Losing weight is never simple. This is especially true when you live with a chronic illness. Judgments and assumptions about your weight are often hurtful, but they can feel even more disheartening when your weight gain is due to a condition.
Perhaps a medication you’re on makes it difficult to lose weight or makes you more susceptible to gaining weight. Maybe your illness makes you fatigued, making it near impossible to exercise. There are even some conditions where exercising or exerting yourself isn’t recommended at all. Whatever your story might be, know that you are great at any size. While you shouldn’t feel the need to change, it’s OK to not feel comfortable in your body, especially when your body changes because of chronic illness.
Unfortunately, thanks to weight stigma and the fact that many people still think it’s OK to body shame others, some people might make comments about your weight. They might suggest you eat healthier, exercise more or whatever else they think might work. No matter how “good-intentioned” these comments are, they can still be hurtful — especially if the person making those comments is someone close to you.
Sometimes comments about weight even border on dangerous. Despite the fact that body mass index or BMI is not a reliable indicator of health, medical professionals may fixate on your weight when you have a higher BMI. There are countless stories of people being misdiagnosed or “prescribed” weight loss when weight wasn’t the primary issue.
It’s already hard to care for yourself when you live with chronic illness and these encounters can make it even tougher. To help educate others, we asked our community what they wish other people knew about weight and chronic illness.
Here’s what our chronic illness community shared with us:
1. Doctors need to look past my weight.
“I wish doctors would be a little less critical and more compassionate when it comes to this.” – Marlena F.
“Before I was sick, I was incredibly active. I was hyper. I wish people, especially doctors, would stop telling me exercise will help me, as if I’ve been couch potato my entire life. [The illness] stopped me. It’s too painful and if you’re going to take away my pain medication, there’s no way I’m going to make myself suffer from unbearable pain just to make you happy. I don’t enjoy being 60 pounds heavier than before I got sick.” – Angel H.
2. I’m not lazy.
“[I wish people understood] that I’m not lazy. My body doesn’t respond well to many physical activities and causes much more pain than I already have. And if I do participate in a physical activity, I will ‘pay for it’ for days or possibly weeks with additional pain and/or exhaustion. So, when I say I can’t, I really can’t.” – Nicole K.
“I am not lazy. I beat myself up about it enough. I don’t need you to make me feel like I only take up space. I try hard every day to be more active, but between the meds and the pain, I cannot seem to lose the weight.” – Rachael B.
3. Working out is difficult for me.
“It’s not as simple as just getting more (or any) exercise when even the simple task of washing dishes leaves you in pain. My left hip and left lower back become pinched like they’re in a vice after about 10 minutes of standing.” – Megan F.
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4. Don’t shame me for something I’m not in control of.
“I have PCOS. My insulin is really screwed up. I also have RA and fibromyalgia, so I see a pain management doctor every month. During every single appointment, without fail, he brings up my weight. Despite explaining my PCOS and insulin trouble multiple times, he still doesn’t seem to get it. I know he’s a pain management doctor, but I wish like hell he would do his research and actually understand what’s going on with me. In fact, I wish all doctors were better informed about PCOS and its symptoms. If they were better informed, it wouldn’t have taken 17 years for me to be properly diagnosed. Instead, doctors just constantly tear me down over my weight, not understanding that no matter how little I ate or how much I exercised, the weight never came off. I guess it’s easier to just fat-shame patients instead of actually helping them find the real problem. It’s messed with my mental health and self-esteem for more than half of my lifetime. I also think it’s helped me develop medical PTSD. I’m just so tired of being shamed for something I have zero control over.” – Chaylee B.
5. I have healthy eating habits.
“I don’t spend my days eating fast food, chips, fancy coffee, Twinkies or any other stereotypically ‘fat’ foods. In fact, I am likely far stricter with my intake than you are with yours.” – Vicki P.
