On Doctors Listening, Losing Weight and Being Judged

Last year, I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid, and underwent a course of treatment. I now feel significantly better in myself, and in fact about two months in to the treatment, it dawned on me that I didn’t even realise how bad I had actually been feeling, until I began to feel better. My energy levels improved, my digestion improved, my sleep improved, and my mood really improved.

It turned out I was intolerant to two major food groups and had to make big adjustments to my daily eating to cut these foods out. Although the detox was difficult, once my body adjusted I had no desire to eat these foods again as even thinking about them made me feel ill. Personally, I found this whole experience difficult, but rewarding. Professionally however, it had a significant impact, for a variety of reasons:

1. *Doctors are not necessarily helpful, and generally do not take the time and effort to really listen to what you have to say, consider your feedback carefully, and diagnose correctly. They are more likely to hear a percentage of what you say, immediately categorise you into a group of patients with some similar symptoms, and offer you the generic treatment for that group. I am now, I believe, far more understanding of how disempowered and helpless my clients are made to feel by medical professionals, and we can do some good work in therapy on this experience, because of course it mirrors how my clients feel anyway – out of control, pulled and pushed by others and with no personal power. What I would say is, if you are unhappy with your health professional, go somewhere else and find someone you CAN work with. Someone who listens, and understands you and how you are feeling.

2. I work with clients all the time on change. Changing behaviours, changing perceptions, changing communication patterns, changing thoughts. What I learned from my own experience is that in order to facilitate change, there has to be a motivating factor. It’s not really enough for me to say “I guarantee you’ll feel so much better about yourself and your life if you ….”. That means nothing if there is no specific goal for the client to achieve. So to really motivate change in yourself, YOU have to find the goal, or goals, that give you enough motivation to try something different.

3. As part of this process, I lost a bit of weight. It was interesting (putting it mildly) to see my clients’ reaction to this. One or two were almost openly hostile towards me. Several asked me how I did it. I was even called a skinny bitch by one! As a professional, I felt able to deal with all this in the room, but personally I felt very judged, and not in a good way. I was not being praised or validated for being a good therapist, but simply for having lost weight. But then from a professional perspective, I understood that this is how my clients judge themselves. Not on their accomplishments, their own strengths, their ability to be a good friend/sister/daughter, their success in work, but simply on how fat or thin they are feeling on a given day. I feel sad when I think about that in the context of all the wonderful women (and several men) who sit in the chair opposite mine every day.

4. Lastly, back to change. Although clients need their own goals, my experience of not realising how bad I had been feeling, until I felt better, was a revelation. I understand that clients have no idea of how much better they will feel if they shake off the shackles of bingeing and vomiting, and instead learn to manage their feelings and emotions better. But I urge everyone reading this to think about this: You can stay in the bad place you are in, which is bad, but is safe. Or you can choose to experience a different type of bad feeling, the scariness of change, at the risk of coming out the other end to a very different, good place. In the words of the book title: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. (Susan Jeffers).

*I would like to thank Sinead Burns, Nutritional Therapist at our wellness centre, for being the superb alternative to the medical profession and providing me with the support I needed to make my own personal changes. Thanks Sinead!