Breathing Problems? No need to look at one’s medical chart – it’s the fatz.

Miriam writes:

This is pretty minor as stories on this site go, but it’s (quite luckily)
been my only experience with blatant fat-phobia from doctors.

To preface, I’ve always had some trouble breathing, especially at night. I had my tonsils and adenoids removed when I was 12, but still have some trouble breathing through my nose sometimes, and have been known to breathe heavily at night, though I don’t actually snore. Also, though I’m “overweight” as an adult (5’4″ and 170 lbs now – 155 lbs when this story took place), I was actually very thin as a child and still had these
breathing issues.
I used to live in Los Angeles and had a primary care doctor at a very well known and respected hospital in the city. I was living with my boyfriend at the time, who had started complaining about my heavy breathing at night. At my next physical, I mentioned this to my new doctor and asked if there was anything I could do about it.
Without even looking at my medical records, she looked me up and down and said “oh, that will go away when you lose all the weight.”
At the time I wanted to lose weight, though I also knew that I was healthy regardless. I’ve since realized (with the help of a new GP and wonderful, HAES-friendly nutritionist) that 155 lbs was a perfectly acceptable weight for me, and I really had no weight to lose.
If this is the worst I’ve gotten, I consider myself lucky, though.

Leave a comment


  1. I got that kind of crap too regarding my breathing. Tired? Oh, it’s sleep apnea because you’re fat. Can’t breathe well? It’s from the exertion of carrying around all that fat. Excessively long-lasting colds and frequest sinus infections? Your immune system is weak because you’re fat.

    I guess “fat” was code for having a massively deviated septum and narrowed, deformed sinuses.

  2. heather

     /  July 20, 2009

    I’m totally with you on “teh fatz” being used as an excuse to not take complaints seriously. I’ve gotten that crap too, but only once — for whatever reason, i had one of those so-called “stairway moments” right then and there, and I replied with, “really? so what would you do for a non-fat person who reported these symptoms?” The doc stopped, look at me for a second, and then had the grace and humility to regroup and apologize.

    That said, I would encourage you to consider that you might have sleep apnea, and not necessarily because of “teh fatz.” In fact, while the evidence strongly supports sleep apnea as a contributor to weight gain, the causal relationship between being overweight and having apnea is on much shakier ground — in fact, a recent study found that the majority of patients with obstructive sleep apnea are not obese ( Furthermore, symptoms do not always present the same in women as in men, and, as usual, the standard diagnostic criteria represent the typical male presentation ( Finally, sleep apnea is often present in children with enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, which, although you do not say what your specific situation was, is often a cause for those things being removed (

    If you have not already discussed this with a doctor, I would strongly encourage you to explore the possibility of having a sleep study done. Life is hard enough without getting solid, reliable, truly restorative sleep on a nightly basis!


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