Health and Weight Stigma at All Sizes: Brad Zehring, DO

BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change.  The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.

Brad Zehring

Dr. Brad Zehring knew he wanted to be a physician since he was a little kid though he didn’t know he wanted to be a psychiatrist until he saw how those with mental illness were marginalized. In addition, through his experiences with his wife who has struggled with an eating disorder and a mood disorder – he has shifted his focus to helping those with eating disorders as well.

His passion for mental illness and eating disorders drives his learning and discovery and he wants to challenge the status quo that society has on these issues. He wants to create a platform where he can bring these issues to the public, perhaps for the first time.

Brad went to medical school at Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine and started his residency at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ, where he currently helps others with their journey to wellness.

Brad is a HUGE Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan. He follows recruiting, winter conditioning, spring ball and, of course, he is glued to the TV every Saturday in the fall riding the wave of emotions that is Notre Dame football.

Brad has been married for 7 years to his beautiful wife, Holli.  Together they are raising two children; their daughter Anna who is 5 years old and Drew who is 2 years old.

Dr. Zehring’s family and Jesus are the most important things in his life.

You can read more about Dr. Zerhing’s on his blog at Dr. Z’s Ramblings or follow him on Twitter at @DrZehringDO


Improve Mental and Physical Health By Decreasing Weight Stigma

The amount of hours I have spent sitting in a classroom listening to lectures and taking exams during medical school would probably surprise even me – if I saw them tallied. What would not be surprising to me would be the amount of time nutrition was taught in medical school. That’s easy… TWO 50-minute lectures. That’s it.  Is it any surprise then there is weight stigma among my fellow physicians? After all, physicians live in the same weight obsessed, body image focused culture that the rest of society lives in so do we really expect physicians to be less influenced my the pervasive messages than the rest of our culture? Aren’t physicians people too?

It is well known to those in medicine that stereotyping occurs every day within hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices. It serves the purpose of enabling physicians to create differential diagnoses and to rule out the most unlikely scenarios.  More times than not, this is a very productive way to help a patient, however, with stereotyping there is a fine line between productive and destructive. There are times where the patient – either in life or within health care, is discriminated against to the detriment of their physical health and mental well-being. And many if those times the destructive properties fall square within my two passions – mood disorders and eating disorders.

Regarding this intersection, we are learning so much about the importance of nutrition on mood that there is a developing scientific field emerging – nutritional neuroscience.  We know that macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates and protein), vitamins and minerals are essential for our bodies and brains to function at a high level. Many of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids that we ingest are vital for the production of neurotransmitters and other vital pathways that our bodies use to stay within homeostatic balance.

Why does this matter?

In my training I have seen numerous situations where weight stereotypes and stigma have affected my patients.  One such patient was, as the medical community labels it, morbidly obese and he was sent to us because his depression was worsening despite trials of two different antidepressants.  During our initial workup we got his history and learned that during the last handful of months, his primary care physician had him restricting calories so that he could lose weight.  The number of calories he was consuming was so low that during the initial treatment plan he was to referred to get a body composition test and metabolic profile.  As you could probably guess his tests were completely out of whack.  In addition to his deficiencies causing problems with his bones, muscles and various organs…. his brain was not getting the adequate nutrition needed to function properly.  He was partially refractory to treatment for his depression because his body was not even able to supply the minimum caloric intake needed to produce neurotransmitters to improve mood. A vital organ, his brain, was being starved. This man needed his calories increased… not decreased.  Would the same mistake have been made with a “normal” sized depressed male?

For weight stigma to decrease and opinions of body image to improve, we must change the conversation. We must fight back against the media and reject the notion that we are only as valuable as the way we look or that we are less important as the numbers on the scale. We must look our family and friends in the eyes and tell them that negative body talk… weight bias… weight stigma… will not be tolerated. Words like… fat, skinny… labels like… good foods and bad foods will not be spoken.

The most important things that can be modeled for our kids, our parents, our siblings, our society are to:

Start loving your body for what it is, what it has done for you…  Start eating foods that make you feel strong and healthy… Start loving the food you eat… Start celebrating food… Start listening to your body when it tells you it is hungry… or full… Start exercising because it is fun and you enjoy it, not because you have to burn a specific amount of calories…  Start eating a lot of colorful foods…  Start filling your plate with protein, fruits, veggies and yes even… gasp… carbs! Start telling people they look great on Monday… or Tuesday… or for no other reason than brightening up someone’s day…  Start by ending the diet conversation… Start being the conversation starter…  Start focusing on being more active and strive for reducing stress in your life… Start by being uplifting to fellow humans and resist the urge to cut others down around you… Start being a part of the solution… Start by looking for ways to decrease weight bias in your life…

Start by being the change that is necessary!