Confessions of an Obese Physician (Part II): I Needed Help, I Got the Help and then I Became the Helper

Healthy Living

This is Part II of a 2-part blog post written by AdventHealth Medical Group internist and obesity medicine physician Matthew Swan, MD, FACP, about his personal challenges with obesity. Click here to read Part I – Confessions of an Obese Physician: How a New Pair of Boots Inspired me to Reckon with my Weight Problem.

 

I had finally gotten myself to a place in the maddening cycle of obesity where I was ready to take drastic measures to make changes within myself that would get me to a healthier place. To do this, the first step was finally admitting that I couldn’t solve this problem on my own. As a doctor, I wanted to think I could manage this by myself, but I could not.

I had to swallow my pride and look for real help.

I sought the care of an obesity medicine physician and, under his guidance, I engaged in a comprehensive plan of diet, exercise and the use of weight loss medication. I sought counseling to explore my relationship with food and the mental frame I was in that allowed me to hurt myself by continuing to overeat even though I knew it was killing me. I also began meditating every morning and made the decision to get eight hours of solid sleep every night—a huge change for a night owl accustomed to going to bed at 2 a.m.

In the period of time that followed, the weight began to come off and I felt alive for the first time in years. With the help of counseling, I began to understand why I had been eating the way I had and the motivation behind my behaviors. I sought new ways to change my routines and habits to provide healthy patterns. I started to learn the right questions to ask myself and I was able to appreciate that oftentimes, what I thought was not “emotional eating” was, in fact, motivated by emotion. All these things together resulted in more than just the number on the scale changing, my relationship with food and my understanding of it changed.

It was truly a transformation. I felt better than I had in years and years.

Knowing the impact the physical weight loss had on my life, I felt strongly that this was something I had to offer to my patients. So, 15 years after becoming an internal medicine physician, in 2020 I began the work to earn an additional Board certification in obesity medicine. I was able to study and learn the finer points of physiology of obesity and the scope of treatments available. The impact obesity has on the body and the overall physiology of a person was something that I poured my attention into, having endured it firsthand.

After months of intense studying, I earned my obesity medicine Board certification in 2021. When I learned I had passed the accreditation Board and was now a diplomate for the American Board of Obesity Medicine, it felt like I had reached a huge milestone in my life. I kept waiting for the wise old monk to wander into my office and proclaim, “Now the student becomes the teacher!”

When I’m able to talk to patients now about their weight, it’s so much more personal to me. I hear patients describe their struggles and can remember myself in similar situations. In a way, I feel like I know many of these patients even before I really get to know them as their physician, because our stories are so similar. And I want so badly for their stories to have a turn like mine did.

The truth is, I will always be obese, regardless of what the scale says. I have not “beat” obesity and I don’t have all the answers how to live skinny forever. I live with the fear that I will stumble and gain my weight back. You see, I will be obese because I will always want to eat what I shouldn’t, regardless of what time it is or what I just ate. I will never be able to go to a buffet and eat just enough to satisfy. Two scoops will always sound so much better than one. This is because obesity is a lifelong illness. You do not cure obesity, you treat it. You change your eating and your habits to ensure you have a healthy lifestyle. You do this every day. There are days where I would love to eat like I used to. I know that will never change, but I also know that how I feel now, and the future I have, is so much better than any piece of food that I can get my hands on…although fried pickles do come close on some days.

 

About the Author

Matthew Swan, MD, FACP, is an internist with AdventHealth Medical Group Primary Care at Deer Creek, near 135th & Lamar, and Primary Care at Prairie Star in Lenexa. He is Board-certified in internal medicine and obesity medicine and provides care for a wide range of acute and chronic medical conditions, including but not limited to obesity. For more information about Dr. Swan, or to schedule an appointment, visit his physician profile.


For information on his August 2021 Community Wellness course, click here: When "Eat right and exercise!" doesn't do the trick: understanding obesity is a psychological disease.