Shamed at the Doctor’s Office

Written by Hannah Martin

Have you ever had a client say they felt uncomfortable, embarrassed or even humiliated by another healthcare professional? Perhaps they’ve shared a story that elicits shame without even knowing they experienced shame.

Shame is a painful emotion that can lead your clients to feel inadequate about themselves as a person. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people to feel shame about their weight or size in health care settings. With research showing that body-related shame can lead to healthcare avoidance and delayed diagnoses, it is something that health professionals need to be aware of.

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You can learn more about weight neutral care at the WN4DC Symposium which is a 4-week, online CPEU Conference which provides 16 recorded programs including webinars and downloadable materials, taught by leading experts in the field of diabetes, nutrition, and eating disorders. The symposium will be held in July. Find out more at https://wn4dcsymposium.com/

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But what, specifically, are some examples of shaming experiences when individuals seek healthcare? This question was posted on the professional Facebook group WN4DC and here are just some of the comments of things to consider when it comes to shame experienced at the doctor’s office.

Not having any chairs in the waiting room that comfortably fit bigger bodies can be a shaming experience - and the healthcare appointment hasn’t even started yet! Some other examples of structurally shaming barriers that are not designed to fit bigger bodies include blood pressure cuffs and hospital gowns. These structural barriers are unwelcome reminders that healthcare environments are not often sensitive to creaming welcoming or even accommodating spaced for bigger bodies.

Another example of a shaming experience is going to the doctor’s office for one reason – infection, pain, you name it - and having the conversation turn to weight. This continual focus on weight can lead to a delayed or missed diagnosis. One study showed that ‘obese’ patients were 1.65 times more likely than others to have significant undiagnosed medical conditions (e.g., endocarditis, ischemic bowel disease or lung carcinoma).

The last example of a shaming experience is having assumptions made about you because of your weight or size. There is the belief that a higher weight equals unhealthy and therefore it is assumed that folks living in bigger bodies are not taking care of themselves, that they must be overeating and not doing any physical activity. You may have heard this before but it is worth repeating: it’s not possible to determine a person’s health status on the basis of their weight!

We live in a culture that is extremely weight biased, and unfortunately, healthcare professionals are not immune to these biases. However, as health professionals, we can learn to provide care in a way that is neutral and unthreatening.

If you have unresolved bias to the care you provide, learn more about weight-neutral care, join the WN4DC symposium, a virtual conference in July. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Some resources used while writing this post:

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Hannah Martin is a recent Master of Dietetics graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Since learning all things ‘intuitive eating’ while writing her thesis, she is on a mission to dismantle diet culture and spread the non-diet and Health at Every Size® word. You can connect with Hannah on Linkedin or at [email protected]