Obese Health Happens

I received an email today in what I think is a response to this post (maybe among others) from a couple of weeks ago. It reads:

I don’t think it’s responsible to say that the only thing we can tell about a person’s obesity is the definition of obesity. I know a lot of obese people who eat crap and don’t exercise enough. It’s undeniable that obesity is linked to bad health practices.

You say you’re healthy and aren’t completely sendentary. But it also sounds like you don’t wantch what you eat. You might not be too unhealthy now, but wouldn’t you be able to your yoga or running or whatever better if you did it while you were at a healthy smaller weight?

I don’t agree with hating on fat peple, but it’s not honest to say that obesity is healthy.

Why is it that when I’m upset or angry, my favorite thing to do is answer in numbered list form?

One, defining health as exercising enough and not eating “crap” is overly simplistic and limiting. For starters, this definition does not address chronic non-weight-induced physical conditions such as endometriosis, nerve damage, or pelvic floor dysfunction. Additionally, it doesn’t begin to tackle mental or emotional health issues like PTSD. Dear world, when talking about health, we can do better.

Two, yes, really, the only thing one can tell from the fact that a person is obese is that the ratio of their weight and height-squared meets the definition of obesity. Certainly, weight and BMI are sometimes correlated with other bits of information like diet and exercise patterns — I’m not saying that never happens — but the correlation is not perfect because they are separate factors. If one makes a judgment about a person’s health based on all three factors, that inherently means knowing more than a person’s weight. (Not that I am suggesting that we go around judging other people’s health. But I am sometimes in situations — say, with my nurse practitioner — where I consult her professional advice on the subject.)

Three, while I can’t speak for running, I can definitively say that no, I would not be able to practice yoga “better” if I were at a smaller weight. For starters, a crucial aspect of my current practice is being present with the body I have now. Regardless of how my weight might change — down or up — my practice doesn’t get better or worse based on that. Even without a mindfulness aspect, I’ve been my current size (of course), and I’ve also been smaller. For my own body, I have more strength, more flexibility, and more endurance at this higher weight.

Four, “healthy smaller weight” really hasn’t been true for me. I’m sure there’s some small variation, but basically, when I was at a significantly smaller weight, the activities I was engaging in to get and keep that body size weren’t healthy for me. While I’m sure some people do have “healthy smaller weight[s],” I’m also sure that for others, “healthy weight” and “smaller weight” are two distinct categories. And coming back to point one, if all I know about someone is their weight, then all I can tell about them is… their weight.

Five, what I would suggest is irresponsible and dishonest:

  • Saying “health” when what you mean is beauty, attractiveness, or other comment on body appearance.
  • Suggesting that any of those is best measured by the quotient of a number on a scale.
Left side view of woman in plank pose.

Tori in plank pose.

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I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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Posted in ahimsa, non-asana, present, satya
2 comments on “Obese Health Happens
  1. If there is anything I’ve learned in my time as an athlete, it’s that you cannot tell a single thing about a person’s body by looking at it, beyond that they have one. I’ve seen so many people do impressive things with all kinds of bodies that I’ve learned it’s not even worth trying to judge.

  2. Laura says:

    One thing I know about my sport, powerlifting, is that one can lift proportionally more weight the heavier one is. So if you define “being better” at powerlifting as “being able to lift more weight”, then it makes sense that you are a better performer at a heavier weight than a lighter weight. [Caveat: you may, of course, define "being better" at powerlifting by different parameters.]

    I know that right now at 75kg I can deadlift more weight, more comfortably, than I could at my competition weight of 71kg.

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