22 years old, female, 5'1", 86 lbs... natural, or should I be worried?
June 13, 2009 2:06 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is 22 years old, 5'0" or 5'1"... and 86 lbs (confirmed with multiple scales). She's a C-cup as well, so it's not like she's just skin and bones. That weight seems like it's well below what you'd normally expect.

She's a vegetarian with a healthy appetite, exercises occasionally but is not a gym rat. No body image issues or eating disorders, past or present. I assume this is just her having a healthy metabolism and a good lifestyle, but it seems far enough outside the norm that I wonder if there might be an issue with her thyroid somehow? She also had a bit of an iron deficiency (as a lot of vegetarians do) and has been taking iron supplements to handle that. She's of South Indian ancestry if that makes any difference, though I've got no idea why it would.

I'm not looking to crazily self-diagnose or anything, just looking for pointers as to whether or not this is something that is worth consulting with a doctor about, if there are any possible angles I should check, etc. :) I'd find my girlfriend absolutely perfect whether there she were 86 lbs or 136, I just want to make sure there's not some big health danger here that I'm missing.
posted by Televangelist to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I was 22, I was 5'4" and 96 lbs on a good day. My metabolism was something to behold. Then again, no one but a doctor can tell your girlfriend if her weight is something she should be concerned about.
posted by cooker girl at 2:14 AM on June 13, 2009

I was underweight for a long time in my early 20's -- 5'8 and 120 pounds on a good day. I had one doctor fret to me about how I was underweight, and I got all bent out of shape about it and tried to gain weight -- and finally asked another doctor what I should do.

She asked me a series of questions. "Do you get sick a lot?"


"Are you tired a lot, or do you have decent energy?"

"No, I'm not tired a lot."

"Do you eat healthy, or when you do eat is it all stuff like potato chips and cheetos?"

"No, I eat healthy."

She shrugged. "Then it just sounds like God decided you're supposed to be skinny. You're okay."

It is possible for someone to just naturally be underweight. My metabolism was on hyperdrive as well -- if she's eating right, she has decent amounts of energy and isn't gettng sick all the time, she's okay, and it's just that she has a healthy metabolism.

The one thing that doctor DID tell me was that if I did ever get a SERIOUS illness, my low weight may be something to be careful of -- sometimes serious illnesses cause us to lose a lot of weight, because your body is burning energy to get rid of the illness. While in a "normal"-weight person, that just means that you slim down 20 pounds, in someone who's only 86 pounds, there ain't much there for your body TO burn, so you run the risk of some complications. So if she gets mono or the Bubonic Plague or whatever, that may be an extra factor to talk to the doctor about.

Otherwise, it just sounds like she has a super-fast metabolism -- which for her, that's just the way she is. ...Also, metabolisms have a way of changing on you when you get older (said this formerly 120-pound woman who suddenly gained 30 pounds in 2 years after she hit her mid-30's).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:37 AM on June 13, 2009

Just to mention, "She's a C-cup as well, so it's not like she's just skin and bones" doesn't mean anything much. I've known a few medically-confirmed anorexics of similar stature and weight who still maintained a C or D cup. Depending on the person & their particular metabolism & structure, sometimes breast fat is the last thing to go.

Having said that, I know a few women from southern India with similar builds, and to guess at their weight they'd be well under 50kg - so your gf is not necessarily out of the ordinary. And an ex-gf was of good Maori stock, 5' 1+1/2" (that half inch was important to her ;-), solid build, looked a bit on the chubby side to most people (sorry dear!) - and 42kg, or about 92lbs.
posted by Pinback at 2:40 AM on June 13, 2009

Ditto about cup size. It means little.

Almost 5 feet, here. At age 22, I was lucky if I weighed 40 kg (88 pounds). Now, I'd like to stay at 95lb/43 kg, but that means packing in a lot of food, and 92/41 is actually a more reasonable number. I prefer it when my ribs don't show too much. I've always been healthy.

People are just made the way they're made.
posted by reflecked at 2:46 AM on June 13, 2009

If she is active and energetic, not gaunt or dull-eyed, and if she shows typical interest in food, she's probably just fine. One of my classmates a few years ago was a South Asian woman in her late 30s who was 5 foot nothing and weighed just over 90 pounds. She just had an incredibly tiny frame, and it sounds like your girlfriend might, too. She may also put on a few more pounds in her twenties as part of a typical shift in metabolism.
posted by maudlin at 3:47 AM on June 13, 2009

Response by poster: Good, this is exactly what I was expecting. :) I just have an ex/good friend with a tendency toward self-diagnosis (and a skinny frame herself) who said that it could be natural, but could also be a problem w/ the thyroid. So I figured I'd put it out there and see what the MeFi community thought.

