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Dear Virgie:

I experienced a shock today when I went to my routine psychiatrist appointment. Instead of waiting and going directly into my appointment, I was instructed to come in by a nurse who wanted to check my vitals. I was surprised as this had never been the case. When I looked confused, the nurse said that it was a new policy. So, before my *mental health* appointment, they checked my blood pressure and of course checked my height and weight. The nurse also said everything out loud, so I had to hear my weight said out loud. Now I have been triggered back into diet culture to the point where I bought Lean Cuisine meals. How do I get out of this?!


Dear Blindsided,

Ugh. This experience sounds really awful. Your story reminds me of being in high school. Once a year, every single person who took gym during my period had to line up and get weighed, and my gym teacher (who was also one of the football coaches) would yell out everyone’s weight so that his teacher’s assistant could document it. It was one of the most nerve-racking days of the year, and I remember how the terror felt as the line diminished and we got closer and closer to my name being called out.

Here are some thoughts and recommendations:

1. You have rights as a patient.

I know that this one isn’t helpful in retrospect, but know in the future that you have rights as a patient. Medical environments can be intimidating. We have culturally been taught to view doctors and other medical care providers as omniscient experts who know better than we do what we need — always. The truth is that medical care providers have bias, are prone to emotional and physical exhaustion and sometimes don’t know what’s best for you.

You have the right to refuse to be weighed, and you have the right to stop an appointment at any time (even if your doctor or nurse are acting as if you don’t). You have the right to say “no” to a doctor or any medical care provider for any reason. You have the right to ask for accommodation. For instance, I have anxiety about blood being drawn and I like to work with the nurse who specializes in scaredy cats (there always seems to be one). I always front-end that when I am making the appointment and right as the appointment is about to begin.

Related: 7 Tips for Dealing With Fatphobic Doctors — Especially When You’re in ED Recovery

I know it seems intimidating, but remember that self-advocacy gets easier with time and is important for not just you, but other patients. Often I feel especially women go into medical environments ready to sign away our lives in the name of not causing a stink. Cause a damn stink!

2. You don’t have to spiral downward.

It sounds like your experience at the doctor sent you into a negative spiral. I totally understand that and you are not to blame for it. I think what’s important to recognize is that your trauma and/or fear were activated and you are re-activating the pattern you’ve used when those particular traumas or fears have arisen in the past.

I often talk about creating that “space between.” In this case, it’s the space between what happened and your reaction. Right now it sounds like there is no space between, and I want to encourage you to allow yourself a few minutes to reflect on what’s happening and recognizing that you don’t have to get swept up in it.

3. Be compassionate and create less anxiety, not more.

When our fear is triggered, we often can’t think straight. Your experience at this appointment led you back to behaviors that you have likely discovered don’t actually work for you in any way. I imagine eating Lean Cuisine leads to feeling more anxiety about food and weight, when what you really need less anxiety and more compassion, a bit of stillness and some activities that de-escalate you.

I encourage you to take the time to do the following:

  • Recognize that what happened isn’t your fault.
  • Recognize that you feel hurt and scared, and that those things are negative. When someone is hurt they deserve compassion.
  • Take the time to feel, rather than compulsively acting on the first behavior that comes to mind. We act compulsively because we don’t want to feel certain things. Sit with those feelings rather than attempting to stop them at any cost. What can they teach you about what you actually need?

I hope this helps!




Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, Tech Insider, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.