Harness the Power of Language When Discussing Weight with Stephanie Sogg, PhD

This was one of my favorite interviews. I was a fledgling podcaster at the time when I interviewed, Dr. Stephanie Sogg, a clinical psychologist at the Harvard Weight Center. She had been quoted in an article in the Huffington Post that lambasted physicians for not knowing how to talk to our patients about their weight. Interviews like this were the reason why I started podcasting. I emailed her and asked her if she could teach us the right way to have these discussions and she agreed!

Talking to patients about their weight is fraught with landmines created by inordinately complex psychosocial issues. It is very easy to alienate a patient. Dr. Sogg teaches us the power of language and this has come up in other interviews since. Changing racial language from minority to minoritize and slave to enslaved changes the perspective of the listener. It subtly influences how that person is perceived. The same applies to discussing weight; when we change our language about body habitus to be less stigmatizing, it subtly influences the listener, be it our patients, students or colleagues. We also need to change the way we talk about food. According to Dr. Sogg, the only bad food has gone bad, tastes bad or is poisonous.

Dr. Stephanie Sogg is a clinical psychologist and an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. She has treated patients with obesity at the MGH Weight Center since 2003. Dr. Sogg earned her PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1998, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship with Harvard Medical School. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Sogg conducts research on obesity and bariatric surgery, and the intersection between obesity and addiction, and has published widely on obesity and related topics. She is an author of the Boston Interview for Bariatric Surgery, and of the official ASMBS Recommendations for the Pre-Surgical Psychosocial Evaluation of Bariatric Surgery Patients. She is the director of the Weight Center rotation for Behavioral Medicine psychology interns, and is active in national and international scientific obesity and weight loss surgery societies. She is currently serving as a member-at-large on the Integrated Health Executive Council for the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

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