My Weighty Story

I am a Hospitalist doctor at Miami Valley Hospital. I trained as a family doctor, and then decided to work only in the hospital treating acutely ill patients. I am putting myself out here to talk about about an epidemic problem: obesity.
I myself am obese, and I am trying to make positive changes in my life so that I can lose weight and keep it off. I think we all have a different story of our weight and how we became obese, so I wanted to share mine with you.

I was a tall and skinny kid, spending everyday out running around the woods and playing a bunch of sports all the time. That all changed hugely when I hit puberty, and that was a big adjustment! With all those hormones flooding in, I magically had thighs and a butt! I started to gain weight even when I was rountinely olaying sports and exercising. Throughout high school and most of college, I was an avid athlete playing a different sport every season. Towards the end of college, I stopped all my regimented exercise, but did not change my caloric intake… a perfect recipe for weight gain. As I ended college I was creeping up towards 200 pounds.
And then… medical school hit me hard. Med school was a generally terrible time of my life. I hated it so much in the beginning that I even took a whole year off of school and thought of switching career paths permanently (I had aspirations of being like Jo before Fixer Upper was a thing).

It was during this awful time that all my bad habits caught up with me. I favor quick and easy meals and hate to cook because I ruin many recipes! Even though I have been a vegetarian since the age of 16 I was relying on carbs and cheese and processed food for the majority of my calories. I also, like so many others, eat for bad reasons- stress, boredom, anxiety will all send me running for a nutty bar (or 2 or 4 or a whole box).
During this very stressful time in my life I retreated into myself, did no exercise and my diet deteriorated. I got up to about 225 pounds at first and then I developed severe anxiety about going into medical school because part of our classes involved examining each other in order to learn. I was ashamed and terrified of my body and became reclusive. during my time away from school, I got a job working for a small company in Yellow Springs. My weight ballooned to 270 pounds.
The one bright spot of this period is that my hiatus from medical school made me realize I could never give up on becoming a doctor. I missed everything about it, and reenrolled in school and proudly got my degree.
From here I went into my residency training in family medicine. I loved this part of my life very much. It was stressful to be working so much, but I was surrounded by amazing colleagues and blossoming into a true physician. I was able to get back on track with my weight, exercising regularly and reigning in some of my bad diet habits. I was back down to 225 pounds and feeling much better than I had in a long time… and then I fell. Playing indoor soccer of all things. Five minutes into the game. Disaster struck.
Instantly I knew it was a severe injury. I heard a loud pop and my knee immediately swelled to the size of a melon. I had torn my ACL, my lateral meniscus and had a tibial plateau fracture. I had to have surgery, and I was out of my residency training for months.

What followed the next two years was a horrible time of surgery, rehab, and more surgery. I didn’t sail smoothly through recovery and had a very difficult time. For part of my treatment my injured leg was  forced straight by two people pushing down on it, and then put in a cast to keep it straight. I have never sworn do much in my life as during that grisly and barbaric treatment! I was using crutches to walk for a year and a half, and I missed 6 months of training and had to extend my time in training.
It was hard; the hardest time in my otherwise privileged life. I felt weak, helpless and out of control. I didn’t know if I would be able to finish my training to become a physician; I was at risk of losing everything I had worked for. I was also in pain every minute and could not even stand or walk to be able to properly do my job. I was a patient instead of a doctor for the first time in my life. I experienced first hand what it is like when your doctor is not listening to what you are saying, and gives you the brush off. It was a harsh reality, and very humbling. Again all the weight I had lost piled back on.
At this time, I had to advocate for myself as a patient to get the correct treatment and get my life back. And I am so grateful to say that, eventually, I did. I can now walk, kneel, and have only minimal residual pain in my knee. I graduated from my residency training and started to work at Miami Valley Hospital, where I have been ever since.
Becoming a full fledged doctor came with its own challenges. When you are a resident you think you work all the time, but you have no idea how much more work you will do as an attending physician. I love my work very much, but I tend to be a workaholic. There have been many times I will be too busy working to take care of my own health.
The bad habits of not exercising and eating processed junk escalated. I have been able to lose weight, but invariably something will come up that keeps me from finding the time to go back to the gym or eat right and I backslide. I’ve had another lesser injury of my Achilles’ tendon in this last year and I was so frightened to injure it further I just stopped doing anything. I was living a veal-like existence with very little exercise. My weight spiraled more out of control than ever, up to 275 pounds. That means my BMI was over 40- I was morbidly obese. I went in to my primary care doctor and had a fasting blood sugar test. I was pre-diabetic.
That was a real wake up call for me. Until then I had been obese for a long time, but I had been otherwise healthy. When you are obese it will eventually start to cause health complications, and I didn’t want that to be my fate.
I have had enough. Enough of yo-yo weight going up and down 50 pounds in one year. Enough of hating myself for binge eating junk. Enough of feeling tired all the time and hurting all over my body from the physical stress the weight has on my joints.
So I come to you trying to make lasting changes in my lifestyle that will carry me forward for years. As soon as I found out I was pre-diabetic, I started on the medication Victoza- but that isn’t enough. Our first instinct as doctors can be to throw medication at every problem (because we like to fix things!), but making lifestyle changes is the single best treatment for many chronic medical problems.
The thing is… it’s really hard to be obese, damnit!!! And it’s even harder to change your lifestyle and keep the weight off! It’s hard to make time to eat right. It’s hard to shop and cook. It’s hard to get up early or stay out late to find time to exercise. It’s hard to own clothes in 3 different sizes because your weight is more fluid than quicksand. Its hard to not have that second helping. It’s hard to explain to well meaning people that no, you aren’t pregnant, just fat. It’s hard to look yourself in the mirror and not recognize who you see. It’s just hard!
But change is worth it. We all have the ability to be a healthier version of ourselves. It isn’t going to happen overnight; it’s going to take time, dedication, and work.
I’m ready to try, and I’m going to give it my all.
I hope you will join me!


  1. Pingback: My Weighty Story | Doctor Of A Certain Size

  2. Beth Collins says:

    Keep up the good work, Dr. Hartsock, and never give up! Focus on adopting and maintaining habits that will simply take good care of you. Women take care of EVERYONE but themselves. Added to that, you’re a doctor taking care of everyone else. Take your focus off weight loss and eat well and exercise regularly to do what ALL OF US need to do…nourish our bodies and take care of our heart and bones, etc. There are lots of thin people walking around who have BMIs in the “normal range” but they’re not eating well or getting regular physical activity. They are deceived, living in a very weight focused society. Don’t judge every bite on whether or not it will cause you to gain weight but whether or not it will nourish you. Plan ahead and make time to take care of YOU because YOU’RE WORTH IT!


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