Tuesday, 3 February 2009

That time of the year again...

Arrgh the annual medical is rearing its ugly head. My last two jobs and my current gig have required that I trot along to the doctor every year for a medical exam. I know that these exams are useful insofar as they can pick up symptoms before they become major problems. Nevertheless I loathe these exams not just because I hate needles but a few years ago one of the Doctors decided that I had either lung cancer or TB (the latter of which would see me deported) after completely misreading my chest x-ray.

Last year's exam was not much fun either. Despite all the other tests for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar etc coming back bang on perfect, my Body Mass Index was floating around 25, the medical line in the sand for being a fattie. So as a result the doctor told me I needed to think about losing some weight. The infuriating part of the doctor's advice is that I checked all the boxes for a 'healthy' lifestyle. I exercise at least 4-5 times a week for an hour at a time, I don't smoke, rarely drink, get my 5+ a day of fruit + veggies and have largely limited my vices of chocolate, baked goods and ice-cream to a once-a-day treat. Yes I'm sure that the solitary serving of 'junk food' would have the lunch box nazis tut-tutting but there is a world of difference between 'junk food' and a 'junk diet.'

But there was the horrible label I thought I had banished from my life, fat. That wordis a horrible creature. Not only does it mean the labels in your clothes have bigger numbers but it also brings up a whole host of other terms along with it. To be fat is to be lazy, unfeminine, undisciplined, aggressive and unloveable. Fat is also a synonym for stupid. And stupid is how I feel about obsessing about this number that really doesn't mean anything.

Even at my Cambodian food poisoning induced skinniest, my BMI was still registering 22 - apparently the upper side of the 'healthy' range. However anyone who saw me immediately after my trip knew I was anything but. I looked pale and gaunt my skin sagged along the bones of my body, hardly the picture of perfect health and when you have half a dozen stick thin Korean women voicing concerns about how thin you have gotten you know something is not right. But hey, at least I could see the bones of my ribcage protruding through my skin. Jackpot baby!

Now I'm sure that anybody who knows me off screen would be quick to jump in say 'quit your bitching, you're not fat ex-expat.' But when they are saying 'you're not fat,' what they really mean is you aren't any of those other nasty labels we associate with word fat. But what about the associations with word thin? Thanks to the hysteria surrounding the obesity epidemic we think thin = fit and healthy.

But as I've demonstrated that isn't always the case. Yes weight is a strong indicator of health and fitness but it isn't the only one. Being able to walk up a flight of stairs without gasping for air is probably a good indicator of fitness and other indicators of a system under stress from too much weight such as respiratory problems, elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar (for type 2 diabetes) are actual markers of bad health rather than a dress size.

So at this point I am going to take my advice and not obsess about my weight but getting my 2.4km run down under 12 minutes which is what the police expect females of my age to be able to run. Not so much because I want to join the force but I figure that's a good place to be at fitness-wise just in case I decide to rob a bank or something.


Julie said...

The BMI thing pisses me off. Sometimes I am in the morbidly underweight catergory and other times I go close to overweight, by the BMI measure. It seems to me to be quite arbitrary, or rather it is arbitrary for many many people because it just doesn't fit (hah hah!) their reality.

I don't have any scales at home, and have resisted having any for a long time. I can tell if I've lost or gained weight from how my clothes fall, which notch my belt is on, and for me my biggest body issue is not so much weight as fitness. When I'm at my thinnest it's not usually because of exercise or good diet, it's because I'm not eating enough. When I do exercise and eat well I put weight on.

Good luck e-e. To steal from Colin Firth playing Mark Darcy in the movie of a book by Helen Fielding, I love you just the way you are. And however you change.

Tidge said...

Yep, the BMI thing is lame. I am super-hourglass-y, and despite having a good diet (sounds similar to yours ex-expat) and doing a lot of walking, and lately, swimming, I'm BMI overweight.

But if I didn't have big breasts (like was something less than an F), made bigger by the pill, and also didn't have shoulders wider than most guys my height, I'd be a lot less BMI overweight.

Maybe I should get a breast reduction, even though they aren't a hassle to me and don't even look very ginormous because of aforementioned broad shoulders and back? Then I will be healthier, right? RIGHT?

p.s. Ex-expat. I really liked your personal blog, but I notice you have made it private. I hope it wasn't because of abortion trolls. If you'd let me, I'd love to be allowed to read it. I'm not sure how to ask/rig that up, so hopefully this is an acceptable way to do so.

Anonymous said...

