We Hurt

(The lived Experience of people who have experienced weight stigma)

Watch Alex's Story

"When I got to my MRI appointment, which ended up being a mobile unit in a car park, I’d signed the form, made sure I was under the weight limit and I’d googled the size of scanners to ease my own anxieties. I got onto the table and the lovely assistant attempted, in vain, to fit my leg into the cradle device. This was such an unnecessarily embarrassing and humiliating situation for me as it became clear that I simply didn't fit. As I burst into tears, the two members of staff in the unit consoled me, one telling me that her leg wouldn’t even fit and the other saying this situation happens multiple times a week. I don’t know how this is acceptable or an efficient use of resources in any way. It’s 2022, and the average UK female size is a 16-18. Access to health services should not be size limited."
On why medical equipment should fit people of all sizes

Treat the person not the number on the weighing scales

“It frustrates me so much that I just become a number on the scales and I absolutely hate going to the doctors now as it’s always brought up. Always. And their only solution is dieting.”

At the age of 16, I was experiencing a lot of issues around depression and anxiety and was referred to a doctor at my GP practice who I was told specialised in mental health issues. I met with the doctor and explained how I was feeling and was told that they would prescribe me citalopram as (and I can still remember the direct quote) "citalopram is a hunger suppressant so will also help with your weighloss, which you can most certainly afford". To this day I'm still unsure if the tablets were prescribed purely for the issues I was experiencing or because the doctor felt that by losing weight my 'issues' would disappear. What I am absolutely sure of is that I clung on to taking them tablets for years believing that they would help me to lose weight rather than addressing my mental health in a more productive way.
On why doctors need to stop assuming that weight loss will improve mental health

Treat all patients the same, irrespective of size and weight

“I just can’t help wondering what would have happened if she had just listened instead of blaming everything on my weight.”

I developed an eating disorder and begged the doctors for help. Instead they just continued to congratulate me that I was finally my "ideal BMI" and had succeeded in losing the weight they'd been insisting that I lose for years. I was suffering so much but they didn't help even when I asked for it. I have now developed a heart condition as a complication from my eating disorder. Had my doctors just helped me when I asked for it... had they just supported me rather than focusing on the number on a scale, I definitely wouldn't have gotten as bad as I did. And maybe I wouldn't have damaged my heart as a result.
On why health professionals need to get better at recognising and treating eating disorders

Weight stigma leads to medical avoidance and must be avoided at all costs

“I don’t bother [seeking medical advice] anymore. I know what they’re going to say so what’s the point?”

I struggled with very heavy periods after the birth of my baby. After a few months, I went to my GP. She told me I needed to try to lose at least 10 lbs and then we could see where we were with the bleeding. I was distraught. I have a history of eating disorders and also felt like I had somehow done this to myself. I lost the weight but it only got worse. Fast forward to over a year later, after further weight loss advice and medication I didn't want, I could feel something dangling from my cervix. I went to a different doctor and had to beg for an ultrasound. Fortunately they were benign, but I can’t help but think that my GP had only listened to me and didn't just use my weight as a diagnosis, I wouldn’t have been so scared and worried for so long. Every month I’m scared that it will come back and I’ll have to go through that all over again.
On why doctors need to stop using weight as a medical diagnosis

Never underestimate the power of shame and stigma

“I would rather die at home of COVID than face the shame of being admitted to hospital and treated by doctors and nurses that blamed me”

I’ve always been a stout, sturdy bloke. At 18 years old I started experiencing sciatic nerve pain after passing out and falling off a horse. At the time I was very active and playing sports at college, but my doctor told me that it was due to my BMI and recommended weight loss and some physical therapy. This went on for 6 more years and became more and more intense and impossible to work through, but I kept getting the same advice. One day I developed a really bad spell and couldn't tell if I needed the bathroom anymore. I was rushed into hospital and an MRI showed a herniated disc that was pressing on my spinal cord. I needed emergency surgery. It turned that 6 years earlier when I fell of the horse, I had fractured my spine at L4/L5. During those intervening years, which caused both the sciatic nerve pain and eventual spinal stenosis. Today, I am pain free but have been left with a long term disability. And it all could have been avoided if my doctors had just looked beyond my weight.
On why health professionals need to treat all their patients the same, irrespective of size

Long term weight loss is unsustainable for almost all people

“When they tell you to lose weight, do you really think you haven’t tried before? Do they really think this is the first time you’re hearing this?”

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. The doctor told me it was viral and didn't need treatment. He told me if I lost 20 lbs, it would go away. And he didn’t treat me. I got better but my cough never settled. Every time someone was concerned I would tell them that I just needed to lose weight and I’d be fine. Three years later a good friend insisted I go to an urgent care center. They didn’t even weigh me. They just wrote a script for antibiotics and steroids, and for the first time in years my cough disappeared completely. Unfortunately, my lungs are permanently damaged now and I’m on several inhaler. That doctor gave me serious psychological trauma AND permanently damaged my lungs.
On why doctors need to get better at recognising and treating eating disorders

Weight loss advice is a risk factor for eating disorders, especially in children and adolescents

“The first time I remember hating my body is when I was like 7 or 8 and my doctor told my parents that I needed to lose a few pounds”

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