Monday, June 27, 2011

Female Obesity

My grandmother subscribes me to Prevention magazine. Its a shrunk-down (meaning 1/2 as big as a regular magazine) monthly focusing on health and wellness, usually featuring a celebrity who has lost weight or defeated illness and become healthy. There is lots of information on the latest medical research and breaking down foods to show what is really in them and face wrinkle-cream reviews and basically if it has anything to do with a woman, in or out, it covers it. Right up my alley. So I am thumbing through the latest issue when a headline stops me cold. DOES YOUR DOCTOR MAKE YOU FEEL FAT?* grazes across my eyeballs and I stop scanning and start reading. And I will be darned if I didn't learn something that I have suspected for years, but never been able to confirm. The scales are not tipped in our favor, ladies. In fact, they are decidedly against us. Check this out:
  1. More than half of physicians admit they think less of their overweight patients. Ouch.
  2. A 2007 Yale University study found physicians feel a bias toward a woman that weighs 13 lbs. or more over her Body Mass Index (BMI) regulated weight. That could be her boobs, you know.
  3. In a 2003 University of Pennsylvania study more than half the primary-care doctors view their obese patients as awkward, unattractive, ugly and noncompliant. More than 1/3rd of those regard obese (there is that word again) patients as weak-willed, sloppy and lazy. That goes straight to a quadruple ouch.
  4. The BMI scale: (18.5-24.9 normal) (25-29.5 overweight) (30+ obese). The scale is the same for both men and women. But the bias does not kick in for men until 35, approximately 75 lbs. overweight, states the director of Research and Weight Initiatives at the Rudd Center. Women are supposed to have a higher fat ratio than men, as our bodies were created to sustain pregnancy and breast-feeding and fat reserves are available to guarantee survival of the fetus. But clearly not according to the U.S. government.
And the one that stopped me ice cold in my tracks. A doctor that actually got it. "One of the key factors underlying this stereotyping is the notion that nobody would be obese if they were eating healthy and exercising. But for every obese person I see who doesn't exercise 2 hours a day or who's drinking gallons of soda pop, I'll treat 10 thin people doing exactly the same thing." Thank you, Dr. Sharma! Now none of this had to do with Fibromyalgia, yet these are things many of us have had to deal with. Incident after incident referenced in this article kept coming back home that doctors may blame obesity for any and every other health problem. Sprained ankles, asthma, even a simple annual pelvic exam a doctor was unable to complete because of the patient's "obesity". Yes, it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Most of us know the health benefits and concerns if we don't. But what is this ideal of "healthy weight" we are held up to? Well, if you are a woman 5'6" in height and weigh 1 pound over 150 lbs., you are obese. 

I remember my first "obese" experience. I was 23 and had just survived my first pancreas attack. Of course it was not diagnosed properly and they took my appendix. I came home and as I read through my medical records of the hospitalization and surgery I discovered I was described as "a pleasant obese white woman in her early-twenties". What? Obese? That word loomed dangerously in front of me, taunting me. Flush raced up my neck and flooded my face as the shame and embarrassment shock-waved through my body. I may have been plump but don't think I was even over a size 12! And it made me feel so incredibly bad about myself. It crushed me, actually. And I recall my last "obese" experience. After a year of stable weight my doctor upped Lyrica to 450mg to get me off narcotics. I gained 10 lbs. every 2 months and got bigger than I ever had in my life (I did get off those narcotics, though). I begged to be taken off Lyrica and put back on Neurontin, for I was terrified of another pancreas attack triggered by the weight gain. And you know what he did? He told me I was NEVER going to get off Lyrica. EVER. Then he referred me to a bariatric surgeon! Well that will tell you the difference between me at 23 and 33, because I told him to shove it, fired him and have found a new doctor that respects me and treats my variety of ailments with dignity. And although concerned, has never "blamed" me for that 40 lbs. I gained on Prednisone I am working so hard to get rid of.

Thanks for joining,

*Prevention July 2011 pp. 26-33. Rodale Inc. Emmaus, PA 18098


  1. I keep getting told to just exercise and eat right, meanwhile you can see that my feet are swollen and severely bruised couple that with severe fatigue exercise is difficult although I make the effort to walk every night for at least 10 minutes. I was never overweight in my entire life until fibromyalgia happened.

    I've become so depressed and my mother-in-law shoves it in my face everyday about how pretty I use to be and why can't I get to 130lbs again (currently 205, gained all that weight in 8 months)

    My doctor sent me to a nutritionist which didn't help because I was already doing everything they would suggest. I'm currently barely eating just try to lose weight cause I can't exercise much. I'm not getting support from anywhere.

    I am thankful though I do have friends and hubby that loves me for me but as far as doctors go they blame my weight for the fibromyalgia increased pain symptoms and placed me on another weight gainer cymblata.

    I feel so sorry for people with fibromyalgia that have to go through what I'm going through it's a viscous cycle and I'm hoping that there are good doctors out there that just care enough about the human and not the appearance.

    I could go on about how doctor's dismiss me with any complaints I have and blame fibromyalgia and tell me to go home and take a Tylenol but I'll save that for another day's rant.

    Thank you for having your website up here Leah.

  2. I had an endocrinologist tell me that I probably wouldnt be able to have another child now because I am so fat. I gained all of my weight BEFORE getting pregnant, it was from a horomone drug for endometriosis... yet that doesnt matter to many doctors. He then gave me a card and told me I wont be able to lose the weight on my own and get bariatric surgery. Ive had many misinformed doctors say if I was skinny my pain would simply disappear. Its amazing how they dont realize how much worse they make us feel by doing/saying these things when we are just eating bad things and not exercising, we have chronic pain. Thanks for posting that!