Diet and Physical Appearance

Some people eat healthy and look bad. Other people eat unhealthy and seem to be the peak of physical condition. What’s up with that? Well, an important part of it is whether or conception of “healthy” is accurate. Genetics is another. Beyond this, I wanted to toss up some of my suggested explanations on this matter:

There are a lot of facets to a healthy lifestyle and diet is only one of them. Following a good eating plan is great, but it doesn’t make up for a chronic deficiency in sleep, a complete lack of physical activity, a lot of stress, or an unhealthy habit (smoking, drinking, drugs and etc.). These things take their toll and contribute to making someone less healthy, even when their diet is good. Many aspects of lifestyle go into how a person looks and claiming that a diet is bad because someone who follows it looks bad without knowing everything about a person’s daily life is an invalid inference.

Let’s talk weight. Yes, weight loss is frequently a major element of the diet industry because it’s an easily quantifiable measure of our success, whether our goal is to improve out health, improve our physical appearance, or a mixture of both. And yeah, there is a clear connection between being overweight (especially obese) and being more at risk for disease and ill health which I’m not denying but I think we have a tendency to conflate being thin to being healthy and being overweight to being unhealthy and this is a gross oversimplification. We could grab two people from the population, one being “skinny” and the other “fat” and look for biological markers of ill health (e.g. elevated homocysteine, elevated cortisol, elevated c-reactive protein, high levels of fasting triglycerides and Pattern B LDL, hypertension, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and so on) and although adiposity is associated with many of these negative biomarkers, the fatter individual could still be, as measured by such standards, healthier. Who do we suspect is less healthy based on appearance? Probably the one with more blubber. But we could very well be wrong.

It’s not always easy to tell how healthy someone is by looking at them. William Howard Taft is famous for having been “the fat president”, but he lived to the ripe old age of 72. That may not seem that old to us today, but it was more significant for someone in the early 20th century and hey, the guy lived 5 years longer than his skinny successor Woodrow Wilson*. Finally, I can point to the famous example of Jim Fixx, a popular runner who, despite being thin and athletic, died of a heart attack and had severe atheroscerlotic blockage of his coronary arteries.

I’m just saying, looks can be deceiving.

*-yes, I acknowledge age is also not the best indicator of overall health. I was just trying to make a point with a silly example.


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