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Overweight Experience Weight Bias From Doctors or Dietitians

weight bias

This article comes in the midst of the weight loss series on the blog. Have you experienced weight bias or have been made to feel badly about your weight from your doctor or dietitian? You are not alone.

Weight Bias and Prejudices from Doctors and Dietitians

During the early days writing this blog I was contacted by a young woman who I will call “Anne.”

Mary, you have to help me. Please! I need to lose some weight and I feel really bad about myself.

Anne and I started chatting and I was able to understand more of her story. She was very overweight and desperately wanted to lose a lot of pounds, not just for her self-esteem, but because her health was suffering. But she was lucky. She had a large support system, including her spouse and several close friends, and she had a good job in a large company. Her company had a dietitian on staff to help employees with their health goals.

Anne sought out the dietitian at her work for help losing weight. But in Anne’s case, it went badly, even to the point that the dietitian at her job was making her feel awful and worthless about herself. Anne said this dietitian made her feel bad about her size because of her comments on ‘how big she was’ and ‘you must not be trying hard enough to lose weight.’ Anne said that the dietitian didn’t want to work with her anymore because she felt she wasn’t making enough progress.

This is called weight bias.

Are you more sensitive to weight comments from health professionals because you feel bigger?

I wasn’t with Anne during her interactions with the dietitian at her job and I am not exactly sure what the dietitian said that made Anne feel this way. But, this experience wasn’t positive. In what should have been a supporting environment (client-dietitian) to lose weight, it resulted in the client (Anne) feeling even worse about herself then when she started.

Perhaps when you are a bigger person your self-perception is more sensitive to comments and looks, when in reality the health professional is offering (what they feel) is the right advice and medical care to lose weight. 

However, if a client feels badly from a negative interaction with their doctor or dietitian about their weight, this does not help the client to lose weight. Au contraire.

Weight bias and prejudices are common

During our conversations, Anne also opened up to me about her experiences with her doctors. She said that she and her friends avoid going to doctors because some of them make you feel so horrible about being a bigger person.

“do they not think that fat people may be depressed enough? I know I need to lose weight and all but don’t make me feel like a worthless person because of my size.”

Anne is not the only one to feel this way. Studies have shown that almost 70% of overweight and obese people have experienced weight bias by doctors and up to 81% of dietetic students have prejudices against the same group. (1,2)

Do health professionals like dietitians need additional training to avoid weight bias?

After knowing Anne and her weight bias experiences, I really thought about my own actions when counseling clients on weight. Do I have weight bias with certain clients? (I sincerely hope not). Do I make comments that could make a client feel badly about themselves? (I really hope not too!)

As far as the education and training I completed to be a registered dietitian, I didn’t have any training on avoiding bias with our clients and patients. The fact that 81% of dietetic students have prejudices against weight, this large number shows that dietitians need to take some action either on a personal level or thru additional training. And not just against weight bias, but against other biases.

Ideally, we need to treat each patient and client with equal respect, care and the same health support that we try to give to each person we consult with.

Anne is not alone

Are you reading this and understand what Anne experienced? I am sure she is not alone. If your doctor or dietitian (or any other health professional) makes you feel badly about your weight, enough that you feel like Anne, speak up, or change your doctor or dietitian. Sometimes health professionawe need to be reminded about our own behavior.

And if you are health professional reading this, I hope Anne’s story can help remember that our comments, even if we think they help our clients and patients, can actually hurt their progress. Because when that client leaves our office, they won’t remember the suggestions on how to successfully lose weight, but they will remember how they feel about being overweight.

Have any of you experienced discrimination or untactful words at a health professional’s office? What was your reaction? Would love to hear your story.

And if you reached the end and want to read more articles like this, why not subscribe to BrightonYourHealth monthly newsletter and article updates. By subscribing, you can receive your free 13 page E-report on “How to Eat Like the French Without A Food Snob Attitude.”

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Take care of yourself,


(1) Rudd Report, Yale University, 2008

(2) Journal of the American Dietetic Association, March 2009, Volume 109/Number 3 p. 438

This article is part of the series on “Weight Loss Methods Learned By the French and Italians.” Click on the link if you want to read the first part and the other articles on weight loss and weight control.

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2 Responses to Overweight Experience Weight Bias From Doctors or Dietitians

  1. Lety May 27, 2014 at 13:01 #

    Mary, dear Mary!
    You’re right! But… Right tomorrow afternoon I’ll tell a client (a client for free, daughter of a friend of mine, asking me a diet to lose weight) that a pause will be necessary, since she doesn’t follow the diet I gave her. I’ll advice her a stop period because, in spite of her words (I’m following your diet, it’s not easy, but I’m doing…) she didn’t follow the new eating style I adviced her. My third attempt with her. But, firstly Christmas holidays were ill-omened, then there was Carnival period, finally there was Easter occurrance… I felt frustrated because I was kind, polite, I tried to perform counseling, I studied for her a friendly and effective diet (the first month was a honey-moon. But from the second one, she gave up because of Christmas holidays, not because of normal physiological metabolic adjustment). So, three weeks ago, after a weight loss of just 1 kg (with the third diet), I ask her to ask her medical doctor some blood and urine analysis prescription, because I had some doubst about her compliance and… The analysis told me the truth! Please, forgive me for this outburst… Surely it is not the same life experience of your client. But, in spite of studying diets for free for my friend’s daughter, I did studied!! I used time… I feel as I wasted time… Yet, I’d like to reassure you: I’ll be kind with her and after a stop period, I’ll study for her another diet :).

    Thank you, Mary!

    • mbrighton June 1, 2014 at 23:17 #

      Le* You are so nice. Some people just cannot follow diets or a regular healthy eating plan. I can see how dedicated you are to the profession (and kind hearted) to keep going with her. If this next diet doesn’t work (after a pause), it is time for her and you to move on. Good luck! ( and thanks for your inputs which are always very valuable).

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