Dear Fat Nutritionist – do people trust you?

I’m beginning to work through my email archives of letters people have sent me. Here’s one that I absolutely loved. (I’ve added my own emphasis and omitted some identifying details.)

Dear Michelle,

I’m wondering what it’s like to be a fat nutritionist. Just to give you my background, I’m in recovery from an eating disorder. I’ve worked with two nutritionists. My first nutritionist was wonderful and taught me a lot about nutrition. My current nutritionist is absolutely mind-blowing and is the most talented eating disorders treatment provider that I have come across. I hate to admit this, but to be honest, my nutritionists’ weights had a big impact on how much I am able to trust them. This is also true for most of the other eating disordered people that I know. I know that this thinking is disordered because, rationally speaking, I really believe in Health at Every Size.

Have you found that your weight impacts your relationships with your clients?

Have you found that your weight has come under fire from others in the field?

Thanks,
Anon

Hey Anon,

I’ve been mulling over your question since yesterday, and I think what it comes down to is this:

People are comfortable with other people for lots of different reasons.

For instance, when I’m choosing a doctor, I have the choice to go with a man or a woman. If I don’t like the way the doctor talks to me, or something about her/his office, or receptionist, or, hell, even their clothing choice, I get to pick another doctor. And this is not only allowed, but tacitly encouraged by just about everyone.

After all, how can you be expected to be vulnerable and open, and to do good work with someone you’re not 100% comfortable with? Even seemingly “silly” reasons for discomfort may be getting at a deeper issue that deserves to be heard and addressed.

So, for that reason, I really don’t mind if someone chooses not to work with me due to my body size. That is absolutely their right.

On a personal level, yes, it would hurt if someone came out and said to me, “I don’t want to work with you because of the way you look.” But, luckily, the way it works out is, no one ever does that. They simply avoid me, move onto the next practitioner, and hope for the best. I never have to know people’s various reasons for not choosing to work with me.

And, especially for people with eating disorders who are at a certain stage of recovery, I can totally understand not wanting to work with a fat nutritionist, or doctor, or whathaveyou. It only makes sense, in the context of the disorder, and I don’t think I would feel particularly hurt by that — it’s the reality of that disease, unfortunately, but as people recover, I think they are likely to get past that kind of thinking.

As far as my colleagues go, no — I’ve never had anyone question my competence due to my body size, and I’ve been hired for some pretty advanced jobs, given that I’m still a student. I worked in an outpatient diabetes clinic with very traditional, weight-loss-oriented dietitians, and they seemed to love me. They chose me over thin candidates who had their degrees finished. They never questioned me about my weight, and were willing to frankly discuss with me their concerns about their patients’ weights. They listened to me when I asked critical questions about the efficacy of weight loss treatments.

I’ve worked in various inpatient areas, and again, my weight never seemed to be an issue. I also worked in an outpatient cancer clinic — in both of these circumstances, the main point of my job was to encourage people to eat as much as humanly possible, because malnutrition was the biggest risk for these populations. I enjoyed it, and seemed well-suited to it.

I work in eating disorders occasionally, though not directly with the patients. I think that, more important than my body size, is my attitude toward food, and myself, and the world. I’m positive about food. I’m comfortable with myself. And I expect good things from the world. I think that, even in this rather sensitive area, these parts of my personality contribute more to my competence at work than my body size.

Anyway, thanks for writing and being so candid. Best of luck to you in your continued recovery. Don’t ever let the bastards grind you down.

As ever,
Michelle

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