to know not to listen to her and find a new therapist. But if I hadn’t been as informed and willing to stand up to her, I can only imagine what damage she would have caused on my body.

Leave a comment


  1. “Well, you’re just going to have to deal with the pain until you get down to a normal size. The fibromyalgia will probably just go away then, anyway. I think most people who get diagnosed with that condition really just are too fat and too sedentary and want an excuse.”

    That’s a total bullshit answer. The fat people with FMS get their weight blamed, and the thin people with FMS are called hypochondriacs. It’s bloody ridiculous, and i’m so sorry you had to go through that mess.

  2. You would think that with FDA approval of a drug that treats nerve pain, there would be more medical approval of FM. Fat doesn’t cause it, and we give out medication to all kinds of people with all kinds of pain whether it is quantifiable or not (hello – there’s no blood test for depression, either!). Unfortunately, this kind of experience is all too typical. I’m glad that you know your body well enough to know better.

  3. Kai

     /  November 27, 2007

    “That’s what happens to people your size.” Your size? A SIZE 12? A COMPLETELY AVERAGE, MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD SIZE?

    Oh my goodness. This whole thing makes me sick, but that you’d be dismissed just for being fat WHEN YOU WEREN’T EVEN FAT really upsets me. Let me guess, the doctor was a size 4 or something, right? I know doctors don’t have enough time to really go into detail with patients, but jeezuz. Patient has been exercising three hours a day and now has muscle pains… hm, maybe suggesting she exercise would be just fucking ignorant.

    No one should be discriminated against in healthcare, or get the standard ‘lose weight’ speech when their weight has nothing to do with their problem, but I really cringe when doctors are telling women and girls who are already within the “normal/healthy” range of their own, self-defined charts that they still need to lose weight. Because that implies that they’re not actually concerned about anyone’s actual health at ALL (just like when they assume fat = lazy overeater) and are stuck in the mentality that thinner is better, no matter how thin you already are (or what your current lifestyle is like). And I can not think of anything more upsetting for someone who has just struggled momentously and lost a lot of weight than someone giving them a once-over and telling them they’re a lazy fatty who needs to get off their butt and exercise.

    Please put in a complaint about that doctor (and the therapist) if you can find the time and courage to do so (though the doctor may have been too long ago to track down). Because both of them need to get slapped by a reality check, pronto. I’m so sorry you had to suffer the misfortune of crossing paths with either of them.

  4. Contadine – I am so glad that you have such confidence in yourself to have ceased the disordered eating and to know good advice from bad. Hopefully your story inspires those with less confidence than you.

  5. contadine

     /  November 27, 2007

    Thanks all! I’m really glad that I had just started to discover this whole body acceptance idea right before the visit to the PT. I don’t know what I would have given into had I not been more informed.

    And Kai, yes, the doctor was teeny, tiny. I don’t think she even looked at my physical appearance much, she just kept underlining the “160 lbs” on my chart, over and over again, as if she had never seen a number so outrageous.

    Then again, this is the same doctor who repeatedly told me a few years earlier that the best therapy for my endometriosis would be to get pregnant. Another bit of stellar advice – tell a 21 year old single college student to get knocked up!

    But that was all before I wised up and realized that I could actually find another doctor!

  6. Well, you’re just going to have to deal with the pain until you get down to a normal size.

    Totally. Not. Appropriate.

    But you know that. Eesh. And they wonder why fat people don’t seek medical help. I’ve got a few stories of my own, which I will get around to sending to this site someday.

  7. My Lord that’s horrible! I hope you are now getting the treatment you need and are feeling much better!

  8. amanda

     /  November 30, 2007

    Good grief. My mum has FMS, and from memory, she may only have been diagnosed with it after she lost about 45lbs. For a doctor to tell you to do strenuous exercise is completely innappropriate, and gives no consideration to your individual circumstances. I’m appalled.

  9. Yes, because only fat people get FMS. *headdesk*

    I have FMS myself, and attitudes like that of your (former) physical therapist bug the crap out of me. Not only does it contribute to the “fat is the CAUSE of ALL health problems!!!” specter (and it is a specter, as so many of the testimonials on this blog prove), but it begs the question–if FMS is caused by fat, then what about people of other weights?

    I’m so sorry to hear that you had to go through such a horrible experience, Contadine, but please know that you have tremendous personal strength, and it’s pretty clear to me that all of us who have commented here are rooting for you.

  10. Brandon

     /  December 8, 2007

    Wow. That’s horrendous. Coming from the opposite side of the spectrum (I’ve always been terribly thin, enough so that most people assumed I was terminally ill) living with chronic pain, I can understand the frustration that happens when one encounters medical idiocy. Without any obvious reasons for my pain, on doctor actually suggested that my legs were too long for the rest of my body, and that was my problem. He suggested I start running. I was referred to him because my knee pain had crippled me, literally, and was barely able to stand without the aid of two canes. Had I been overweight, instead of substantially underweight, I’m sure that would have been the reason given. I mention this only to point out that many people in the medical field are so desperate to have a concrete answer for what is happening to our bodies that even a ridiculous answer is acceptable to them.

    I was fortunate enough to find a doc who took me seriously and eventually solved my pain issues. All without a concrete diagnosis. But I had gone through seven doctors before finding him, and everyone had a different answer, including total knee replacement surgery and psychosomatic conversion.

    I’m so sorry that you got caught in the doctor’s need to be right. It is entirely unhelpful, and often severely damaging. I hope that you’ve been able to find adequate help after that debacle.

    Rooting for you from the sidelines.

  11. Lillian Mitchell

     /  February 13, 2008

    Kai, I was only 140 pounds and called obese by a nurse and told that I shouldn’t gain weight during my pregnancy with my second. I reported her a grievance committee. By the way, I was so small that I was wearing size 14 girls’ sweats at the time.

  1. My bookmarks for November 27th at
  2. My bookmarks for November 27th at BABble

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