Archive for August, 2011

How Skinny?


22 Aug

I have yet to find someone else on this planet as underweight as myself without their being either physically ill (i.e., wasting diseases) or mentally ill (e.g., anorexia nervosa). Believe me, I’ve looked everywhere. I’ve read the underweight message boards, where each person’s story generally comes with a description of the extent of the problem in terms of height and weight. I’ve observed the world populace as I move about in it. Heck, I’ve even scoured European fashion magazines — the haute coutre sections are definitely the closest I’ve ever come…but I still easily out-skinny even the thinnest French and Italian models. (I attempted to become a model myself as a young woman, but alas! Contrary to popular opinion, you can be too thin, even for the fashion world.)

“So,” you are probably wondering. “How skinny are you?”

Let’s start with the numbers. I am 5’9″ (175 cm) tall. With some brief exceptions, I have weighed close to 93 pounds (42 kg) since I was 16 years old. Although not the most accurate, the body mass index (BMI) provides a measure that allows for the comparison of individuals of different heights in terms of their weight. “Normal” BMI ranges from 18.5 to 25. According to the World Health Organization, a woman with a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less is “underweight,” and anything under 16 is classified as “severely underweight.” My BMI is less than 14. Even with consideration for having a small frame I am underweight by close to 40 pounds!

That’s how skinny I am.

If you’ve known me since childhood, this comes as absolutely no surprise. As a kid, my brother had several nicknames for me, including “Olive Oyl,” “Ethiopian,” and (my least favorite) “Wormy.” I heard every skinny joke in the book by the age of 8. Growing up in East Texas, where most girls are described as “healthy” and “corn fed” (innocuous phrases for overweight), I became extremely self-conscious of my gangling arms and legs at an early age. By the time I was in high school I had learned to refrain from wearing shorts for fear of comments about my “chicken legs” and rarely wore short sleeves for similar reasons. This was lots of no fun in 100+ degree Fahrenheit Texas summers.

Caution: Sharp Knees Ahead

Fast forward 15 years. I am now 31 years old and still struggling to stay above 90 pounds. I have spent my life searching for pants that don’t fall off (even the smallest slacks frequently drop straight to the floor when I attempt to try them on), blouses that don’t accentuate my elbows, and dress shoes with a AAAA width heel (let’s not mention the frustration of lingerie…aaargh!). Speaking of heels — at various points in my life, both my heels and rump have appeared permanently bruised from the necessities of walking and sitting without any protective padding at all. I also watch as my parents endure the effects of underweight as they age. Much more than most people, I must be hyper-vigilant of the associated complications of aging and frailty such as osteoporosis and loss of muscle mass.

Some of these things I have learned to accept and to live with, but others I refuse to. And so I intend to divulge here what I have learned so far about my body, as well as to continue my quest for optimal health by delving into personal genomics, scouring the scientific literature of metabolism, and contriving to cobble together a personalized fitness and nutrition regimen that supports my goal of gaining healthy weight, improving cardiovascular function, and improving my chances of living a long and fruitful life.

I’m excited about what we’ll learn along the way!

The Skinny

Life as an extreme ectomorph