What Does Healthy Look Like?


Most of the people I know, have at one time or another, expressed some sort of dissatisfaction with their bodies.

How many times have you heard someone complain that they are ‘fat’ or ‘they are on a diet’ or wish out loud for a thinner body?

When I was younger, I was a serious competitive swimmer.  Even when my body was lean and fit from the hours I put in at the swimming pool, I was a little embarrassed of my curvy shape and figure (I have ALWAYS had a bum and boobs by the way, no matter how ‘thin’ i have gotten!).

I’ve seen various levels of discrimination against both fat & thin people on the internet and have even had people give me an once over up and down with raised eyebrows when I say I’m a dietitian – In my UK Size 10 frame (plus curves) i’m FAR from fat.

These days the western society clearly equates thinness with attractiveness…..but what actually is the link with health? Can you really tell how ‘healthy’ someone is by looking at them? Is a size 6 model ‘healthier’ than a size 14 new mum?  Is that person you saw at the gym with a 6 pack ‘healthier’ than the slightly overweight guy that served you in the restaurant?

It’s pretty tricky to tell.  There are people who are more genetically pre-disposed to being thin and those that have eating disorders which keep them that way.  There are people who are of a ‘normal’ body weight but who do no exercise and also smoke 40 cigarettes a day. There are ‘overweight’ people that choose healthy foods and are active every day of the week. The reverse of these situations is also true.

But how do you know? Just by looking?

As a society, I think we are deeply ‘fattist’.  Just this week I have read a number of articles which have labeled ‘fat’ people as smelly, lazy and a drain on society.  I find it deeply unsettling. Especially as there is some evidence that weight discrimination can cause mental health issues and increase risk for obesity.

It’s true, if you eat less Calories than you burn and you will lose weight.  But so far, this approach hasn’t really been very successful.  Many people who try to lose weight regain the weight they have lost and some end up heavier than they were in the first place.

My view has always been that ‘healthy’ isn’t as black as white as the mainstream media would have you believe.

Perhaps the key is to focus more on healthy behaviours and less on the number on the scale?  Maybe if we accepted body diversity and that people look different, it would help people find those behaviours which are likely to have positive effects on their health?

It’s a complex issue and one I haven’t quite finished looking into yet….

  • What do you think?
  • Do you think how you feel is more important than how you look?
  • What do you think healthy looks like?
  • Would you take advice from a dietitian if you deemed her to be ‘fat’?



Perceived Weight Discrimination & Obesity


Association of all-cause mortality with overweight and obesity using standard body mass index categories: a systematic review


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25 Responses

  1. Perryn Carroll
    January 21, 2014 at 8:10 am

    I for one am sick of girls using the word ‘fat’ as a way to verbally attack one another. If you’re going to verbally insult someone, try something that they can modify (not genetic).

    • helen
      January 21, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Agreed Perryn!

      I commented on a photo this week posted by a surf brand. It caused a bit of controversy as the girl in said photo was in essence selling sports wear to women but was topless. Unfortunately many of the comments were derogatory about her size, shape and weight (she was very slim). I found it awful that instead of focusing on the failings of the brand, women took their frustrations out on the model. :(

  2. Carly @ Fine Fit Day
    January 21, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    I definitely think it’s more about how you feel than how you look. I agree that it’s very difficult to gauge ‘health’ just by outward appearance. I also believe that the biggest hurdle to beginning a life-long healthy lifestyle (and weight loss, if that’s the goal) is respecting yourself, caring for yourself and learning to love yourself, perceived flaws and all. Great post, Helen!!

    • helen
      January 22, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Thanks Carly! My thoughts exactly! :)

  3. Jo
    January 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    I don’t think anything in the media is as black and white as they make it out to be but I just wish I could block them out and not be influenced at all. But however much I’m aware it’s an issue, I’m not immune to the views they push on us, so sadly I think I would have a problem seeing an overweight dietician (though to me size 10 curvy certainly doesn’t count!) I could certainly be convinced to see them if I was made aware that they did in fact follow healthy habits though.

    Health is so difficult to judge because in reality, you can’t tell if someone is caring or friendly, for example, by looking at them, so why would you be able to tell something else internal like being healthy?

    • helen
      January 22, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      Hi Jo! Thanks so much for taking the time to read & to comment! I don’t think anyone is immune to the media influence. As much as I would love to say I am – I’m not! The questions I have posed in this post are difficult and ones which I certainly don’t have the answer to. I’m just exploring at the moment how our perceptions of health and disease actually impact on health and disease. There are a lot of things (obesity & disease included) which we are groomed to think of as fact when the answers are not so black and white. You totally have the right idea with the questions you pose! I just think as a society we place a lot on attractiveness and appeal and like to link these things with health. I don’t know what the right answer to the questions i posed is…I just hope it gets people thinking! I certainly am trying! Thanks so much for getting involved with the conversation :) H x

  4. Allie
    January 24, 2014 at 11:05 am

    I love this…because I wrote a very similar post just recently about this too! I’m a very competitive athlete and I’ve gotten a lot of the “you look SO thin” comments that I addressed it on my blog. I came here from Olive To Run and so glad I did. GREAT piece!!

