Recently, my boss approached me with the offer to get a health screening at work.
“Is it free?” I immediately asked.
“Yes.” she told me.
So I trotted on down to where the health screeners were set up, eager to blow them away with my ablebodiedness. Typically what happens when I get a health screening is that my blood pressure is excellent, I get a bit of a strange look when I get weighed, my resting pulse rate is very low, and then we discuss my exercise routine and lifestyle concluding that I should keep on doing what I’m doing, then I feel great about myself for the rest of the day. It’s a lot of fun for me.
This time around, the woman (I assume she’s a nurse, but I don’t know for sure what kind) took my blood pressure.
“It’s a little high.” she told me, looking concerned, “Have you been stressed lately?”
I was alarmed as this has never happened to me before, “I don’t think so,” I told her.
“Have you been eating a lot of high sodium food lately?”
I racked my brain to think of what I had eaten recently, and finally told her, “I ate a bunch of hummus late last night.”
“Well hummus is a healthy snack, but you should really be watching portion size and late-night eating. I recently cut out my late-night snack, and found that the first few days it actually hurt, but now I don’t miss it at all!”
During this speech, I tried to interject that this was not, in fact, a late night snack, but dinner, as I had not gotten home from work until 10pm, but she wouldn’t late me break in to what sounded very much like a prepared anecdote for just such an occasion.
Then she asked, “Would you like your BMI (Body Mass Index)?”
I’ve figured out my BMI at home plenty of times, but never had it professionally done, so I decided to go for it. What I forgot was that I am a very, unexpectedly heavy person. I’m not big, no one would ever describe me as fat, or overweight, but when I tell people how much I weigh they either don’t believe me, or they are shocked. I told a friend once that he would be amazed how heavy I am–this is a friend who was an avid weightlifter. A few months later, during some work shenanigans, he picked me up and ran with me down the hall.
As he, panting, set me down, he remarked, “Wow, you weren’t kidding.” This was when I was at my skinniest, when my mother was calling my brother telling him to tell me to eat, and co-workers were asking how I stayed so svelte.
I didn’t get a chance to tell this woman any of this because she weighed me, took out her chart, and then started lecturing me on the importance of exercise, even when the daylight hours are so short, and not filling up on bacon and soda.
She and her partner then loaded me down with brochures about losing weight the healthy way, and “exercise for busy people.” Not once did they ask me if I binge eat bacon, or how much exercise I get on average; they just assumed from my weight that I’m sedentary and have bad habits.
What surprised me was how bothered I am by this. Having grown up with a mother who is constantly dieting and who loves to make comments about my weight–usually based on how she feels about her weight–I’ve developed a healthy body image almost out of spite. I know none of their assumptions about me are true, but the fact that they would make these assumptions started filling my head with all kinds of notions–what if I am fat, and I didn’t know it? What if my friends and loved ones are just too polite to tell me that I’ve let myself go?
My stork-legged, bacon-loving, and staunchly sedentary Jewish Friend quickly reassured me that that was not the case, and I believe her. I like to think that I have the kind of friends who would honestly tell me if I’ve somehow gotten fat without my knowledge.
I’ve long thought that the BMI is a load of bunk, because weight is not the final arbiter of health. A friend of mine who recently lost 85 pounds, and is featured in this month’s Fitness magazine, is still technically overweight, according to the BMI. I could start smoking again, quit eating, and be at a “healthy” weight in no time, but that shouldn’t be the kind of lifestyle a workplace wellness person promotes.
I want to call this woman and yell at her, but I honestly don’t know what to say. “I’m a naturally heavy person” sounds like an excuse, and calling her up insisting that I run 25 miles a week, haven’t eaten bacon since I was 12, and almost never drink soda would be a very strange thing to do.
All I can do is shake it off, though I feel like maybe I’ll picture this woman as I run my next 1/2 marathon. I bet I’ll destroy my old time that way.