Weight: 238.6 pounds
Lost in Two Weeks: 8.4 pounds
Total Weight Lost: 14.4 pounds
Here’s a brief timeline of my experience with doctors:
Age 17, 180ish pounds
Amber: I’m really tired all the time.
Doctor: Neat. I can’t do anything about that, but how about you lose 30 pounds?
Age 18, 180ish pounds
A: I’m having my period twice a month.
D: It’s probably stress. I can’t give you anything for that. You should probably lose some weight.
Age 22, 190ish pounds
A: I have a cold.
D: Ever thought about losing weight?
Age 25, 220ish pounds
A: I’m feeling sick a lot and can’t lose weight.
D: You need to cut out gluten. And also lose weight.
Age 25, 190ish pounds
A: I don’t sleep well and I feel dizzy a lot.
D: Hmm, you should eat more fiber and lose 10 pounds.
Age 25 and 1 month, 180ish pounds
A: I lost 11 pounds. I still feel bad.
D: Isn’t that something. Lose… weight?
Age 31, 230ish pounds
A: My stomach has been hurting for two months.
D: Are you sure?
A: No, I just love coming to the doctor.
D: Cool, well I did a cursory check and you seem fine. There’s nothing I can do. Lose some weight.
See a pattern? Now, I’m not saying these doctors were wrong, exactly. I did need to lose weight. But oddly enough, when I weighed less, the doctors were much more adamant that I lose weight than they are now. When I was actually becoming straight-up obese, it was more of an afterthought. They couldn’t ignore my complaints and just say “there’s nothing wrong with you,” so they added a quick “lose weight.”
One visit really took the cake.
A few years ago, after I clocked in at 275, it was clear that my weight was a major issue, and I needed to lose some pounds. So I started counting calories and kept to 1,500-1,800 a day (usually much closer to 1,500). Though counting calories drove me to an obsessive, unhappy state a few years before, I still did it, and I was doing OK this time around. In about six weeks time, I’d lost 10 pounds.
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Then I went to a new doctor for an ordinary check up. I told her about my weight gain, getting diagnosed with depression, and my desire to be smaller. As I described my current diet, she interrupted, saying, “You should eat 1,200 calories a day.”
“But I’m already eating about 1,500,” I said.
“Well, you should really keep it to 1,200,” the doctor said.
She knew I had body issues—but why should she bother concerning herself with my history when she could just shout out “1,200” and move on to the next, hopefully more lucrative appointment?
After this, we went into the examination room, and as I lifted up my shirt for the lungs check, the doctor visibly recoiled from my fresh stretch marks.
“What are those?”
“I think they’re just stretch marks. You know, from gaining a bunch of weight,” I said. “The very emotional and physical problem I just told you about.” Sadly, I didn’t actually say the last part, but my glare did.
“Oh, well I hope they’re just stretch marks,” she said dismissively as she pulled out her stethoscope. Sure, this was an overweight doctor in her mid 60s, but apparently, my stretch marks were a bridge too far.
The rotten cherry on top of this crappy sundae were her parting words: “You know, I feel sorry for Harvey Weinstein. Now that all these women are saying things, I really feel bad for him.”
Yes, this woman found a way to DEFEND HARVEY WEINSTEIN during my appointment. This was a month after the allegations broke, and it was crystal clear that Weinstein was a garbage monster.
Long story short, I don’t love doctors.
To be fair, I know that this dismissive behavior isn’t entirely doctors’ fault. They have way too many patients, very little time to spend with them, and they’ve probably been annoyed by a litany of hypochondriacs over the years. Still, I don’t appreciate hearing “you’re fine” when I’m not. Hell, tell me I’m insane and making up my pain, I’ll take it. But the “it’s nothing. On a side note, lose weight” doctor visit gets really old.
So, imagine how surprised I was when a doctor recently reached out to me and did something a medical professional had never done before—she listened.
After the first chapter of Slim Chance came out, I got a lot of lovely feedback. Between emails and DMs, I was shocked how many people read and were moved in some way by my story.
So, in the midst of this unexpected positivity, I got an email from Pamela Peeke, M.D. She wanted to have a call and give me some advice. In a very unlike-me move, I did not get to the email. I’m very good about responding to email, which has to be one of the lamest brags of all time, but in a world full of ghosting, I’m proud of my prompt replies. But I messed up, and a week and a half later, I got another email. Dr. Peeke wanted to make sure I got her message.
This time, I responded, scheduled a time, and lowered my expectations. I figured it would be cool to talk to a doctor for free since I was feeling like a trash pile. We’d probably be on the phone for 15 minutes, she’d tell me to eat more protein, “move more,” and give me an Instagram handle to put in my next article.
That Saturday, I spoke with Dr. Peeke—who said she loved my article and wanted to help. She could tell that my mind was in the right place to make changes, though she had a feeling that I might be making the same dietary mistakes that lead me astray in the past.
Then we were on the phone for two hours! Two! The doctor wanted to hear my whole history with weight, from all the diets I’ve tried to when I started hating my body.
We covered everything from my parents’ size to my negative self-talk. I cried. Multiple times. But she wanted to know and truly listened to me.
After about an hour of my weight story, Dr. Peeke gave advice. “I want you to stop counting calories,” she said. The mindset of being on a “diet” was never going to work long-term, so she suggested I quit counting and follow a couple of simple eating rules instead (which I’ll explore in depth next time).
The call wrapped up, and I was so grateful that someone had reached out in such a selfless way. Here’s the thing all doctors can learn from Dr. Peeke: Whether you’re talking about weight loss or depression, the story makes a difference. And when a doctor dismissively says, “Eat 1,200 calories” without knowing if you’ve had an eating disorder or great stress around food, that can be exceptionally damaging.
Besides, I’m an American woman above the age of 12—you can go ahead and assume that I don’t love my body, doctor. And when you tell a chubby-to-fat woman that she should lose weight and that the way to do this is “eat less, move more,” you’re not actually helping. Your patient already knows this.
You know how you really can help? Be like Dr. Peeke. By listening to my physical and mental struggles around weight, she was able to give advice that was different, actionable, and effective.
Most importantly, she stressed that changing my mentality and fixing my body hatred were just as important as losing pounds.
No doctor has ever said that to me before—and so far, it’s made a huge difference. In the two weeks since talking to Dr. Peeke, I lost 8.4 pounds! Now, I don’t expect this pace to keep up, but it’s pretty freaking great. Also of note: I’m not making myself crazy about my diet.
Before she hung up the phone, Dr. Peeke said one last thing: “Every day, I want you to email me your MMMs: mouth, muscle, and mind.” This was just a quick recap of how I felt around eating (mouth), what I did for activity (muscle), and my overall outlook (mind).
This daily reflection (not a food log or calorie count) has been a great way to see where my issues are—and give myself mini-congratulations for the good things along the way. If there’s anyone out there who would like to set up a similar system of accountability, please reach out. I can’t provide the same level of expertise, but I can listen. And trust me, it helps.
Because my mindset has improved, I’ve started walking every day. I’m reversing some of my negative self-talk, and I’m more impressed by the tiny, positive things in life, like these dark purple succulents that grow in my neighborhood.
It’s such a little, weird thing, but they look like spooky goth roses, and they light up the Wednesday Addams in my heart whenever I walk past.
Amber Petty is an L.A.-based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight-loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Take singing lessons from her via Sing a Different Tune and follow her on Instagram @Ambernpetty.