Health problems? They’re all caused by your fat, even the ones you had BEFORE you were fat!

Chai writes:

My problems began when I was involved in a gymnastics accident, that left me with recurring back, neck and left shoulder pain (still not officially diagnosed to this day). It left me unable to do anything more than mild exercise without pain. Two years later, I got an extremely bad flu which left me bed-ridden for 4 months. Over those 4 months I gained weight. I went from malnourished and underweight to overweight fairly quickly. From there on, I gained weight.

I will state now, that I am not yet morbidly obese, but I am fairly overweight.

I walked a lot, and used public transport. I couldn’t seem to lose any weight. After a long battle with Irregular bleeding I was referred to a gyno. The first lady was awesome. The problem was officially diagnosed as PCOS and she advised me to lose 5% of my weight, but understood that putting a number to my weight would do me more harm than help. My theory is that I could work on losing weight more effectively if I didn’t have to feel bad about the number that is my weight. She tried putting me on the pill to help with the PCOS, it didn’t help, it just made my problems worse.

In between appointments (which was a number of months due to the public health system) I changed GP’s. I found an awesome GP who understood my problem and didn’t judge me for it. She re- referred me to the gyno. I still see this GP.

The next appointment, I had this young registrar. I told her how bad things had gotten for me over the period between the first appointment and the current one. My life had gone to shambles. I’d gained more weight, been miserable, had no sex life (at this point I had been married just under a year…. No sex is sooooo not cool for newly weds) and was always tired. She gave me an exam and made the comment that I seemed to be so hairy. Then she asked if this was a recent thing. I answered truthfully and told her that my grandparents and parents had always said I used to be a hairy child (a fine blonde layer of hair (also co-incidentally a symptom of PCOS)).

Then this doctor changed tactics. First she accused me of not trying the pill (uh hello! its on my file that I tried it!), then she moved onto saying ALL my problems were caused by my weight. My lack of sleep, my bleeding, my pcos, my injury…. everything! Yes that’s right folks, EVERYTHING is caused by my weight. Now, I’m the first to admit that, yes, I need to lose weight…… But to be told my a medical professional that all my problems were caused by my weight (even my prior to weight gain problems), I cried on the inside. When I got home after the tests she ordered, I cried in my husband’s arms, not really understanding how a doctor could be so mean and dismissive of my problems, when I’d been referred there for a reason.

I went on to get mirena prescribed and I hope to god that I never meet this doctor again. Because I never want to feel as horrible as I did the day that doctor decided that because I wasn’t skinny, that my weight was the cause of all my problems.

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That number on the chart means everything else I’ve said was a lie?

Bridget writes:

I skate on my local roller derby team. This is my second season. Roller derby changed my life, broke my old feelings of dislike for physical activity and realigned my belief system: I now equate exercise with pleasure and have learned to enjoy the satisfaction of working through pain and overcoming exhaustion and pushing myself a little further than I’ve ever gone, a little at a time until I’ve accomplished things beyond anything I ever dreamed I could do. I have the best friends of my life. I have taken many proactive steps to empower myself, from finally getting fitted for the right size bra (34GG/H instead of buying 38DDs and wondering what was wrong with me) to quitting a job I hated and beginning to get serious about all the dreams of being a writer I had never truly had the courage to pursue. I started skating in July of ’06 and have never regretted any of it for a second.

In March of ’07, I had a waitressing job. I was on my feet a full 40 hours a week, carrying heavy trays and literally running for hours, it would get so busy. The floors were awful, hard and slippery, and several of the other bar staff had leg/foot/joint problems. On top of that, I was skating, hitting, blocking and falling between 10 and 15 hours a week; it was our first bouting season and we were all completely overzealous.
My knees began to bother me, to the point that I had serious trouble with my normal 8-hour-shift straight to 2-hour skate practice routine. I would rather have died than given up skating, or even cut down on it, so I bought knee braces and tried to “work through it”, but finally it just hampered me so much I was driven to go to the doctor. I’ve never liked doctors much, but my team was worth it.

