Bad words: why language counts when discussing weight with our patients

A few months ago, there was a HuffPost article entitled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong,” by Michael Hobbes.  It discussed the struggles of people who have obesity and how the medical system has failed them.  It quoted Stephanie Sogg, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Weight Center at MGH (notice how it isn’t called the “weight loss center”).  In it, Dr. Sogg describes her approach as “being nicer to her patients than they are to themselves.”

Given that this article lambasted physicians for not being able to effectively discuss weight issues with their patients, I contacted Dr. Sogg to find out how we can improve at this.  She provided me with an article she wrote.  This article should be read by EVERY CLINICIAN IN THE COUNTRY.  It is that powerful and important.

In the episode title, I paraphrased an article she wrote entitled, “Bad words: why language counts in our work with bariatric patients.” In it, Dr. Sogg explains how language can influence they way that we think about things.  As physicians, we are authority figures and community leaders, so thereby, the language we use can influence how our patients think about themselves and our colleagues think about their patients, for better or for worse.  This isn’t a discussion on how to lose weight.  This is a discussion on how to effectively discuss a topic that is extraordinarily sensitive and full of landmines.  This is a discussion on how to avoid those landmines and earn the trust of a patient who is struggling and could use your empathy and understanding.

The article that lambasted physicians: 

https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/everything-you-know-about-obesity-is-wrong/

Her article “Bad Words: why language counts in our work with bariatric patients”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550728918300285

Dr. Sogg:

https://www.extension.harvard.edu/faculty-directory/stephanie-sogg

https://www.massgeneral.org/doctors/doctor.aspx?id=18165

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