“I eat an incredibly healthy diet filled with low-fat food and exercise daily. However, with mood stabilizers, weight loss is nearly impossible.” – Megan S.
6. A little comment can have a major impact.
“[I wish people knew] that their offhand comments and stares hurt. I know my weight isn’t good. I’m aware of my health more than the average person and I don’t need negativity towards it as that doesn’t solve anything. Shaming me will only mean I’m not going to socialize with you and your group. Soon you’ll find yourself alone because no one was up to your standards. Weight is a symptom, like a lot of things, but society doesn’t view it like that and it sucks.” – Erica W.
7. You don’t see what I’m going through.
“Moving beyond what is absolutely necessary is impossible. My calorie intake is extremely low. I’m just fighting not to put on more weight after eight surgeries in six years. Four of them were major. I almost wish I looked as bad as I feel.” – Krista I.
8. It’s not about portion sizes.
“Don’t assume someone’s eating habits from their weight. I had problems with doctors doing this when I was at a point where I couldn’t walk on my own for a few years. I was only eating 300-600 calories per day, 900 tops. They told me to cut my portions in half and to avoid water flavor packets and such due to the calories. My dad tried to tell them I ate the same portion size and meals as him, but what they would not listen to is that he was eating one meal per day and eating less than a third of what he was supposed to. They wouldn’t listen to this because he’s a bigger guy, [but he also has] chronic conditions. They did not even ask how often I ate or what I ate, just immediately told me to cut my portions in half and eat healthier foods. This has led to me having a very unhealthy relationship to food, but still unable to lose weight.” – Ellie S.
9. I wasn’t always this way.
“Before I was sick, my weight was so important to me. I taught spin classes, ate healthily and loved to shop ‘till I dropped. Now, my body doesn’t allow me to exercise, nor does it allow me to move around that much in general. I just want to feel good. When life hits you with a ton of bricks, your priorities change. Before you judge know my story, take the time to get to know me. Count your blessings and step outside yourself to lend a hand or hug. It would change my day, maybe my week!” – Leigh-Ann S.
10. Medication is a big factor.
“I wish people would understand how much medication affects your weight. I eat less than anyone that I know and yet I still put on weight. I can’t exercise because of my health problems, but people don’t see that. They just see fat. I wish friends wouldn’t talk about diets and weight loss around me. It makes me feel inadequate and completely obsessive about how I look. I avoid all photos and won’t look in mirrors anymore. I hate the way I look. I wish I could wear a paper bag over my head. I feel hugely embarrassed about the way I look and there’s not a thing I can do.” – Stephanie G.
“I’ve genuinely considered not taking a pill because it made me gain weight. Being ‘pretty’ should not outweigh being healthy.” – Stephanie S.
“I’m on three medications that make me gain weight. Those medications stop my seizures, so I’d rather be fat and seizure-free.” – Molly M.
11. I’m healthier now than I was then.
My BMI is obese, but I’m healthier now than I ever was when I was thin and not on medication. These medicines have saved my life.” – Tash B.
12. I already work out.
“Because of fibromyalgia and thyroid imbalances, I will never be what they think is healthy. But that doesn’t mean I’m not the healthiest I can be under my circumstances. I probably know more about calorie counting, cardio and strength-building exercises than they ever will. And I’m pretty damn proud of what I can do in spite of my chronic pain and diseases.” – Amy B.
13. You shouldn’t blame my mobility device.
“My mobility device did not cause or contribute to my weight gain. My mobility device and my weight are caused by the same disease pattern.” – Abigail W.
14. Weight is subjective.
“Just because I look healthy, doesn’t mean that I am. I’ve developed a pretty severe intolerance to exercise recently, so every hectic or good day is followed by one in bed. I used to be so fit and active that it’s driving me insane! I desperately want to be able to run [and exercise], or get back out to the mountains, but I can’t and it’s driving me mad. Nobody wants to be this way!” – Laura R.
