Wendy Reaser: Struggling with Obesity in Canada

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Wendy Reaser
Wendy Reaser

One time, as Wendy Reaser was visiting the emergency room, she heard a specialist describing her as “fat and lazy,” adding that she did not want to put the work into being healthy.

This experience, as well as many other unpleasant interactions with health professionals, left Wendy discouraged and traumatized.

“For many years, this statement had me convinced that because I’m living with obesity, I didn’t have the right to care from medical professionals,” she shares in the NCD Diaries project, an initiative launched by the NCD Alliance. “I was convinced that nothing could be done and I wasn’t worth saving.”

NCDs (noncommunicable diseases) are diseases that are not transmissible from person to person and they represent the first cause of death and disability worldwide.

The NCD Diaries project is meant to support individuals like Wendy, so that they can share their lived experiences of NCDs, drawing on their unique local contexts, challenges faced and their aspirations and recommendations to drive change on NCDs.

Canada, where Wendy lives, provides its citizens with universal healthcare coverage.

“While this is fantastic because everyone has access to treatment, it doesn’t always mean that you get treated well,” Wendy writes.

“Living with obesity is a daily struggle physically and mentally,” she explains. “Not only do we have to live with our shame and self-loathing, but we also must live with the judgement of those around us. Often, we are made to feel that we aren’t deserving of medical help, with many health care providers having been trained to tell us to simply ‘eat less and move more’.”

Luckily for Wendy, she eventually found doctors with a different approach.

“One day I visited my family doctor, who had been with us for about a year, to express concern about symptoms I was experiencing that were noticeable in my dad prior to his death from a heart attack,” she recalls. “I expected her to say that it was my weight, that I had to eat less and exercise more. I didn’t expect her to sit up and pay attention, and to immediately put in an urgent referral to a cardiologist. But that’s exactly what she did.”

The cardiologist explained to Wendy that her heart was enlarged because she had sleep apnea, so her lungs were lacking oxygen.

“I’d just started sleep apnea treatment 6 months before seeing him,” she writes. “He was confident that if I continued this treatment, ‘tweaked my eating and maybe moved around just a little more,’ my heart would be fine in under a year.”

Wendy emphasizes that the doctor’s words saved her life.

“It’s interactions like these that began to restore my confidence in navigating my care journey, and my faith in the medical profession,” she explains.

Health professionals, she argues, need better training to provide care empathetically and effectively for people living with obesity.

“Healthcare providers must accept that people living with obesity are not fat and lazy,” Wendy says. “There are several factors including genetics, medication, and even monetary constraints that can and do contribute to someone becoming obese. There’s a way to discuss obesity-related issues respectfully and helpfully, that doesn’t leave a deflated feeling of failure.”

Read Wendy Reaser’s full NCD Diary.
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Image Credits: Courtesy of NCD Alliance.

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