Wellness Wednesday – Fat, Thin, Female

I had a conversation with my sister this weekend that was similar to many I’ve had before. This particular sister is two years younger than me. In some ways, we’re extremely similar in our health. We both suffer from PCOS, insulin resistance, chronic insomnia, and other particular health conditions. To look at us, though, we’re completely different. Everything from our body shape to bone structure to our coloring is different:

(2012 – I was only 20 lbs overweight here)

Physically, we take after different sides of the family. Internally, we have remarkably similar hormonal structures that cause the same problems in both of us. We also share another thing in common: a difficulty in getting doctors to listen to us.

Me: doctors assume that because I’m obese, I’m unhealthy, or too lazy to “solve” my medical problems. Insomnia is put down to obesity, never mind that it began when I weighed far less than I do now and continued all during the time I was at a healthy weight. It must be a breathing disorder, they say, if you’d only lose weight… Insulin resistance would be “cured” if I just lost weight, and never mind that my glucose and A1C are normal, and that PCOS pretty much guarantees that I’ll always be insulin-sensitive. Etc.

My sister: In a nutshell, what my sister gets told by doctor and specialist alike: “Well, you’re thin and healthy, so there’s no reason you should have any problems, and that means there’s nothing we can do.” So she continues to struggle and feel awful, and no one will take her health problems seriously at all.

So yes, doctors don’t really see us. Too fat to be taken seriously, too thin to have real problems. Or really, what it boils down to is this: we’re female, and so our problems aren’t valid. Does that sound cynical or bitter? Unfortunately, it’s also true. I’ve been lucky enough to find a couple doctors who do listen, and it makes my blood boil to hear the way my sister has been treated over the last two years by doctor after doctor. It frustrates me to no end when a doctor pretends to listen to either of us and then dismisses everything we say. And it’s not just us. Every woman I know has a similar story of one doctor or another. Most of us eventually just take our health into our own hands. Case in point: After over a decade of doctors trying to figure out why I was getting sick every three weeks and not responding to medication, I began doing all the math and data-collection, and I figured out the answer myself. And this has been the case for every diagnosis that I’ve ever received. I have to gather all the data, present it to my doctors point by point, and let them come to the same conclusion that I’ve already figured out.

This is not okay. Yes, I’m ranting here, but I’ve watched for too many years as women are belittled, ridiculed, and legislated publicly, and I’m just so sick of this being the norm. It’s time for this nonsense to end.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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9 Responses to Wellness Wednesday – Fat, Thin, Female

  1. Alexx's Keto Avenue says:

    This is powerful stuff and as a man, I don’t think I even thought about it like this. I too am obese more so than you but I find it ridiculous that you have to go thru this time of treatment just because you are a woman! I’m curious did you have the same experience with female doctors as well? I can’t even imagine how upsetting this must be for you as well as others. I think you have shown over and over how strong and determined you are despite this nonsense and that’s commendable. What in your opinion needs to be done?


    • Amanda says:

      First off, let me just say THANK YOU FOR LISTENING because so many people wouldn’t. This sort of stuff is often written off as paranoia, but it’s really a system-wide problem that has deep roots in how women are generally viewed in our culture. I mean, you’ve heard the thing about the word hysteria, perhaps? The word literally comes from “wandering uterus” and it used to be applied to women to explain away any behavior that stemmed from what they considered volatile hormones. Our culture isn’t QUITE so bad anymore, but there’s a lot that is still very stuck like that. It’s both male and female doctors unfortunately. Back in April when I went to urgent care for bronchitis, I had this older lady doctor who looked like she’d never struggled with weight in her life, and she kept trying to convince me that I should get looked at for a heart attack instead of bronchitis, kept pointing out that my weight called for that kind of diagnosis. UGH.

      But as for what needs to be done, I think there’s lots that could easily improve in the medical industry even if culture is slow to change. Medical trials for instance. Did you know that most new medicines are tested only on men? All those side effects listed and how the drugs are supposed to work – that’s just how they work on men. So when women come in with the drugs not working the same way or with unheard-of side effects, doctors just think we’re paranoid. This started to come to public light in the 90s (as far as I’m aware) and there’s been more effort to change it, but it’s still almost all medical trials for men unless the medicine is specifically aimed at women. Same goes with weight loss – most of those traditional methods (like calories in vs calories out) are based on male physiology. So instead of figuring out what works for women, they just give women a calorie threshold that is terrible (1200 calories!!) and will cause longterm damage to their metabolisms. Or how most weight-lifting advice for women is to do a lot more reps with very low weights – absolutely BS. Etc. There is so much to fix that it’s hard to know where to start.

      I’m personally lucky that my primary care doctor is great. He’s an Indian man in his 50s or 60s, and he takes me seriously, listens to my opinions, listens to my symptoms, and does a lot of proactive work to rule out anything that might be causing problems. Thankfully he also has a lot of doctors in his practice that are similar. When I went to a neurologist last fall and he told me that my insomnia was lack of willpower and my cousin’s epilepsy wasn’t really epilepsy (basically, he thought I was stupid and lazy because I was fat – a too common thing in our culture!), my regular doctor got me in for a second opinion with his (much better) neurologist. The problem is when you have to go outside that area for specialists. Then you have to search high and low. And insurance doesn’t like you getting multiple opinions. It took me a decade to find my current doctor, to find someone who took me seriously. And that’s just ridiculous.

      There’s a lot you can read about this. Some of it just stems from ignorance of female hormone profiles and physiology in the medical industry, just from lack of evidence and trials and whatnot. And some is just the same systemic cultural treatment of women as “lesser” the same way Muslims and people of color and other groups get treated as “lesser.” And it’s hard to see what can be done from a tiny one-person place in the world, you know?

      Sorry for the long rant/response. Thanks again for listening Alexx!


      • Alexx's Keto Avenue says:

        Thank you for explaining the truth is the truth and until you broke it down for me I have to admit I had never heard it like this. Thank you for sharing and I do hope that these things do get better but until then we can all keep putting the demand on getting real data for male and female to understand the different effects. As far as that older lady doctor I always find it crazy how much they blame everything on the patient. Even if they give bad medical advise it’s still oh u didn’t follow this or didn’t do that. I’m telling you I think because there is so much information that we can access ourselves we are better educated to take care of ourselves if it’s possible than spending money to get blamed. It’s not right you and millions of people have had to deal with this nonsense and I pray that we all get a better understanding in the future so thank you for taking the time to explain it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Amanda says:

        Thank you again for listening Alexx 🙂


  2. Michelle says:

    Preach it, sister! Seriously, preach! We laugh about the hysteria diagnosis from back in the day, but I really do not think we have come much farther than that in recent decades. Too many women have problems that most doctors tend to dismiss for one reason for another. And yes, it is women doctors too. Like when my current doctor mentioned she wanted to wean me off of my anti-depressants at some time in the future during the same visit in which I described the last time I switched medications and had to wean off of one to start the other. She did not even pay attention to what I had to say. I am so frustrated with our health care system. Just the fact that my family has to think about every time we go to the doctor in case it turns out to be something serious. Can we afford it? Is it covered? Does it require going outside the system? And we are firmly in the upper-middle class for income. So many problems and no real solutions…


    • Amanda says:

      Yeah our health care is an utter wreck, and it’s even worse for us. I just wish there were some solid steps we can take, and I’m thankful that after a decade of looking, I FINALLY found a good doctor here for me.


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