The truth is hard to hear at times. And sometimes the truth just plain old hurts. But why do people lie to their doctors?
OK, maybe lie is a strong word. But when a doctor asks how much alcohol you drink in a week, do you give an honest answer? Do you take the time to work out the units, or do you guestimate? Do you round up or do you round down?
Or do you honestly just tell them what you think they want to hear?
I guess it depends on how much you like alcohol. If you’re not much of a drinker, then you have no reason to lie. But if you drink more than the recommended weekly amount, then you might be tempted to bend the truth a little bit.
Studies show that it is common for us to under-report our alcohol and food intake. Part of this is just genuine human error. We all have a different idea of what constitutes a glass of wine, so it is reasonable to expect a few inaccuracies.
We’re also really bad at recalling these things. We’re not deliberately lying, but we naturally forget. If I was to ask you to write down exactly what you had to eat over the last week, you would genuinely struggle.
How many times I have you thought to yourself “I barely ate anything today”? But if you were to start writing everything down, you would realise that it was a lot more than you initially thought. This is completely normal, and it doesn’t mean you are deliberately deluding yourself.
But you are still deluded, nonetheless.
Because in reality, the majority of us eat a lot more than we think we do. And we live our lives in a state of perpetual denial. Partly because of human error. But I suspect for a lot of us, denial is a lot easier to accept and to deal with than the cold hard truth.
The truth is hard to admit
If you don’t believe me, head on over to your social media accounts. When you post a photo, do you just take one or do you take several and post the best of the lot? How often do you find yourself embellishing the truth or focusing on the positive instead of being authentic?
Seriously, how many tinder profiles read the following?
Fairly decent human being for 2 weeks out of every month but cross me on the other two and I will bite your head off. I don’t shave my legs during the winter, I only have a couple of pairs of fancy knickers because they cost a fortune and they give you thrush. The rest are loose cotton ones. Have been known to fart and blame it on the dog.
Let’s be real for a moment. From the moment we were old enough to understand, people have been telling us how to look, how to speak and how to behave. Women should be feminine and demure creatures with a slim waist, impeccable fashion sense and very little body hair. Men should be strong and masculine who never cry and are ideally able to bench press their body weight.
Even those of us who are self-aware enough to recognise that this is neither realistic nor sustainable still struggle to be a true authentic version of ourselves all the time.
Why I don’t like to shave my legs
Take shaving, for example. I am so bloody sick and tired of having to shave my legs all the time. Did you know that this phenomenon was almost unheard of before the turn of the 20th century, and that many believe that it increased in popularity as a result of several targeted advertising campaigns?
Want to hazard a guess as to who benefits from this relatively new trend?
[Here’s a clue – it’s not any of us. Unless you’re the CEO of Bic. In which case, well done you!]
Anyway, sarcasm aside I’m one of those people who tries not to shave in protest. I also cannot be bothered. And most of the time I am wearing scrubs or trousers so it really doesn’t matter. But the moment I don a dress and go out somewhere fancy, I am faced with a choice. Be an authentic version of myself or conform to society’s standards.
I’m ashamed to say that I almost always fold. Unless I’m in a rush and don’t have time, but then I spend the whole time worrying that people have noticed and are judging me. It doesn’t help that there have been times when people have done just that.
The truth is hard to hear
And that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? I think the answer to my original question is that people lie to their doctor because they are afraid of being judged. Nobody likes that feeling.
At best it is uncomfortable. At worst it is painful and damaging. Most people trust and respect healthcare professionals and value their opinion. When someone we trust and respect makes us feel that there is something wrong with us, we take it to heart.
I’ve read many an article by fellow doctors who argue that we should be allowed to call people fat. Like this one by Dr Max Pemberton for the Daily Mail. Now to be fair, it was written for the Daily Mail so we can’t really expect much to begin with. But still, he makes a fair point. Doctors should be able to give patients health and lifestyle advice without the fear of offending them. Especially if that leads to a complaint.
That being said, there is a way to go about doing it without making someone feel ashamed or judged. And something tells me Dr Max Pemberton wouldn’t have the first clue about how to go about it. There’s a fine line between providing honest, necessary health advice and fat shaming. And doctors are notorious for crossing it.
Some would argue that doctors don’t need to be “nice”, they just have to help sick people. And since prevention is better than cure, pointing out that a patient is overweight and telling them to go on a diet is part of their job description.
I would argue that compassion is a hallmark of medicine, and if you lack it then you probably need to find another job. However, fat shaming has a far more sinister and worrying effect on patients than simply causing offence.
It causes some people to avoid doctors altogether.
The truth sometimes hurts but it doesn’t have to
Failure to seek medical attention in a timely manner can cost people their lives. Let’s pretend a patient is afraid that they are going to get “told off” for being overweight and avoids seeing their doctor for their abdominal pain. Who is to blame when they die two years later from oesophageal cancer?
I guess what I am trying to say is that as my name suggests, I am both fat and I am a doctor. This means I can see things from both point of view. When a doctor asks you about your eating habits and you fail to tell the whole truth, you are only hurting yourself.
But when a doctor broaches the subject of weight and lifestyle in an insensitive, dismissive or judegmental manner then they are potentially causing a lot more than just some mild offence. Obesity may be costing the NHS millions of pounds every year, but last time I checked, kindness and compassion were free.
Have you ever had a negative experience with a healthcare professional that involved your weight? If you could offer one bit of advice, what would it be? Perhaps you could consider leaving a comment below? As always, if you’d like to know more about me, including how to subscribe to my mailing list then click here.