Recently, the topic of whether a fat counselor or doctor is "valid" has been brought up in the comments of my last two posts, when I mentioned that my new "eating disorder" counselor is obese. Yes, it surprised me when I first met her and noticed her size. Why? What was I expecting? What would be "preferred"?
A thin woman who has never had an eating disorder and has never struggled with food issues?
A fat woman who eats what she wants and is happy with her weight?
An obese woman who has already lost 100 pounds, and has 100 left to go?
A thin woman who has suffered from anorexia and recovered?
A fat woman who is working through her own binge eating issues?
Would you rather have an ED counselor who has never had an eating disorder? Or one who has? And if you'd rather have one who *has* struggled, would you prefer for her to be still struggling with her ED or would you want someone who has been able to "overcome" it and has reached an outcome that you, yourself want to reach? Do you want someone who is modeling what you want to achieve?
I think when we talk to people, there are those we relate to on certain topics and some we don't. Sure, I have friends of all sizes, and each friendship is based on something we have in common: a shared interest, children who are the same age, kids in the same sport, working in the same field... something. But with a counselor, you're not looking for a friendship. You don't *need* a common bond to get something from the counseling. But for me, I *do* need to feel like my counselor can relate to my own struggles.
About 17 years ago, I started seeing a counselor because I was newly divorced and felt overwhelmed with all the changes. Parenting alone was a challenge, and so was providing for all of my family's physical and emotional needs. I felt such a weight on my shoulders as the sole provider for four young kids. The counselor I was assigned to within the clinic I chose was a women about 15 years older than I was. Great! Someone with a little more life experience who could guide me and help me through this. But during our first meeting, it was obvious she did not relate, at all, to the things I was sharing with her. She had no children, and had never been married. She worked and provided for herself alone. Yes, I'm sure there are single, childless people out there who can relate because they have, in some capacity, loved and provided for others (and I have child-free friends who are a great support to me). But this counselor seemed so detached from what I was saying. I needed someone who could understand the heartaches, difficulties, joys, and challenges of parenting young children... and she just could not. After two appointments I asked for a different counselor and that one, who had grown children, was much a much better match for me. I related to her because she truly understood.. from experience... my struggles. She'd been through it. Her feedback was insightful and meaningful to me. She had lived through raising kids and had seen the end result, and had great advice for me.
I have a doctor... a specialist I see. He is obese... probably morbidly obese. But he is one of the most intelligent, insightful, compassionate doctors I have ever had. Did I wonder about his weight when I first met him? Yes, yes I did. Because I kind of expected a health professional to be, you know, healthy. He's not an athlete or anything, just a very busy doctor who carries a lot of extra weight. I am pretty sure carrying an extra 100+ pounds on your frame is not healthy. Would you respect and trust a doctor who is morbidly obese? Honestly, would you? They have the same medical training as a thinner, fit doctor. Does the obesity mean anything about their ability to treat you? For me, I still trust him. I still go to him and follow his advice. But I do not ask him for advice on weight loss. I just don't. Maybe because I figure if he had great weight loss advice, he wouldn't be fat. I could be wrong about that. But since I've known him for so many years I know he is not losing weight, he hasn't just lost 100 pounds. But he is an excellent doctor who I respect, and I trust him with my life.
I guess it matters to me what a person's specialty is, too. I've gone to fat counselors before and never thought about their weight at all. But when someone is an eating disorder specialist and is obese, it does bring up questions. A fat dentist wouldn't bring a second thought; a fat personal trainer? I'd want to know more. I'd be interested in whether they are working on getting healthier and have made progress with that or not. Really, if you were going to a gym and saw a personal trainer there and for YEARS this trainer remained obese, would you seek them out for fitness advice? Would you PAY them for that advice? Would you? If you signed up for a Weight Loss Clinic that advertised as being taught by a weight loss specialist who will teach you how to get control of your eating and lose weight, and when you showed up, the doctor running the Clinic was severely obese and didn't mention anything about his weight, would you still want to attend? How about if you were paying $400 to attend this Clinic? Would it matter then?
Would you go to:
A dentist with bad teeth?
A marriage counselor whose relationships have never worked?
A beautician whose hair is unflattering and who isn't wearing any makeup?
A nutritionist that was either quite obese or skeletally thin?
A dog trainer whose dog steals food off the counters and jumps on your child, knocking them over?