I went and had a decent visit. The doctor looked my knees over, commented on how muscular my legs were, said it sounded like I really was exercising far too much. She recommended the basic things. Drink more water, rest when there’s pain, stretch thoroughly; get new sneakers, try some ibuprofen to keep possible swelling down, and she also recommended I get X-rays to rule out any joint deformities or bone spurs. Fine.
The problem came at the end of the visit. She glanced over my chart just to see if she’d missed anything. And her eyes stopped on my weight.
“190,” she said. She looked up at me, frowning. I had no idea what was coming, because I was in the best shape of my life at this point and even my lifelong worst critic, my mother, had laid off me for once. “How tall are you?” she asked.
“Five-seven,” I said, puzzled. It was in the chart; the somewhat cavalier nurse had actually marked me down at five eight.
“You’re dangerously obese!” she exclaimed.
“What?”
“You must diet and exercise,” she said. “This is terrible. You must know you are at risk for diabetes, liver failure, and heart disease, even a stroke. You must get your weight down– you should lose thirty or forty pounds to start with. You must exercise more!”
“But,” I said bewilderedly, utterly blindsided, “I already, you just– you just told me to exercise less. And I– I have an excellent diet, we talked about that already.”
“Well,” she snapped, “cut down on your carbs, then. And exercise more.”

I went, utterly confused, and got my X-ray. I came back dutifully three weeks later for my general physical, which I had scheduled along with the followup on the X-rays because I hadn’t had a physical in three years. I’d come in, in the interim, to get blood drawn for routine physical tests.
I asked about the tests. “They’re fine,” she said dismissively. When pressed, she gave reluctant details: “Good blood sugar, excellent liver function, low cholesterol.” I also had excellent blood pressure and a nice low resting heart rate.
I asked about the X-rays. She waved them off. “They’re fine,” she said.
“But my knees hurt,” I said.
I know you’re all expecting her to claim that my knees hurt because I was fat. I was kind of expecting it, too. I probably wouldn’t be telling this story if she had, because at least a diagnosis, however poor, would’ve done something to help me, or given me some ideas to work with even if I still had to treat it on my own. But she didn’t even try to make the connection. That would have meant acknowledging that I had a body, or that anything existed besides those numbers on my chart. 190. Five feet seven.
That’s a BMI of 29.8. It’s just shy of obese. With comment-worthily-overmuscled legs. And 34GG/H breasts. Broad shoulders and a wide pelvis. An hourglass figure (not to be vain or defensive, but my waist is very defined, and waist/hip ratio is the #1 risk factor for heart disease). And I can skate hard for 3 hours at a stretch and like it. But she kept using two phrases, “dangerously obese” and “grossly obese”.
It’s all she talked about, how I needed to diet and get some exercise. She seemed disgusted that I existed, and never looked into my face, which she had done frequently early in the first visit. She seemed angry that I was even there. So I never went back. (This is probably only tangentially relevant, but she was not exactly willowy herself. Not to knock it– who am I to judge, given my dangerous obesity?– but it made the irony slightly more bitter.)

Almost a year has gone by. I’ve continued to skate. The knee pain eased after I quit my waitressing job (and took a 50% pay cut for a sit-down office job), but it’s come back this season, aggravated by a boneheaded attempt at doing a few warmup laps without kneepads (and, of course, a hard landing). Today (February ’08) I finally sucked it up and went to see another medical professional– but this one is a physical therapist who is a friend of one of the employees of our skating rink. He’s come to our practices and seen what we do. He immediately said “That sounds like patellar tendonitis.” He did not weigh me or measure me, he just looked at my knees, in great detail. He spotted that I have a problem with my posture, possibly related to the uneven overdevelopment of some of my leg muscles; I stand with my knees bending inward, slightly knock-kneed, and I most likely skate this way too. This would cause the problem, in conjunction with the wrong sort of exercise. He also suspected that the prolonged irritation had roughened the cartilage behind my kneecaps, but seeing as I am only 28 it was unlikely to be serious yet.
He made pads for me to put in my shoes and gave me theraputic exercises to do daily. He complimented me on how hard he could see the team was working, and how impressive the sport was. The only comment he made about my weight was when I told the story of the doctor who had consigned me to nearly 12 more months of this pain from a condition I could have been correcting. “Well,” he said, “higher weight never really helps joint problems, but it’s hardly the only risk factor.”

Now, I can take some of the sting from her awful words and make myself feel better [for whatever that’s worth] by saying, “By her own chart, I’m not obese, so she’s wrong,” but that’s not remotely the point. That’s just transferring fat-shame, and is almost as bad as the original offense. The real point I am making with this story is that my weight became the only issue she could see. She did not even make the bad excuse of blaming my condition on my weight; she simply ceased to care that I had a condition at all. I disgusted her, and she was simply not interested anymore in my health. Even though by her own chart I did not meet the arbitrary criteria she was going by, the fact that I was even near it was unacceptable. I can only imagine what she’d be like with someone who was actually in the obese BMI category.

