How to advocate for weight-neutral care at the doctors

Being stigmatised and shamed at the doctors has become the norm for so many people. Being told to lose weight when you’re wanting treatment for tonsillitis or a broken toe are just some of the outrageous examples of weight stigma in healthcare, despite weight stigma being an independent risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, regardless of body weight.

Although people shouldn’t have to self-advocate to receive compassionate care it is often necessary in our environment and society to do so. Here are some pieces of advice I have gleaned from my clients to help advocate for themselves at doctors appointments.

Before the Appointment

  • If you are able to, choose a practitioner who aligns with the non-diet approach. Check out the HAES directory here for weight-neutral doctors, acupuncturists, dieticians, nutritionists, counsellors, therapists etc.
  • You can write your practitioner a letter before the appointment so they understand your stance before you see them. You can explain your views on nutrition and weight and how you would like it addressed in your appointments.
  • Create an agenda of topics or questions you have for the practitioner. Lead the appointment – this will help you stay on track when the practitioner tries to lead the conversation to weight loss.

During the Appointment

  • You can introduce your stance and alliance to the non-diet approach when you first arrive. Be clear and concise to explain that you’re not hear to discuss weight loss and instead would like to discuss X, Y and Z.
  • During the appointment you may want to use these helpful phrases:
    • Do those in smaller bodies have this health problem? What do you recommend for them?
    • The research I’ve seen shows that the vast majority of people who attempt weight loss fail, and many actually gain weight long term. Feel free to quote studies you’ve researched.
    • In our limited time together I’d like to focus on [insert health condition here].
    • I am currently focusing on improving my health through sustainable habits.
  • Remember you can refuse to be weighed. There are times when being weighed may be necessary (such as for medication dosage purposes) but you can ask to face the other way on the scales and not to be told the number.
  • Ask your clinician to record details of those instances when they refuse to offer or discuss treatment. This one can be challenging but is important for anti-oppressive advocacy.

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