A fashion designer wearing frumpy clothes to meetings?
A ballet teacher who doesn't dance?
These are some examples that were brought up in the comments of the last two posts. Don't you think an "expert" whose job it is to deal with a specific issue or field, should have experience AND knowledge in that field? Shouldn't they, as one commenter put it, "walk the walk"?
When my mother went to AA, all of the leaders were recovering alcoholics.
When a college friend went to drug rehab, the drug counselors were recovered addicts.
A friend went to counseling for panic disorder and her counselor told her he is on medication for anxiety.
Aren't Weight Watchers leaders always people who have lost weight through Weight Watchers?
Maybe it is best to have ED counselors who have some firsthand knowledge of eating disorders. Does it matter whether or not they have succeeded at stabilizing their weight in the range of a healthy BMI?
There are good... excellent counselors who deal with things like domestic violence and child abuse without ever having lived through those ordeals. They are driven by compassion for their fellow human beings. They see suffering and want to help. I have known counselors and social workers who have never personally dealt with family violence, but are wonderful in their jobs working with families and children of abuse. Sometimes, perhaps, training and education and compassion might be enough.
A school teacher doesn't have to have her own children to connect with her students and teach them well.
A foster mom doesn't have to have kids of her own to parent and care for her fosters effectively.
But a grief and loss counselor who has never lost a loved one may not be as relatable and effective as one who has.
Sometimes weight has nothing to do with a person's ability to perform a certain function. One can weigh 500 pounds and still be an excellent friend, parent, accountant, computer programmer, artist, author, or chef... but you might think twice before hiring them to lead you on a trek down the Grand Canyon. I haven't seen many morbidly obese firefighters or paramedics, either. Have you ever seen a 400-pound flight attendant on an airplane? It's not discrimination; it's that some jobs require a certain level of fitness or a certain measure of smallness to be able to do them effectively.
I am not questioning the validity, goodness, or morality of any of these people. I think that we, as consumers, do have a right to question the expertise of someone we are paying for treatment. That includes their education, training, and background in the field in which they work. Does it include an explanation of their personal life? Of their mental health, marital issues, parenting experience, or weight? I don't think we are *entitled* to know personal details about those we hire, but we do have to make a choice about whether we believe someone can effectively provide the services we are seeking. For you, that may mean paying for three personal training sessions with an obese trainer and then deciding whether or not they meet your needs. Or it may mean you judge the book by its cover because you don't want to take a chance on throwing your money down the drain on a possibly ineffective trainer... and going with someone who looks fit and healthy instead. But you could be very wrong about the first trainer. For example, an aerobics teacher can be heavier than average *and* fit, and very able to lead you through a great workout. Deciding who to see, and what you want or need, is as personal as deciding what type of pet you own or how many children to have. There is no right answer to that. I like dogs, you prefer cats. I have five children, maybe you want one or ten. I have an ED counselor who is fat; maybe you wouldn't. And I believe that because we are each paying for those services, we have the absolute right to choose based on whatever criteria we feel comfortable with. You'd be missing out on a great doctor if you decided not to see my morbidly obese specialist based on his weight. But you are not obligated to ignore something like weight, which may be significant, when you are PAYING someone for a specific purpose. Judging a person's character or morality or whether they'd be a good friend for you based on their weight is discriminatory and wrong. But making a judgement about where you want to spend your money is different.
I'm sticking with this counselor, for now. I'm not sure if she has the skills to help me with my eating issues or not, but the only way I can find out is to give her a chance.
I am 38 years old, female, a degree-holding stay-at-home-mom, and I weigh 278 pounds. I have been obese for ten years now. Time to get out of this fat prison I have made for myself.
--This is the original introduction I wrote when I first started this blog in 2007. I leave it as a reminder to myself of where I came from. Currently, I am 46 years old and weigh significantly less...see the blog for details. I lost 103 pounds, then had a partial regain, and am once again working at weight loss and better health.
Escape from Obesity by Lyn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
All material contained in this blog, including written posts and photographs, is protected by U.S. copyright law. If you would like to reproduce a post or part of a post online, you may do so on a non-commercial site as long as you attribute the material to myself, "Lyn of Escape from Obesity," and include a link to my blog. Any commercial use of these materials is prohibited. If you have questions, please contact me via email.
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Which basically means, if you shop through my amazon links, I earn a small commission. Thanks!