When Maya Cohen decided she was ready to seek professional help for her weight, little did she know it was the beginning of her journey with advocacy for people living with obesity.

OAC Member Maya Cohen today

At Maya’s first visit with an obesity medicine specialist in Boston, she had a life-changing experience. Her doctor skipped the conventional “eat less, move more” lecture and told her that her struggles with weight were not her fault. It was eye-opening and validating. A significant weight had been lifted off Maya’s shoulders. But the events that followed continued to open her eyes and expose her to new ways in which weight bias and stigma are destructive.

Read on to hear more about Maya’s story and to see the recent New York Times article that shared her (very relatable) experiences with wanting to address her obesity.

What led you to seek help for your weight?

I’ve had issues with my weight my whole life. After pregnancy, those issues became more challenging. I finally reached a point where no amount of good nutrition or exercise could bring me to a healthy weight. My blood sugars were rising, and my joints weren’t feeling great. I felt like I was a failure at managing my weight, but I also thought there had to be something more going on. I wanted professional help at this point. No more fad diets or supplements!

What has your treatment journey looked like thus far?

Maya Cohen toward the beginning of her weight and health journey

I was nervous at my first appointment with my doctor. I worried I would get the “eat less and move more” lecture. However, after my doctor did her exam, she told me that I had obesity, and it wasn’t my fault. She said obesity was a disease I couldn’t exercise or eat my way out of, and that she and her team could help me. At that point, I felt like a boulder had been lifted off me. She recommended a medication that could assist with weight management, a high-protein and high-fiber diet, and regular physical activity. Her nutrition and exercise recommendations were easy to follow because I had already been doing them!

How has access to care been a barrier in your treatment journey?

I was pretty naïve when I started medical weight management because I thought that if obesity is considered a disease, then surely treatment would be covered by insurance. I discovered that not only was my prescribed medication NOT covered, but also that the cash cost would not count toward my annual deductible because the medication is considered “for vanity.” I was shocked and then outraged.

How have your challenges with trying to treat your obesity inspired your interest in advocacy?

When patients finally make it to the exam room of an obesity medicine specialist, they have already cleared many barriers and hurdles. They might be from weight bias and stigma or issues with self-blame. When a patient is told that there is help for them and that obesity is not a character flaw or any fault on their part, it is an immense relief.

However, when that help (in my case, in the form of medication) is denied because insurers deem that medication use is for vanity, I believe that wrong HAS to be righted. Medications that treat obesity are not ‘vanity drugs.’ My obesity medications are not the same as a Botox injection for facial wrinkles. I want patients who have obesity to have access to ALL of the treatment options, not just surgical options.

How has the OAC helped you in your journey and supported you?

The OAC has been a safe place to ask questions, learn, and most of all, know that you are not alone in your journey with weight and health. Our personal stories have power, and if we can tell our stories and make our voices heard, I believe we can make the change in expanding access to obesity treatment that we all deserve.

Read more about Maya’s journey in a 2022 feature from The New York Times.

Do You Want to Share Your Story?

Whether you have a story about navigating obesity, facing weight stigma, or inspiring others, your voice is important. Visit the OAC’s story project at WeightoftheWorld.com to share yours today. Not sure what to say? Consider one of our question prompts to guide you.

If you would like your story to be featured in a future issue of Weight Matters Magazine, please email membership@obesityaction.org.