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To think one can't tell how healthy another person is by looking at them?

(38 Posts)
Amaxapax Sun 13-Jan-13 17:36:41

I don't post much, but I read a lot of threads and have been grateful to have been educated about hidden disabilities, which has certainly helped me to be less judgemental in social situations.
Recently, however, I have read a number of threads regarding weight in which posters describe a person and say their weight is unhealthy, or give broad brackets of acceptable weights, indicating that a higher weight is unhealthy in a sort of blanket statement.
Am I being unreasonable to say that, just like you can't always tell if a person is disabled just by looking at them, you also can't tell whether or not the person is healthy? Imagine two women. One is within a 'healthy' BMI. The other is classed as 'overweight'. The heavier one woman works out regularly, eats meals cooked from scratch comprised primarily of lean meats and veg and has a couple of glasses of wine one Saturday night. The small woman drinks more frequently, eats heavily processed food, primarily carbohydrates, though not necessarily exceeding a reasonable caloric intake. She doesn't exercise. Which woman is healthier? Why do we feel it's acceptable to comment on someone's health based only on appearance?
I appreciate that some people are quite obviously affected in health terms by their weight, and I'm not talking about those who are morbidly obese. For those in the 'overweight' category, however, it seems unfair to make comments about their health without personal knowledge, especially given the existence of research indicating that there are some health benefits associated with being 10-20 lbs overweight, particularly in comparison to being a similar amount underweight.
So, AIBU to think people should stop commenting on a person's health based solely on their appearance?

soontobeburns Mon 14-Jan-13 12:13:54

Im morbidly obese. 5ft and 18st 7lb but i have never had any health problems due to it. In fact I have low blood pressure.

I run around a lot as a youth worker (especially on residentials where im mountain climbing, abseiling etc) and I eat healthy.

Yes I could be better of course I could butwhat I mean is you could look at me and think im so unhealthy yet im not.

Amaxapax Mon 14-Jan-13 08:32:50

See, I think most posters on MN are quick to come to the defense of someone, saying they might have a hidden disability and the rest of us aren't in a position to judge them for, say, using a disable space, and I agree with that.
My issue comes from the fact that there is seemingly not a problem with looking at a person and declaring their weight as 'unhealthy', without any other knowledge. I have read so many comments, particularly since the New Year, judging others for their weight, declaring people unhealthy and generally taking a really dismissive tone towards anyone who isn't slim. I think it's dangerous because it vilifies those who are overweight. I'm a teacher and I hear children mock each other all the time about size. I try to tell pupils that you can't tell how fit or healthy someone is by just looking at them, but their attitudes are already ingrained.
For reference, I used to be overweight and am now just inside my supposed 'healthy' BMI. I have to work incredibly hard to stay within this weight, including exercising at least four times a week and eating a diet that consists of little more than lean meat, veg and a small amount of dairy. I am massively disordered around food and see my weight as a moral failing, hence why I've been ruminating on the subject.

chickydoo Mon 14-Jan-13 08:29:46

As a sufferer of a connective tissue disorder too, I am fully aware of how it can mask underlying issues. Hyper mobility ....big give away, lack of muscular strength due to being exhausted. Very elastic skin. Joints going beyond their natural movement without the muscle to back it up.
If a dancer comes in to the room, I know 9 times out of 10 there will be injury issues.
Sometimes people with connective tissue disorders can look beautiful & fit & healthy to an untrained eye, but the body gives a lot away. When I was a teenager I was there too.

cory Mon 14-Jan-13 08:10:55

So what about people who have beautiful movements, skin elasticity and hair due to connective tissue disorders which also cause chronic pain and anxiety?

Dd on a good day looks stunning: moves like a dancer, not a superfluous ounce, lovely skin and hair etc. But is only able to function on a cocktail of painkillers and anti-depressants.

(A somewhat clumsy consultant once tried to comfort her with the thought that her skin won't age at the same rate as other people's. Not much comfort to a 10yo in a wheelchair)

Gruffy Mon 14-Jan-13 08:00:11

Not to do with weight but your title hit home to me, people are aways telling me how well I look when in fact I suffer with M.E and it is a struggle to get out of bed some mornings. I am in constant pain with it.

Even the few people who know about it get a skeptical face when I tell them I am having a bad M.E day, because I look fine. It makes me feel shitty, almost makes me doubt myself, like I am making it up. Very frustrating so YANBU!

chickydoo Mon 14-Jan-13 07:16:27

I work in the health /fitness/well being industry.
If I see a group of people together before a class, just by looking I can usually tell what shape they are in health wise ( often before they move)
Quite often it is the over skinny who are worse than the over weight.
Poor posture, round shoulders, terrible muscle tone, stiff body type. Upper chest breathing, dry hair, & either very dry or spotty skin. The way people stand gives a lot away too.
When people begin to move so much more is revealed. ( I have been looking at people for 15 years, I usually can tell what there health and fitness levels are like on the inside just by looking at the outside)

Twattybollocks Mon 14-Jan-13 07:01:43

I have a friend who looks perfectly healthy, but in fact has chronic leukaemia. To look at her you would never know.

