Being Overweight has Made Me a Better Doctor

by Dr. Aline Potvin ND | Follow on Twitter

Admittedly, I am not your average doctor. Vulnerability is in my medicine cabinet.

Share This

I WENT THROUGH A MEDICAL PROGRAM heavily steeped in primary prevention, lifestyle medicine, and the mind-body connection.

The irony of me being a doctor, practicing preventative and lifestyle medicine, and simultaneously being overweight often crosses my mind.

In school we spoke about the concept of “congruence” and in business we call it “putting your money where your mouth is.”  But, I can only say that my experience as an overweight female in the medical field has not only brought me closer to congruence, it has been a doorway to my patients in a way I never thought possible.

Here are the 6 reasons why being overweight has made me a better doctor:

1. Empathy

I have an in-depth understanding of the complexity of weight issues. Every day, I wish that weight issues were just about food intake and exercise. It would spare them social stigma and for some of them, very unfortunate health complications (though obesity and chronic diseases aren’t always linked)

Understanding my own body has prompted me to research all that we currently know about weight gain, weight loss, and the struggles most people experience. I provide my patients an in-depth education, not only with individually tailored healthy diet and exercise options, but also satellite influences that get glazed over in conventional care.

There are things that can never be omitted from healthy body regimen: understanding environmental influences and obesogens, hormonal balance, stress management, etc. I love opening that door for my patients. Afterall, I’ve been there myself.

2. Removing the Weight Bias

I’m not afraid of bodies bigger than “average.” Somewhere along the line, physicians and other healthcare professionals took a long leap away from the physical exam in lieu of lab investigation and imaging.

What resulted was a rift in the patient/doctor relationship, a wrench thrown in our nonverbal communication. That sterile moat widened with the increasing size of patients.

In fact, it is commonly known by those that study weight bias in healthcare, that doctors in primary care will do more technical tasks in the patient visit rather than lead discussion if the patient is overweight.  Being overweight makes patients delay care.

Having a keen sense of the potential insecurities a distant relationship can create, I always make sure to remember that as a doctor, the body is my teacher. More than that, a thorough physical exam can be therapeutic in its own right, and it’s frequent that I hear,

“Thank you. No one has ever noticed that about me before.”

Physical exams can be therapeutic

“Physical exams can be therapeutic in its own right.” -Dr. Aline Potvin, ND

3. The “Why” of Change

Sometimes when there are things about us that are considered socially unacceptable, it makes you explore your potential a little deeper, and come to your own healthy “why” for behavioral change.
I remember when I was younger, trying to obtain a smaller figure was a truly unhealthy venture for me. I was smaller, but nutritionally depleted and stressed.

I thought that was normal.

I’ve observed that women in particular perceive this as a normal modus operandi, creating an all consuming cycle. Social pressures can strip individuals of their sense of choice.

As I reached some of my own lifestyle goals and developed healthier behaviors regarding my body, I realized my “why”, and best incentive. I never perceived physical fitness as something I was good at, for example, and so I chose to cling to my academic gifts.

What I soon realized (and am still learning), is how much practice anything can take, and when we take time to expand beyond our gifts, the natural result is feeling more whole, steady, and settled in your craft. A larger waist doesn’t make you less. Nor does the pursuit of a smaller waist make you small. 

4. How Do You Feel?

Sometimes walking your talk isn’t visible to others, but what is important is how it makes you feel. <– Click to Tweet

Something I always have to bring my patients back to is: “How do you feel?” We get so wrapped up in physical appearances, numerical ranges and averages, that we forget to check in with ourselves and determine where we’re “actually” at.

I know how I live, what food I eat, how much I love to move, and how deeply I can connect to happiness and grounded feelings. Therefore, my subjective experience, and the knowledge that I am walking my talk as a Naturopathic doctor washes out the sting of societal opinion. This isn’t easy to accomplish, but it’s always something I want my patients to focus on with any of their health goals. Above all, how do you feel? This is a vital sign only you can hold onto.

5. Daily Practice

It is a reminder that every day I change, and grow, that I have new opportunities for choice, and that I don’t have to prescribe to the beliefs overweight people are expected to have.

When you are a heavier woman in America, it is easy to do one of two things:

  1. Completely detach from your body
  2. Become completely physique-centric

Depending on the day, I may be focused on one or the other, but my goal is always to make sure I am doing something good for my body.

6. Dismantling the Overweight Stigma

I can more readily identify and help a patient dismantle the beliefs that overweight people are expected to have in this country. Inherent beliefs, correct or not correct, are one of the largest forces behind our behaviors.

If we talk about our beliefs in the patient visit, then we can use that understanding as ammunition to shift to healthier behaviors. We are so much more in the driver seat than we are ever told by society, and this kind of empowerment is essential for managing the explosion of chronic disease we have in the USA.

The truth is, everything takes practice: exercise, making smarter health choices, even happiness. <– Tweet this

Knowing this on a very deep and human level helps me stick it out with my patients, understand their struggles, and see their potential, even when they don’t see it themselves.

Working on yourself is indeed the hardest part of life. It also has given me evidence time and time again that as a doctor I’m not really on the other side of the equation– I decide my own “why” every day and watching my own progress just like them.

Vulnerability is in my medicine cabinet. Knowing growth is inevitable, continually moving on my own path only makes me a better doctor and more in-tune with what I do.

Vulnerability is in my medicine cabinet. <– Tweet this

About the Author
Dr. Aline Potvin ND

Dr. Potvin is a Naturopathic Doctor and a graduate from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. Her private practice, Your Own Wellness, is located in Arundel, Maine. Her approach to health education and care is as simple and clear as it is innovative and creative. She believes that when individuals are given the tools to take ownership of their own health, the global community will inevitably brighten as well. A strong educator, Dr. Potvin is adjunct faculty at Kaplan University and has guest lectured at various universities, professional associations, and community groups in Maine.