    • helen
      January 24, 2014 at 11:39 am

      Allie! Thank you so much for paying me a visit and taking the time to comment! It’s such an important topic, I’m glad others are talking about it too. Can’t wait to check out your blog, off to have a nosey now!! P.S Olive to Run is one of my Favs LOVE her blog.

  5. Ashley @ Brocblog
    January 24, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    The word fat is so hurtful and I really think that we need to do two things: first of all make it less of a mean word and second of all stop using it as a gauge for any type of health. Some thicker people are far healthier than thinner people. Unless you witness a person’s three meals a day plus snacking habits plus workout routine, plus you are in their head hearing their thoughts, you really have no way of knowing weather or not they are a healthy person.

    • helen
      January 25, 2014 at 12:24 am

      Agreed Ashley! Thanks for visiting and thanking the time to comment! Have you noticed you would never used the word ‘fat’ to describe someone you knew and liked? It’s impossible to tell who is healthy by just looking!

  6. Rachel Cotterill
    January 27, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I was at my heaviest (and bulkiest) when I was training in tae kwon do ten times a week. It was probably also the healthiest I’ve been, certainly as far as my asthma is concerned (and honestly, that’s the one thing I really measure in terms of fitness). It makes me sad that people can be so cruel to one another, honestly.

    • helen
      January 28, 2014 at 12:40 am

      Agreed Rachel!

  7. Lauren
    January 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    This is why I love the health at every size approach! Losing weight does not mean you’ll get healthier, and you can be healthy, active, etc. at a larger size. Unfortunately, I’ve had clients tell me, “I’m glad that you’re a thin dietitian,” and I like to turn that into a conversation. Great post!

    • helen
      January 28, 2014 at 12:42 am

      Thanks Lauren! I love the health at every size approach to wellness also!

  8. Amber
    January 28, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Wonderful post!
    I came across your blog from The Lean Green Bean and love what you have to say.
    After struggling with an eating disorder through high school and part of college, I’ve realized I have to limit the amount of media I expose myself to. Subscribing to certain magazines, going to specific gossip websites, even some tv shows just destroy my self esteem. I learned over time that I’m happier focusing on my fitness and tuning out the skinny means beautiful mindset.
    I also read the about section of your blog and am totally in awe. It’s so cool that you and your husband live in Bali, but I’m so impressed that you saved for 3 years to do it and are temporarily following your passions there. That takes guts – you are an inspiration!

    • helen
      January 28, 2014 at 1:24 am

      Hey Amber! Thank you so much, I love hearing people enjoyed my posts! I’m so pleased that you have found a focus that makes you happy. It’s impossible for most of us to achieve the ‘skinny is beautiful’ ideal and I believe that focusing on healthy habits (mind and body) is where its at! Well done you for finding something which makes you happy. Overcoming and managing an eating disorder is no easy feat and so that’s pretty inspiring also :)

  9. elle | nutritionella
    January 30, 2014 at 3:41 am

    My definition of healthy has changed a LOT over the years. It used to be focused purely around size/weight when I was a teenager, and over the years I’ve grown to realize it’s much more about eating real foods, being active, and loving your curves as much as your muscles! I definitely think people are quick to judge but I do see more and more people embracing the health at every size approach!

    • helen
      January 30, 2014 at 4:16 am

      Well said Elle! I’ve definitely been through this transition myself over the years. I love the health at every size approach and its great to see more people taking their ideas on and using them in practice! P.S LOVE the look of your new brand. Can’t wait to see the finished product! :)

  10. Mark
    February 21, 2014 at 2:50 am

    There is ample data/evidence that fitness trumps fatness. In other words overweight and fit have better outcomes than thin and sedentary. Just like any food in isolation isn’t necessarily bad, one can’t deduce health in just a glance looking at any reasonable amount of body fat percentage.

    • helen
      February 23, 2014 at 2:00 am

      Agreed Mark! Thanks for reading :)

  11. Stacey Rosenfeld
    June 18, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Great post! I love to hear another health professional speaking these words – the more we can challenge mainstream ideas about health and weight, the better. . . .

    Dr. Stacey Rosenfeld
    Author of Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation’s Fixation with Food and Weight

    • helen
      June 19, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Thanks Stacey! Had a nosey at your blog, great stuff! :)

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