Fitness for Fat Nerds: Doctor, Doctor Give Me the News

There are several things you need to do before you get started on the whole exercise thing, my fellow fat nerds. Make sure you have good shoes (more on this later). If you’re of the female fat nerd persuasion, get some good sports bras. Invest in a tiny mp3 player if you like music. Things like that. But here’s one you probably haven’t thought about:

Get a new doctor.

Well, let me back off that blanket statement a little. Your doctor might be perfectly fine. Your doctor might be wonderful, one you’ve had for years and years, one that listens to you and works with you. If you’re lucky that way, good for you. Don’t just keep that doctor, declare it Awesome Doctor Appreciation Day and make him or her a pie.

But most of us? Need a new doctor. It’s a giant pain in the ass, depending upon your insurance company. Your options might be severely limited. But it’s worth it to explore those options.

Let me tell you a story.

Back in 2005, I was unemployed. My job hunt was becoming so desperate that I seriously considered joining the Army as a viable career path. That didn’t end up panning out, but one thing the Army recruiters did that I will owe them on for the rest of my life is they taught me how to run. So even when I gave up on the Army thing, I kept running.

Somewhere in there, I started developing these awful, sharp, shooting pains in my knees when I ran.

Now, I hate going to the doctor. I hate the feeling that I’m being a whiner, if nothing else. I’m much more of the suck it up, Cupcake school of pain management. So if I’m willing to actually make an appointment and go, that should tell you just how much pain I have to be in. Enough pain that mainlining Advil doesn’t cut it. Enough pain that I’m actually starting to worry about my bodily integrity.

So after months of increasing knee pain, I finally went to the doctor.

You know what the doctor told me? Your knees hurt because you’re fat. Lose 15 pounds and they won’t hurt so much.

Never mind that my knees hurt because I was exercising, and at that point I had already dropped 20 pounds. Never mind that the pain was so severe on some days that it was interfering with my ability to exercise and thus continue to lose weight. I just needed to lose more weight, and things would magically become better.

I kept going with running and kung fu and did my best to just ignore the increasing amounts of pain, because I told myself it was all a weight issue. The pain in my knees got bad enough that I started having problems with stairs. At that point, I considered going to the doctor again, but I knew that she’d just tell me I was still too fat. I didn’t see a point in coughing up a copay so my doctor could make me feel like shit about myself.

A few years after the original diagnosis of being too fat, my right knee locked up and I fell down the stairs. My significant other convinced me to try going to the doctor again.

Due to the strange vagaries of being in an HMO, I ended up seeing a different doctor.

She listened to me explain my knee pain, about how much exercise I was getting per week. She actually believed that I was that physically active, in spite of my weight. She messed with my knees a bit and then told me that “A lot of female athletes have this type of knee pain…” Yes. She used the word athlete. And then she referred me to a physical therapist.

It took the physical therapist all of five minutes to diagnose my problem (I have an old injury in my right hip that screws up my leg alignment, plus arches that collapse), tell me to get special insoles for all my shoes, and give me a set of exercises to do.

So that was great. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. I had to take two years off of both running and kung fu while I let the physical therapy do its work. My knees are better now, but they will never be good.

And a lot of that is because I had a doctor who didn’t want to look further than my weight.

There are a lot of doctors out there like that. And that’s a problem. I avoided going to my former doctor a lot of times when I shouldn’t have because I didn’t want to get a lecture about how I needed to lose weight. I knew that I was overweight, and I was trying to do something about it. When I did have a problem severe enough to make me go, it was blamed on my weight if there was even a tenuous connection that could be made.

If you’re serious about physical activity, if you find a way to exercise that you enjoy and do a lot, you are going to end up needing to see a doctor. You’ll screw up your ankle, or mess up your knee, or pull a muscle. It’s going to happen. Life in general is hard on our bodies, and if we live it large and have fun, injury is almost inevitable. And that should be fine.

You need a doctor that you can trust to actually listen to you when there is a problem, someone who will help you fix the problem instead of just telling you to lose weight and call it a day.

Hell, even if you’re not going to turn into a fitness fiend, you deserve a doctor that will listen to you. This is not to say that we are completely divorced from our weight. There are some health problems we fat nerds can end up with that are related to our level of fat. But our health is also so much more than just our weight.

And so are we.

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