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September 21, 2010 / Katie

“Wow, you really are healthy!”

You may remember Mark, the massage therapist I wrote about here who is working miracles on my lower back pain.  I’ve been seeing him roughly weekly and things are getting SO much better.  Not perfect yet, but it is such sweet relief.  Anyway, I wanted to share an experience I had with him at a recent appointment.

It was the first day of school, and I had an 8:00am appointment.  I was joking with him about that being “too early” because I am usually getting out of bed around 8:00 (I never have clients who want to have appointments earlier than about 10).  But, I continued, it would be okay because I was headed to my Seattle office, which is at a church where the pastor has a free latte stand for the community in the mornings so I could get a latte.  The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Him: I’ve never liked coffee myself, though

Me: actually I don’t much either.  I don’t like black coffee at all, and the caffeine really affects me so I hardly ever drink espresso drinks and when I do they’re decaf

Him: I know my daughter’s teachers are always saying they can’t get their day started without a latte

Me: Yeah, I am glad that I’m not dependent on caffeine!  I mean, occasionally I’ll feel like I want a kick, but then I’ll just have black or green tea

Him: Wow, you really are healthy!  I don’t like tea either.

I was a bit stunned, because apart from psychotherapists, I have never had my choices called “healthy” by anyone in health care.

I’ve had health care providers of all stripes, from massage therapists to general doctors to specialists criticize the behaviors they assumed I was engaging in and disbelieve me when I told them about my eating/moving habits.  I’ve had them smile and say condescendingly, “that’s good!  Why don’t you just try adding one more day a week to your gym routine?”

Never has anyone in this field responded to my choices of what to put in my body or what to do with my body by calling me, or those choices, “healthy.”  It was so … encouraging.  So joyful.  I felt so affirmed and respected.

I don’t want to get into healthism here, because I am certainly the first to say that I believe we have no moral obligation to be healthy.  But it’s nice that when I do try to make choices that are healthy for my body and soul, that someone providing health care for me would acknowledge that.  It was a breath of fresh air.

And that’s not even the only thing I want to share here about our work together, but I’ll save the other piece for another entry.  I’m all about the short-medium posts lately.

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9 Comments

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  1. Living 400lbs / Sep 21 2010 10:23 pm

    About 5 years ago I walked into the Overlake Hospital ER because I was having chest pain. After a scary half hour or so the test results started coming in and I was being told, repeatedly, that I was “in perfect health”.

    I didn’t quite believe them at first, but after about an hour “We’re not sure what’s causing the chest pain, but you’re in perfect health and you don’t have signs of [cardiac speak here]” it began to sink in that they really thought I was in fine health. Wow.

  2. sannanina / Sep 22 2010 12:38 am

    I remember the relief I felt when my therapist told me a few years ago that in her opinion I was eating too little. No doctor, therapist or any other kind of health professional had ever considered that I might be eating too little, and whenever I discussed my particular brand of disordered eating with any of them they never believed the restriction part. It was incredible to finally meet someone who acknowledged all sides of the problem. The same therapist also made me promise some time later that I would not exercise more than an hour a day. I never really did over exercise; still, having someone acknowledge that I, a fat woman, might be in danger of exercising too much was an eye-opening and in a way a validating experience. Of course this is not quite comparable to what you were saying since your story is about someone believing that a fat woman might actually engage in healthy habits and my story is about someone recognizing that a fat woman can engage in unhealthy behaviors that people only expect from thin women. Yet, I think both stories say something about the healing power of being seen as a whole person instead of a stereotype.

  3. Twistie / Sep 22 2010 2:37 pm

    Hey, can I have the caffeine you’re not using?

    But yes, it’s nice when a health care professional pays attention to actual behaviors/history, etc. rather than stereotype.

    I know the last time I saw a new doctor, I was on my guard for the first sign that she was going to treat my fat ass rather than the lingering cough I came in about. What a pleasant surprise when she actually read the medical history form she had me fill out! She checked my vitals, double checked my blood pressure when I said that no, I didn’t usually read high (turned out to be a touch of white coat hypertension), asked me a couple questions about my mental health when she noted that I had two brothers on anti-depressants (depression runs strongly on my mother’s side of the family), and let me know that she’d recently had a lot of patients whose coughs seemed to be hanging on a bit long. She prescribed some slightly stronger cough medicine than I could get over the counter and told me to call again if things hadn’t started seriously clearing up in a week.

    Her questionnaire included things about dietary and exercise habits, and she clearly read them. She never told me that I must be lying about the fresh fruits and vegetables I said I was eating or that I couldn’t possibly be walking as much as I said.