I work at a government department, for some reason our manager decided we should all be healthy and go on a health freak, ie get more exercise, eat things called veges and not eat pizza or drink. I don't know why, but shes taken to heart the “Obesity Epidemic” and that “We Should do something about It!” also “We Should Set an Example To Others”.

My BMI was measured and is about 30, apparently that makes me fat and it was “suggested” to me that I should loose some weight (or it might affect my performance review, because we should set an example to others!).

Anyway when I went to my doctor and told him the story, he couldn't stop laughing, he said the BMI is bull shite and didn't really apply to me considering my body type, bone and muscle mass, I have better than average blood pressure, good level of fitness for my age etc, basically I'm a fit & healthy slightly chubby guy.

So I told my boss that I was healthy and repeated to what my doctor said, and do you know what she said to me? ..... Now wait for this, ..... she said my doctor wasn't “qualified”! ....Thats right, my doctor; who by the way, even went to medical school, you know the place at Otago where all the over-educated over-achieving nerdy swot types go to learn to be doctors, is less qualified than my manager, who has a BA from Massey, to decide if someone is healthy or not!

Now I'm all for setting an example, in the work place, I arrive early, have short lunches and if I do go out for a business lunch I don't drink and then go back to the office, I try to mentor the younger staff as best I can; but Ill be dammed if I'm going to make changes to my personal life.

I have decided, failing winning lotto or big Wednesday, that I'm looking for a new job!

Hugh said...

Jesus christ Anon that pisses me off.

I don't care where you work, it is not appropriate for your boss to be commenting on your weight, let alone making it part of your performance review.

homepaddock said...

More weight and fit is better than less weight and unfit.

You ran a marathon recently how can you be unhealthy?

Anonymous said...

But ExEx, you *did* think about losing some weight. That's all they asked for...

Sheesh, anyone would think you'd never had a for year old to teach you the rudiments of obeying instructions.

(who still thunks of himself as a scrawny type)

Giovanni said...

So at this point I am going to take my advice and not obsess about my weight but getting my 2.4km run down under 12 minutes which is what the police expect females of my age to be able to run. Not so much because I want to join the force but I figure that's a good place to be at fitness-wise just in case I decide to rob a bank or something.

In these tough economic times, robbing a bank may be a waste of time. But otherwise the plan and the philosophy sound just about spot on to me.

My BMI is fine but you sound a whole lot fitter than I am.

AWicken said...

A few years back I had blood pressure of 190/120. I say that to health professionals and they become _very_ serious.

Anyway, lots of issues, but the big one was fat - I've dropped about 10-15cm in waist measurement since then. Everybody says I look great, BP is down to normal range, I'm a bit more fit, etc.

The point? My weight is almost identical to what it was before, and my BMI has therefore not changed. According to the BMI, I'm as unhealthy as when I was getting spontaneous nose bleeds. Weight is only a factor if it's broken down by body type, gender, etc.

Tidge said...

If anyone is interested ina good book on this topic, I recommend "Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America's Obesity Epidemic" (J. Eric Oliver). It makes a nice counterpoint against the hysteria about the current 'obesity epidemic'.


AWicken, that's really interestedting to hear. Have you put on a lot of muscle, or just redistributed your weight somehow? I read that waist circumference vs. height may actually be a much better method of measuring health than BMI, which made me feel good as it fits my body type! But there are plenty of people who are genetically predisposed to carry their nweight around their middle, so what about them?

Anonymous, I should think there are grounds for a formal complaint there (if it can affect your performance review). That's utterly inappropriate.

Julie said...

Yes, there are definitely grounds for a complaint about that Anon, it's clearly unjustified disadvantage at least. That said, if you take a personal grievance you need to consider that the outcome might be that you end up leaving that job. At the least it'd be worth having a chat to your workmates, and your union, because I'm sure you are not the only person who finds that unacceptable and may be affected.

Hugh said...

Now that I think about it a bit more Anon, even if we accept that your boss's desire for you to loose weight is legitimate, the fact that he told you to ignore the advice of a health professional is just as bad by itself.

AWicken said...

@ Tidge:

I think there's been a fair amount of substitution to muscle, but not in an Arnie way. I went from mostly sedentary to a fair amount of movement. No exercise plan - just got a job that was out and about (as well as the desk work), and shifted to a flat up a hill.

I actually needed new uniform trousers issued, the old ones scrunch at the waist when I tighten my belt. The weight varies according to the scales I use, but it seems to have been pretty constant over the 2 years from my first set of trousers.

My doctor has a notice at reception that says they now don't look at BMI, and go strictly by waist measurement in the first instance.