I opened by saying I was scared of doctors. (I’m scared of many things; but doctors, large groups of women and clowns are the worst).They laughed. And I said, ‘no, I really am scared of GPs. Here’s why’.
I talked through some of my experiences. And the fears that go with you into the surgery.
- “I’m not thin enough. They won’t believe me.”
- “They won’t think it’s an Eating Disorder – they’ll just think I’m fat”
- “They won’t take me seriously.”
- “They’ll take this too seriously. They’ll tell people, lock me up, take away control “
- “The doctor is just going to make me gain/lose weight!”
- “They’ll take my kids/job/freedom away”
- “They’ll tell me to eat more but I don’t know how – and anyway, it’s much more than that”
- “I’m too old/young/wrong gender/wrong size to have an eating disorder.”
- “They’ll tell other people”
You don’t need to be a GP to get this. But for many folks, the doctor is the first person they go to for help, (sometimes after months or years of trying to get the courage). How this person responds is how they’ll gauge the size of the problem and how much they’re worth. Which means that doctors can be an amazing force for good – or they can do a lot of damage.
The National ED Association: offers training and resources for GPs. They say physicians, despite good intentions, sometimes make the following mistakes. :
- Setting or agreeing to an artificially low body weight
- Sharing their own concerns with food, weight, body image
- Expressing negative feelings regarding fat people
- Being over-concerned about the increase in obesity and therefore unable to identify harmful weight control
- Supporting restrictive dieting
- Not working collaboratively with other providers
- While attempting to support the patient or family, undermining treatment and reinforcing resistance.
Talking to the trainee doctors afterwards, I was struck by their compassion and concern. Here were people who simply wanted to help. They weren’t scary at all. In fact they had their own struggles and insecurities too.
Maybe that’s what both patients and doctors need to know most of all. Across the GP’s desk there sit two human beings – not institutions or labels, but individuals with their own stories and concerns. If we can get past the stereotypes and open up a little, there’s a wonderful opportunity for help and understanding. It works both ways.