Weight loss: GP visits and their obsession with obesity, birth control

We all know that going for an annual doctor’s check-up is good for you, in the same way that we know brushing our teeth twice daily is good for us. But many women put off going to their GP because they feel like their weight and birth control choices are more of a priority than their overall health.

They are worried about being dismissed, gaslit and ignored. Basically, for some women going to the doctors is like returning to a s***ty ex-boyfriend.

Currently, I’ve been putting off going to my doctor because I’ve gained a bit of weight. I’m worried that if I go, my health concerns about other issues will be brushed off and blamed on my weight and I’ll leave feeling ashamed and anxious.

My feelings aren’t uncommon, research by Athenahealth found that female patients are more likely to feel their health concerns aren’t taken seriously by providers. Women not feeling heard ultimately means plenty of women stop seeking basic healthcare.

I posted a poll on my Instagram and asked women what stopped them from going to their GP. The two main themes were an obsession with birth control and being shamed because of their weight.

Interesting that women feel like the medical system defines them by their fertility and image when you consider that’s how women often feel defined by men – see my ex-boyfriend metaphor makes a lot of sense.

The bulk of the issues stemmed from not being listened too which is a hard relate from me. Doctors telling women to shed kilos without offering actual advice and assistance, or refusing to acknowledge that health issues could be unrelated to weight.

One woman in her 30s shared with me that during the pandemic, when she went to the doctors, she was severely shamed, “I had a doctor try to push weight loss surgery onto me. I had to say no four times.”

The result? She put off going back to the doctor. “I had also just been given a big diagnosis and the way she treated me meant I didn’t seek help after that for a long time. It also trigged my disordered eating.”

Similarly, another woman in her 30s shared that due to “weight shaming”, she put off going to the doctor for years even though she suffers from chronic asthma. The experience also led to her dealing with disordered eating.

Numerous women messaged me to share they’d felt weight shamed by their doctors. But what they struggled with was not being told to lose weight, but rather how doctors failed to listen to them. One woman shared that she got frustrated when a doctor insisted on weighing her before, “doing any other test.”

It isn’t just weight shaming that stops women from seeking medical help. A woman in her 20s shared with me that her doctors pressured her to stay on a form of birth control that has made her reluctant to trust doctors.

She said: “When I was like 19, I was looking for another contraception other than the pill because I get migraines, and they told me to try Implanon. I gave it a go, but I had my period non-stop. I went back after four weeks, and I got a lecture about how it takes a while to work and I must stick it out and not be so wishy-washy.”

Another woman in her 30s shared, “Whenever I go to the GP or the gyno about reproductive organ issues, their solution is always ‘you should have a baby, it could help with XYZ’.

“The last gyno I went to lost interest in removing polyps and fibroids as soon as I said I wanted them out for my comfort, not because I wanted to start a family. All that sort of disrespect to my life choices makes me just give up on trying to fix my insides.”

The recurring theme shared by the women about their experiences is that seeking medical help for women is often fraught. So many women are ignored or shamed instead of helped.

Women need to be heard and not just seen because currently women are struggling to be listened to in our medical system.

Mary Madigan is a freelance writer.

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