Arthritis? No, it’s your weight.

Miriam writes:

I need to say this. I’m shaking as I type, because I know I’m not the
only person with this kind of experience, but almost all of your
stories have been about specific incidences, not an overarching theme.

Since I was a kid, I’ve always been a combination of hungry,
hyperactive, and husky. I’ve never been thin, and I was shamed
because of this. One grandmother told me I had petit bones, and my
family had this bizarre combination of portion control, and “give the
last bit to Mir, she is fat therefore she will eat anything we give
her.” When I snacked, I ate less at meals, but when I snacked I was
also shamed and told that I was wrong because snacking is bad for your

I struggled to eat less, but it’s hard to live when you’re perpetually
ravenous. I played team sports as a very young child, but an incident
with an allergic reaction to certain medications when I was a child
left my right knee, well, bad. We were told it was “juvenile
arthritis”, and only recently I learned what that is. Apparently,
doctors thought that it would go away on its own, instead of going
into remission for a few years before assaulting me with a vengeance.
Both sides of my family have a history of various forms of arthritis,
osteoarthritis on the one and rheumatoid arthritis on the other.

Because every doctor, without blood work, without much probing beyond
the initial “juvenile arthritis” diagnosis, decided there was nothing
wrong with me beyond my weight, I struggled to diet and to work out on
a knee that would lightly hyperextend if I worked it wrong. The first
time it happened, to me, I was seven, and could not be expected to
know the word in the middle of gym class. After picking myself off
the ground and limping over to the gym teacher to say my knee had just
bent backwards, I was more or less told to walk it off because such
things didn’t happen to kids. I didn’t even learn the word
“hyperextend” until I was twenty, and didn’t learn it applied to my
knee until two years later.

I stopped complaining of my knee to doctors around the time I was
eighteen, right when things got very bad. I exercised, walking, being
told constantly by health professionals and the WORLD that all I
needed to do was do that and control my diet and I’d lose weight. My
lung capacity was abnormally large, my heart was strong with the
occasional harmless palpitation that popped up apropos of nothing, my
blood pressure was on the high end of average and most doctors blamed
the “high” part on my panic disorder. I was healthy, and they
admitted it, except I was fat, so I could not be healthy. Let me say
that again. They said I was healthy, except that I was fat and that
meant I could not be healthy.

I gained a dress size. Multiple doctors told me that my yearly bout
of massive swelling caused by allergies would go down if I lost some
weight. That I must be still over-consuming.

Eventually, I was eating roughly one sandwich every other day. My
weight ballooned. I was a size 26 for a while.

Finally, I just stopped. It’s been hard, but I limit myself these
days to at LEAST 2,500 calories, snacking regularly and eating small
meals, and over the course of a year and a half I have dropped from a
26 to an 18. I work out gently, but do not go outside if I can help
it because I have had people scream “lose some weight, fatty” from
across the street. I like nights, nights mean that I can wear dark
colors and lose myself in the scenery and there are less people around
to snarl at me, accusing me of an unhealthy, fat-and-sugar-laden diet
that comes from a box.

I cook almost all of my own meals. I avoid sugar, and favor clean and
healthy food. I adore vegetables and fruits. When left to my own
devices, I go for flavorful, simple, well-balanced meals, and only
rarely binge on sweets or fatty fried foods. Every doctor has told me
to lay off the sweets and fatty fried foods. The only exceptions are
the doctors that were not there to weigh me, only there to give me a

My little sister, a full inch taller than I am and finally breaking
the three digit barrier as far as weight goes in these past couple of
years, used to beg me for weight gain advice. We had nearly identical
lifestyles. We’ve both seen physical therapists, me for my joint pain
and her for her inability to gain weight. I was given
joint-strengthening exercises that I rarely did because the rest of my
muscles were plenty strong and exercises are supposed to produce some
kind of physical sensation, and she was given muscle-gaining exercises
to do and a higher-calorie diet because that was physically the only
way she could gain weight.

