What it’s Like Visiting a HAES Provider
Typically, when I go to the doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist I have overwhelming anxiety a few days before. Why? I start to go through all the possible ways I will stand up for myself around being in a larger body. This includes things like how I will politely decline being weighed, what I will say when pushed about being weighed and how I will be more assertive, if I will need to ask what the treatment is for someone in a thinner body verses the solution to my aliment being to lose weight, and being strong enough to use my voice if something is painful or I don’t feel comfortable.
This post is not your typical weight stigma post. Many of us in the HAES community or those of us in larger bodies blog and speak out about our experiences with medical doctors, nurse practitioners, and nurses. This blog is about a different kind of doctor, Physical Therapists (they have a Doctor of Physical Therapy-different than a medical doctor and they still put in the work for their doctor degree).
In 2017, I had a ski accident where I tore my calf pretty badly. My treatment in Physical Therapy (PT) lasted for almost six months. I had follow up treatment over the next two years as needed. During vacation last week, I strained my calf on a hike. I was limping and very scared!
In my 2017 treatment, I didn’t use my voice, “sucked it up”, and experienced pain to help my calf get better. My PT had no idea because I didn’t say anything (although I’m sure my body showed it). I just kept pushing through the pain. There were times I vaguely mentioned it was uncomfortable, but I wasn’t direct enough for the treatment to be less intense or stop. I also had many insecurities about my body size. I was on guard for comments that my weight was making my injury worse. I took comments about having a weak core, weak muscles, or being inflexible as a direct correlation to my body type. This was never directly said to me and a few times it was implied. I know what “implied” sounds like. It was also difficult to be surrounded by intense athletes with smaller and toned bodies getting treatment.
My calf has been bothering me all week. I decided I needed to get treatment. Recently, I met via Instagram, Dr. Michelle Laging. She’s a PT here in Denver. Her practice is called, Strength Within Physical Therapy & Wellness. She’s most known for her pelvic floor work and working with clients who have or had eating disorders helping them reintegrate movement back into their lives. She also does any other kind of PT too!
I noticed on her Instagram, she talked about working with patients with eating disorders and being part of the HAES community. I reached out and scheduled an appointment. I was so anxious. Two days before, I couldn’t sleep because I was scared to let myself believe she really understands HAES and larger bodies. Plus, she’s in a smaller body than me. All the same fears came up about every other provider. I also wanted to let go and believe I could trust her ahead of time. I wasn’t able to but I did have a little hope it may not be as bad as other providers.
When I arrived, her energy was so kind, open, and joyful! She was TRULY excited to meet and welcome me with open arms into her practice along with her staff. I was so excited to meet her too but still very anxious! We went to the PT room. Side note: this felt so much safer than being in a large room getting treatment in front of everyone.
She walked me through how she works, how everything we do we will both agree on, and I can always say no. I told her I’m better at using my voice presently but sometimes I don’t or can’t when things are painful because of my sports history of “no pain, no gain” and other life experiences. She reiterated that she checks in a lot when working on the body and can tell by how the body is responding if it’s too much. Additionally, before we started, she recognized my anxiety and gently asked me about it. She could feel and see it. I started getting tearful. No provider (besides therapists) have ever respected me in this way before or took the time to notice my discomfort and call it out in the moment. The tears also were the anxiety leaving my body. She asked for consent with each part of the appointment and explained everything first to calm my nerves.
During the whole appointment, I was waiting for a body comment and a judgment about my strength and stability to be correlated to my body size. It never happened. Instead, it just was “what it was” in the appointment. She truly needed to assess my body to help with my calf. Then, she did hands on work on my legs and calf. She told me everything she was doing and continuously checked in about pressure and pain. She did a few more interventions and by the end of my appointment I felt so much better, had more flexibility, and range of motion. I honestly didn’t know how much pain and tightness I had been tolerating and had normalized. I felt so much better just walking up the stairs.
The entire appointment was both professional and lighthearted. We laughed a lot, were serious, and she helped me with my first treatment goal around my calf. I’m looking forward to more appointments with Dr. Michelle. She’s the most amazing PT I’ve ever met! She’s a really incredible individual that also understands the nuances of larger bodies, fear of being touched, pain, and believing her patients. She’s also just an all-around cool, fun, and down to earth individual. I’m looking forward to my future appointments with her to help my calf. I might even start working with her about reintegrating running back into my life in eating disorder recovery (see my last blog post about Movement) She has so much to offer!
Her Instagram is pretty amazing too! She’s hilarious! @strengthwithinpt