Interestingly, telling this story at practice brought all sorts of unexpected size-positivist solidarity out of the woodwork. I want to do my own version of Kate Harding’s BMI project with my roller derby league, as besides the expected (and awesome) badass big girls there are a lot of extremely athletic and slender girls who have been told they’re “overweight”. And, for the record, joint and recurring-injury problems seem to be distributed fairly evenly across the size spectrum, not clustered around the higher-BMI girls. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, sure, but they’re also a lot harder to knock down in the first place.

Love the blog, am hugely inspired by reading it, and think you are doing a tremendous service here.
— B-17
#17 Nickel City Knockouts, Queen City Roller Girls, Buffalo NY

Torn muscle? Excruciating pain? Try exercising…

Vic mazonas writes…

Women in my family all tend to have very large chests. Mine started developing early and, at 23, I am still growing. I was a 36F 12 months ago. I’ll probably be around a G or GG by the time stop. This growth continues even when I diet and lose weight. I dropped down to a size 10-12 about 3 years ago, when I was still an E cup, and my breasts gained a cup size in that time.

As a result, I’ve developed an arched spine from having to twist my body around my chest. Having breasts this large affects everything about the way I move my body, and until recently I never found a sports bra to fit me, leaving aerobic exercise too painful on my chest. I lift weights to keep myself fit, instead, and swim.

I have suffered from mild back pain for years now. It comes and goes, but about 6 months ago it became really quite awful. I woke up with mild stiffness in a small area of my left shoulder-blade. By the end of the day I could move my right arm fully, my left arm from the elbow down, and my legs so long as I didn’t try to move my hips too much. The rest of my body from neck to pelvis had locked up and I was in awful pain. After 2 days like this I had an appointment to see my doctor.

I was told that my back had locked out because I was fat. I was in pain because I was fat. I was told to take painkillers, apply heat patches and creams, and to lose weight. In the meantime, I was barely able to walk let alone work out, and I certainly couldn’t go to work in this state, so I was signed off.

[Editor’s note: Vic also included that she weighs about 155 pounds and is 5’2″]

Fortunately for me, I decided I wanted physiotherapy to help. I had 2 weeks off of work waiting for my first appointment, during which time I drastically cut my dietary intake to help with weight loss and to compensate for the lack of exercise I was getting.

My physiotherapist turned out to be a wonderful man who actually listened to me. He clearly didn’t trust the diagnosis I had been given and immediately quizzed me on my lifestyle whilst massaging and pummeling my shoulders ready for some stretches.

As it turns out, my weight wasn’t the cause. At least, not all of it; just the part on my chest. The part that stays big however skinny the rest of me gets. Having a large chest affected my posture. I don’t slouch like other people, because it’s painful, so my back was never relaxed at all. My lower back was too curved from me leaning to correct for weight. My sleeping positions, all convoluted and twisted to allow comfortable breathing space and arm positions, were damaging my back.

Poor fitting and cheap bras weren’t helping much, either, as my chest was being supported by the shoulder straps primarily. All this weakened my back which meant that, when an over-enthusiastic set of weight-lifting with too-large weights caused me to tear a muscle, my body couldn’t cope and my back locked up to try and get me to LAY STILL long enough to heal.

A 30 minute long massage followed by my physio teaching me an easy set of stretches to do daily meant that I was back at work within 3 days, have never suffered back problems so severe again and can weight train again. I got some advice on how to improve my posture and finding better sleeping positions and I’ve been in great health since. If I hadn’t seen that physiotherapist, I would have been off of work much longer, and probably would have developed a repeating, serious back problem.

To be honest, though, most of my doctor’s visits are like that. I’ve gone in with a repeating chest infection and my doctor simply refused to treat/diagnose anything because he wanted to discuss my weight with me. I’ve had blood poisoning more than once and have been told it was because of my “unhealthy lifestyle”, not because I got cut at work from a dirty carving machine and the wound went septic.

I just… don’t go to see my doctor any more.

A degenerative spine is no excuse not to diet and exercise!

Amber writes…

I injured my back in 2004 while at work in a call center. It was during the holidays, so I was working long hours sitting at a computer. One day I went to adjust my position in the computer chair and I felt an unbelievably strong pain course through my back and down my left leg.

Since then I have been on a nightmare journey to not only try to stop any more damage to my spine, but also to hopefully try to heal the damage done and one day become pain-free.

The first spinal surgeon I saw actually asked me “How I’d gotten myself to this point.” Then he proceeded to lecture me while I cried out of pain and shame. He basically told me I had no one to blame for my bad back but myself, and more specifically my bad eating habits and lack of exercise.

I swore that I would never see a doctor about my back again. Then in April of this year fate had other plans.

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