I have been overweight since puberty. Right around age 16 my body settled into a size that has stayed pretty consistent over the years, give or take a few pounds. I can’t remember a time since that I’ve been to a doctor without my weight being mentioned, whether or not it was relevant to the visit. Reading the stories here has been both horrifying, because so many of you have had it so much worse than me, and reassuring, because at least I know I’m not alone in this struggle.
I have had a few bad experiences with doctors, but one in particular has stuck with me. About two years ago, at age 26, 5’4″ and about 220 lbs, I had my first ever high blood pressure reading. I was at the obgyn to get a new birth control prescription, and was told that I couldn’t go on the pill until I figured out what was going on. Obviously, this was a disruption in my plans, and I had always had good blood pressure, so I had no idea why it had suddenly become a problem.
I immediately followed up with a new general practitioner. The appointment was terrible from the start. My new doctor took one look at me and immediately started making assumptions about my lifestyle. She asked how much weight I had gained recently. I said I hadn’t gained any, that I had been at a pretty consistent weight for years. She looked skeptical, but let it go. After a few questions about my diet and alcohol consumption, she said that I should lose 10 percent of my weight and that she would put me on medication in the meantime.
At this point I got upset, because she still hadn’t addressed why my blood pressure may have suddenly skyrocketed. I didn’t understand how I could go from being healthy two months ago to suddenly having this problem, with no noticeable changes in my life. Other members of my family have high blood pressure, but none of them had it until their 40s. Wasn’t I too young for this?
She basically ignored those questions and told me again to lose weight. Then the condescension really started. “Just try to walk a little bit,” she said. I was taken aback by the assumption that I move so little that a bit of walking would make the pounds shed away. I replied: “I live in the city. I walk literally every single day, everywhere I go. I would say that I walk a minimum of a couple miles a day.” She didn’t believe me; it was all over her face. “Just try to increase your walking, you’ll be surprised how much it will help. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, little things like that.” I lived in a 5th floor walk-up at the time of this visit.
At that point, I felt utterly deflated. She didn’t want to hear the truth about my lifestyle, she was content to carry on with her assumptions. I left that appointment with no idea why this problem had suddenly come up, and no real plan for addressing it. When I went back to my obgyn, she decided to put me on the Depo shot, which did not have risks associated with blood pressure. Of course, while the shot is great in many ways, it has a major downside: weight gain.
Two years later, I am now at 230 pounds, and my blood pressure continues to be a problem. I’ve switched doctors, and my new doctor is much more empathetic and kind, but he still says the same thing at every visit: lose weight. I’ve been trying, believe me, but I can’t help but think that there must be more to it than that, and that my doctors are doing me a disservice by refusing to look past my weight.