KentuckyFriedChildren Mon 14-Jan-13 02:43:11

Oh and hi weegie is dd feeling better? Did you make it to your appointment?

KentuckyFriedChildren Mon 14-Jan-13 02:42:23

I totally agree. I am about 11st and 5'3 (although you cant guess it as I'm only a size 12) and I have encountered medical professionals who say that I must be unhealthy down to my weight alone. I have several debilitating medical conditions, which can leave me on my back some days, but for the most part I push through that and on average walk (slowly) around 15-20 miles per day and generally eat quite healthily. BMI isnt always a good indicator of lifestyle. I personally think my daily cocktail of drugs has more to do with my weight than anything else. I do have a bit of a sugar habit, but I try to counter the calories in other ways, and am trying to cut that out too.

GothAnneGeddes Mon 14-Jan-13 01:41:10

YANBU and I am so pleased there has been sensible comments so far, some people on MN are gleefully sizeist.

weegiemum Mon 14-Jan-13 01:26:47

People judge me I'm sure when they see me hobbling/staggering. I'm 5'9 and 16 stone or there abouts.

What they don't know is I'm wobbling due to a neurological disability that badly affects my balance, gives me numbness and affects my "position sense" - I can't clap my hands with my eyes closed, if I'm standing and close my eyes, I fall over!

But in the last year I've lost 7st, despite the disability I've also become more active (yes thank you torturors physiotherapists). So I actually look overall healthy - good skin, great hair, good colour, bright eyes and wet nose etc.

But when we moved GP practices on our house move, the practice nurse weighed me and then (without checking) asked if d ever considered losing some weight!!

I've been accused of being fat, of being drunk or on drugs (no wonder I take a walking stick with me often when I go out!), of being lazy. It always hurts, but you kind of get used to it!

mercury7 Mon 14-Jan-13 01:12:39

it is surely self evident that you cant measure all parameters of health or disease just from appearance, but there is some degree of correlation between appearance and health.

Also, a persons level of health is a result of several different factors which interact in complex ways, not all of which are fully understood

LuluMai Mon 14-Jan-13 00:33:17

No you can't really. Two years ago I was a size ten surviving on diet pills, coffee and cigarettes. Now I'm a size 18 who eats a healthy diet (but also eats a lot of junk, I'll admit). My size isn't healthy but my lifestyle wasn't healthy when I was slim.

i am classed as morbidly obese. im 18st 5ft 7". i know people consider me unhealthy by the way they look at me.

however, they dont know that i dont drink, i dont smoke, i dont do drugs, i do weight watchers, i go the the gym 2-3 times a week, i do zumba when my knee isnt playing up, i go swimming once a week, i dont eat takeout but do eat out once a week, i do not have any health related illnesses, and according to my dr i have a lot of healthy colesterol. the only health problem i have is gallstones... and anyone can get those.

they also dont know that in the past 3 1/2 years i have lost 4st. my dh is skinny and at his ideal weight, yet im fitter than he is. he doesnt work out or excersise. people judge... and they really shouldnt.

"fat bashing" really makes me angry

LineRunner Sun 13-Jan-13 23:37:55

BMI is bonkers.

giveitago Sun 13-Jan-13 23:32:12

YANBU. I was very slim for many years. To the outside world I was very healthy looking and very fit (gym bunny). Went for this health check and my body fat ratio was very high. They pointed out another woman to me who was much larger but who had a much healthier body fat ratio.

My parents are the same age. DF - looks his age but is very healthy and slim and has survived two types of cancer on more than two occasions over last 30 years. My dm looks 20 years younger and is also slim but full of diabetes and v. high blood pressure etc.Nothing she does improves it. But people are all over her because how she looks. I worry about dm mum but less about dd who looks very old but is fine.

edam Sun 13-Jan-13 22:51:14

My Mother is definitely not healthy - smokes, overweight, doesn't do any exercise thanks to a foot problem - but irritates the doctors no end by sailing past every test every time they think there might be an issue. Which she finds quite amusing. grin

LessMissAbs Sun 13-Jan-13 21:40:30

HappySeven I don't think poor circulation is ever a good thing - your blood not only transports oxygen and energy around your body but facilitates repair of tissue. But I was thinking more of those men in their twenties/early thirties who spend too much time in the pub and who, although still relatively slim, have that sort of rough, unhealthy skin - its a sign of poor lymph drainage.