    I came out of that experience feeling pretty darn good, despite the cough.

    And yes, sannanina, I do think your situation is linked. It’s about being heard as an individual rather than being treated according to assumption of how a large body of people (pun only partially intended) might ‘be expected’ to act.

  4. tolonda / Sep 22 2010 5:27 pm

    i was gobsmacked recently when someone who described me as athletic. i had changed into work clothes after a morning trapeze class and one of my classmates, who looked sterotypically athletic, said ‘look at you! from athelete to office woman!’ i was like, what? ath–you mean me? a few days later i was admiring a bruise on the back of my leg–every time you learn a new skill in trapeze, it wakes up a different part of your body–and thought, i guess there is something of an athelete’s mindset in admiring a bruise. i had to laugh. i never thought i’d hear anyone describe me as ‘athletic,’ even when i was a WW-inspired gym rat.

  5. missmolly / Sep 23 2010 3:12 pm

    Oh my God — HEALTHISM?? Are you crazy? Health is an ISM now? Like race-ISM and sex-ISM and other not so good ISMs? I am all for loving yourself and accepting who you are (unless you eat babies or something — maybe baby-eating-ism?) but jeez. Some things are better than others. Being healthy is better than being sick. I think anyone who is sick will be the first to tell you that. Let’s not equate being healthy with something bad just because people are nosy or inappropriate or judgmental about it. Healthy is still a GOOD THING.

    • Katie / Sep 23 2010 4:30 pm

      Molly, first I want to welcome you to my blog. I believe this is the first time you have posted and I am happy to have you here.

      Second, let me emphasize that I do not tolerate being spoken to like this: Oh my God — HEALTHISM?? Are you crazy?

      Third, not all isms are exactly comparable, and healthism is certainly not comparable to sexism or racism. Healthism involves coersion—whether through government programs or social pressure—to conform to particular norms that are associated with “health” and which may or may not actually be healthy (e.g. social pressure for women to eat very small lunches at work so as to appear to be being “healthy”).

      Fourth, “sick” is not the only antithesis to healthy. Some people are unable to engage in certainly healthy behaviors like cooking meals from whole foods or spending hours at the gym each week because they don’t have the economic, social, mental, or time resources to engage in such things. Healthism is an attitude that holds physical health as an ideal above other values such a social health or mental health. It also may involve ideas about how we have brought ill health upon ourselves.

      Fifth, I am not following you at the end of your comment; it sounds as if you are assuming that the existence of healthism would mean that we are saying that health isn’t good, but yet that doesn’t follow at all. While health is, of course, a good thing in general, each person must balance physical health with other needs and values. A healthist attitude would say that those who are healthy are morally superior to those who aren’t; that those who make healthy choices are morally superior to those who don’t.

      Sixth, everything I just told you you could have easily found out with a google search and spending 10 minutes looking over the results. Please do that next time because I probably won’t be this patient if I get another comment like this from you again.

    • wriggles / Sep 28 2010 8:24 am

      missmolly,

      Healthism is not an -ism like racism or sexism, it’s an -ism like scientism, or socialism etc., that is it’s a body of thought.

      Your mistake is understandable given your view;

      I am all for loving yourself and accepting who you are (unless you eat babies or something — maybe baby-eating-ism?) but jeez

      But jeez, indeed. Better luck finding evidence to back up your predetermined view; next time.

  6. Layla / Oct 6 2010 7:34 am

    I’m late to the discussion here, but sometimes I wonder if doctors assume all their patients lie, especially fat patients, because there IS this culture of healthism, and that if you don’t appear to be a fatty who’s “at least trying” you’re a horrible horrible lost cause. I know I personally have borne witness to quite a few “healthy diet” conversations where I’ve been quite certain that some partaking in the conversation (family members I live with) were tweaking their stories a smidge in order to get a sort of “leg up”, like it’s some kind of competition. It was something that always annoyed me, even before I came to FA because it struck me as somewhat disordered.

    I get the feeling that in some cases, doctors who find themselves trapped in these kind of conversations may feel the push to “amp up” their tallied number of “healthy things” done that day in order to be a valid contender in the conversation. Which, if that’s the case, is it any wonder they assume everyone else, ESPECIALLY fatties lies? Sometimes people expect from others what they’d expect from themselves.

    Of course, that’s overlooking the glaringly obvious solution; if we didn’t have such an emphasis on healthism in our culture in the first place, people wouldn’t feel the push to fib a bit in the f-ed up “competition” conversations.

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