15. Your judgments have an effect on me.
“Do you know how much I’ve struggled? How much I wish I could pray away the fat, the disease, the pain? It hurts to be judged, to be seen as less than a person. I wish, oh I wish, that people would see with their hearts, not their eyes, and understand how hard it is for me to even be in public, how much it takes. I wish people saw past the lipedema and saw me. I am more than my fat. I am more than my disease.” – Courtney G.
16. I’m already pushing myself throughout the day.
“[I wish people understood] how hard it is to look after kids and doing many other things whilst in constant pain. I frequently need a bit of a sugar rush to make it through and, no, a banana or some almonds won’t kick in fast enough.” – Gabbie J.
17. Don’t compare me to other people.
“Don’t tell me about your husband, brother, nephew [who lost weight]. It is usually easier for males to lose weight [in general].” – Bert M.
18. Being able to cook healthy meals is a privilege.
“Eating healthy is not as easy as some make it out to be. It requires the ability to stand up and actually cook food and there’s a lot that goes into that. There’s also no point in buying lots of fresh food when most of it goes out of date by the time I’m well enough to cook anything. The weight didn’t cause chronic illness; the chronic illness caused the weight. I wish I was well enough to cook well and exercise. This isn’t a life choice. It’s something that has been forced upon me. Not that it’s anyone else’s business anyway…” – Robyn E.
19. I’m trying to love my body the way it is.
“It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve done the stupid diets. I’ve taken your pills and used your oils. I’ve tried cardio and strength and yoga and the magic powder you shake on top of your food. I’ve not eaten for four days and gained weight. I’m trying my best to accept and love my body for the way it is now, but the people around me need to as well.” – Kai N.
20. I’m more than my size.
“I wish that people would not look at me and think only about my size. No, I don’t eat a lot. Yes, some of my choices are bad. I probably think more about my food than you give me credit for. I want to be a normal person. Well, close to it. I want to do normal things. Go for walks, be able to go out and not worry where I have to park or worry that I can’t go see the pretty waterfall in the state reserve. I try. I have tried and will keep trying again. Weight is not the main issue, however, it is the damage I have in my back, the fibromyalgia, the chronic pain that keeps me shuffling with my walking stick. You do not see me when I have done so much. I can’t anymore. I can hardly hold a conversation because I walked too far at the zoo and I can’t stand at the checkout with my partner because I pretended to be normal for a bit.” – Jaki F.
“I wish people understood that I’m still me. I’m still a human being and I still want to feel loved. I shouldn’t disgust you or make you love me less because I can’t control what my body does. I’m still me in here. I’m just trapped in a body I can’t stand any more than you can.” – Diana C.
21. Kindness goes a long way.
“It’s significantly more difficult to maintain a healthy weight when chronically ill, both keeping weight on and keeping weight off. Many times, medications make the problems that much more difficult, or our illnesses make it near impossible to do anything about it. We should be compassionate about what all people are experiencing and stop judging people based on appearance. Every person is beautiful regardless of what they look like on the outside. We all need to be kinder to one another.” – Stephanie P.
22. It’s none of your business.
“My weight is nobody’s business except mine and my doctor’s. One’s weight does not determine one’s value as a person.” – Amy K.
If you are struggling with the emotions that come with weight fluctuations, reach out to someone you trust and let them know how you are feeling. Share this with the people in your life to show them that losing weight with chronic illness can be a struggle and that their comments, no matter how well-intentioned, still hurt. If you need support, there’s a community here on The Mighty here for you.
Check out these Mighty articles for more insight on weight fluctuations when living with chronic illness:
- 19 Parts of Weight Fluctuations and Chronic Illness No One Talks About
- Embracing the ‘New You’ After Illness Changes Your Body
- These Before-and-After Photos Highlight the ‘Unexpected’ Ways Chronic Illness Can Change Your Body
- When Your Weight Fluctuates Because of Your Chronic Illnesses