But in 10ks and other endurance running events, its all about power to weight ratio, and there are not many sub 40 minute female 10k runners carrying much overweight. I know if I put on even a few pounds, it slows me down by at least a minute per 5k.

HappySeven Sun 13-Jan-13 21:17:13

LessMissAbs, really? I'm often surprised at who is a good runner (and who isn't!) when I do a 10k. And is poor circulation a 'bad' thing? I've always had poor circulation but never thought of it as anything but annoying.

Cat98 Sun 13-Jan-13 21:08:13

Hmm, on balance I think YANBU - though I agree with a previous poster that being overweight/obese on it own adds an extra 'unhealthy' factor regardless of how much veg they eat etc.

However, I could almost be the small woman in your example! I am 5 ft 3, 8 stone 10, size 8-10. I am not unfit but certainly not fit either and have a too-high resting heart rate. I eat veg but only with dinner, and I rarely eat fruit. I eat too much junk - my main poisons are chocolate, bread, bacon sandwiches and takeaways - but the reason I'm not overweight I guess is because if I have something like a bacon sandwich I won't eat much else for the rest of the day apart from a small dinner.
I also drink too much wine I think!
So yes - from looking at me you'd probably think I'm healthier than I am. At least I don't smoke!!

ratbagcatbag Sun 13-Jan-13 20:44:38

Difficult one, I've got a bmi of 34, far too short is my issue at five ft. grin however I Zumba twice a week, walk for pleasure regularly and climbed Snowden in August and couldn't walk for two days afterwards so I'm not unfit, but if I ate less choc and takeaways I could be even better.
I'm currently 29 weeks pregnant and have managed only 2lb weight gain (which I'm chuffed about) and according to the midwives I'm absolutely spot on with every test result I've had, the only blot on my notes is my high bmi, but because I'm still walking lots I'm doing well and a lot more active than others I've seen.

CombineBananaFister Sun 13-Jan-13 20:37:06

Me and my friends often comment about this (and it's not just me bein overweight and looking for justification) it's a bit of a running joke. A size 8 friend who smokes like a chimmney, eats LOADS and seriously cannot run to catch her toddler admits she can't possibly be healthy. I on the other hand am not a good example as although my medication affects weight gain i eat too much nice stuff (husband a chef) I do run twice a week,swim and have a physical job so I don't have any 'problems'associated with it - I have to have regular check-ups and this pleases my doctor no end. Another italian frined gets quite ill with their blood pressure and cholestoral but excercises and eats well bless them but has to take statins. So although generally there are certain rules about whta makes you healthy, there are exceptions and weight isn't the only indicator in my eyes. maybe I would be olypic material if i divorced wink

Amaxapax Sun 13-Jan-13 20:32:33

I guess my feeling is that people hide behind concerns about health as a way to be judgmental about a person who doesn't look the way they 'should'. I'm confused about why it would be more difficult to be healthy and overweight, assuming we're not veering into the morbidly obese categorisation, as I mentioned in my OP. If you are overweight but still eating healthily and exercising, why do the extra pounds automatically mean you aren't as healthy?

Catsnotrats, why would you question why the healthier person was still overweight instead of questioning why the unhealthy person was of a normal weight? Isn't it possible that different people hold on to fat differently?

I suppose I think it would be more sensible for all the focus on weight loss to be adjusted to focusing on being healthy at every size, which would perhaps remove the lure of crash dieting for the purpose of being thin, which is often done under the pretext of health instead of the actual motivation of vanity.

LessMissAbs Sun 13-Jan-13 20:31:24

I find I can tell quite accurately by just looking at someone. I'm a competitive runner, and what you do on the start line is look at your opposition to see whos going to be fast. Its very accurate. Its not just weight, its colour, shape of legs, muscle tone, etc..

And then, knowing what healthy athletes look like gives me a good guideline for comparing other people against. Its easy to spot the signs of poor, fatty diet, whether they smoke or not, and too much alcohol in skin texture and colour, eyes (bloodshot or not), thread veins, their hair, their skin elasticity, how they store excess fat, etc..

My friend is a pathologist and she maintains that she can often spot the likely cause of death in many people years before they actually do peg it, and that some people are just about to pass away, because they are walking cases of high cholestorol and poor circulation.

Theicingontop Sun 13-Jan-13 20:19:44

I'm overweight, and have been doing the couch to 5k programme (and honestly can't recommend it enough.) It isn't necessarily designed to make you lose weight but to increase your fitness and stamina.

So I was running along the beach yesterday morning and there was a skinny little thing doing her jog along the same stretch. She looked as if she was about to die, and I saw her start after me. Yanbu!!

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