“Miriam, why can’t you be more like your sister? Your sister is so
active and slender, Mir.” Gradually, because everybody said it was
low, my activity level… Well, it dropped. People wanted to diet
with me, but nobody ever offered to go walking or lift weights with
me, because fat is unhealthy. They know because their doctor told
them so.

I’m twenty-seven, now, and showing a lot of symptoms of early
rheumatoid arthritis in places other than my knee. I don’t want to
see a doctor. I will come in with all my homework done, and they will
look at me and say “No, you are just fat.” I will say that I have
lost eight dress sizes and this is the slimmest I’ve been since high
school (I am even wearing some of my favorite clothes from high
school, these days, fitting them better than I did back then.) and
they will scoff.

I think, with hard work, I may possibly maybe shrink into a slender,
fit, five-foot-five 175 pounds, but my bones are big and dense, my
muscle comes in dense and hard, and I have always been this way, no
matter how active and diet-controlled I’ve been. I will be fat.
Morbidly obese. The BMI chart will always say so. I surrender.

Leave a comment


  1. Sympathies.

    And yes, that “You are [positive thing], but you are in [disapproved category], therefore you can’t possibly be [positive thing],” is the classic structure of bigotry.

  2. Don’t give up! It IS possible to find a doctor who will take you seriously. It may take time, but it can be done. I’m so sorry you’ve had such terrible experiences. 😦

  3. Piffle

     /  July 28, 2009

    Oh, honey, hugs. It’s so hurtful to compare kids, one to the other, it shouldn’t be done in any respect body, personality or intelligence. Nor should doctors refuse to treat because of weight.

    Please find a doctor and ask for the blood test for rheumatoid arthritis, if you catch it early there are treatments for it. A blood test is not a difficult request, and if you have a family history, it’s a very reasonable one as well. If you are relatively fit, with dense muscle and bone; then just ask not to be weighed and most people will underestimate your weight, including doctors.

  4. seniorphysicaltherapist

     /  July 28, 2009

    Hi Mariam
    Boy did your writing hit home. At 66 years old I have lived your story and more. There is much more to come and the obesity will be the constant definer of you and I both. The truth is NO ONE knows what causes obesity really. They all think they do, but none of them have any data really that lasts past just a few years. They all fail, but believe they know. Its insane and the patients are in charge.
    In April this year I made a discovery that has provided the missing link in my understanding and knowledge from a lifelong quest with overweight. In the 5th grade I weighed 150 pounds, so I have lived and heard it all.
    I am just beginning to put the information together that is changing my life and it will change all our lives, I truly believe. Take 10 minutes and go to my web site, Only the beginning of the information is there, but its a start and you can maybe get a quick look at what will work in all our lives. The bad thing is so many other problems are associated with the wrong way of eating, obesity being only one of the symptoms. Ironic that the skinny guy maybe will not get fat, but develop another serious health problem caused by the same diet you and I eat that went to fat. And yes Arthritis can be caused from the diet and the extra weight if its there only makes it worse.

  5. This reminds me of that saying, I think it was Bernard Shaw.

    Don’t worry about the stupidity of stupid people, it’s the stupidity of intelligent people you have to worry about.

    Your situation illustrates exactly why.

    I wish you the best with your health.

  6. Kerry

     /  August 1, 2009

    For the past 20 years, I could feel the arthritis coming on…I’m 50. Recently, my knees went kaput. Hands and feet swell. Lose weight, I get every time I go to the doctor. Exercise….I do. Don’t eat sweets, fat, fried food…..I already do that, too. I don’t know what’s left to do.

  7. Miriam

     /  August 7, 2009

    It’s hard saying anything here again.

    Thank you.

    It’s a terrifying experience. So far, the medical industry (and I DO consider it an industry) has been the enemy, because ultimately, I’m a minority.

    I’ve aimed my husband at this blog, so he can learn all the “usual” experiences and figure out how to counter them, because he is much quicker on his feet than I am.

    If I’d been quick and clever and snarky as he is, perhaps I’d be in a different situation today.


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