Thanks everyone for your feedback!
posted by Televangelist at 4:50 AM on June 13, 2009

22 years old, 5'0" or 5'1"... and 86 lbs

22 years old, 5-0 or 5'1, and I fluctuate between 88-95 pounds.

I'm not even supermodel skinny (I wish!), I'm just petite. It's only 8:35 and I'm already thinking about what I'm going to cook for dinner, so no food issues. No health issues.

Just an anecdotal data point, but those numbers don't necessarily add up to DANGER! DANGER!
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:39 AM on June 13, 2009

I think that there's a relatively simple blood test that would catch a thyroid problem, and if she's worried about it she could ask her doctor to check her thyroid. I think that a thyroid problem that was serious enough to make her very underweight would probably have other symptoms: sensitivity to heat, anxiety, stomach problems, etc. (My grandmother had a hyperthyroid problem, and it made her totally miserable until it was diagnosed.) I wouldn't assume anything is wrong. Some people are just naturally skinny, just like some people are naturally fat. Unless she has other symptoms or has lost a lot of weight recently, that's probably just the way she's built.
posted by craichead at 6:37 AM on June 13, 2009

33, 5' (in shoes), about 92 lbs---after having 2 kids. I try to stay above 90, but I was 87 in high school, and except when I was pregnant, I've not ever been heavier than about 95 lbs. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:43 AM on June 13, 2009

A 22 year old woman with a boyfriend is presumably seeing a doctor if for nothing else than to get the BC prescription? So I'm guessing that her doctor is aware of this and they are monitoring it. My daughter is also an extremely slender young woman (as was I, sigh), 106 lbs, 5'8". It makes her INSANE when people see her weight as a pathology. This is as bad as bringing up weight to a fat person. If she's meeting all of EmpressC's excellent tests, just let her ride this train. (you seem pretty cool with it, this comment mostly for people who think its okay to complain about someone else's weight as long as that weight is "too low".)
posted by nax at 6:57 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another woman who at 22 was so skinny strangers would tell me to eat a sandwich (about 5'5", 106 pounds, C cup). I was a vegetarian as well.

Your girlfriend sounds perfectly healthy to me. I agree with nax--don't bring up her weight to her, just as you wouldn't if she's overweight. If she's concerned, or you see a big change in her health or eating habits then fine. Otherwise, you've just got a petite girlfriend.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:46 AM on June 13, 2009

I was a scrawny little thing and was often harassed (quite meanly) about it. Worse, I had an acquaintance who really was suffering from anorexia, and I knew how terrifically devastating that disease can be. Calmly explaining that I was healthy to bitchy high school girls (or worse, older women, who were even more judgmental) was one of those things about growing up that gets stored in my mental attic in the "WTF, that sucked" box.

Anyway, data point: 5 foot 4 1/2, small frame. Proudly managed to hit 100, barely, at 20. Didn't weigh much more than that until I hit 30.
posted by desuetude at 8:03 AM on June 13, 2009

Have you considered that she's also rather short? 86 lb sounds shocking until you factor in her weight. That's 'roughly equivalent' to a 106 lb 5'4 person, or a 131 lb 5'9 person (heavier than many runway models). It's not normal in the sense that it's common or average, but it's not extraordinary either. Don't worry about it.
posted by telegraph at 8:05 AM on June 13, 2009

I'm surprised no one has even mentioned BMI. As flawed as it may be in many circumstances, and by no means is it the be all end all of whether someone is healthy (I am technically overweight and perfectly healthy), it might be a useful data point. For your girlfriend's measurements, her BMI is between 16.2 and 16.8. A BMI of <18.5 is considered underweight, FWIW.
posted by derogatorysphinx at 8:39 AM on June 13, 2009

If they're concerned about her thyroid, a simple blood test can check her levels. However, a lot of people are just naturally her size and have nothing wrong with them at all. I'm a little bit taller, but I used to weigh her weight and people still comment and equal amount on how thin I am. It's actually really annoying to have people bring attention to your weight all the time, but regular and large size people seem to think that if you're thin, you must want the attention or something.
posted by ishotjr at 9:11 AM on June 13, 2009

Believe it or not, most women who are skinny are not sick. In fact 99% of them are healthy. Stop looking at those American supermarket tabloids and watching those entertainment shows. I had a S. Asian gf who was 5-3, a size zero and ate like a horse.

The U.S. has become brainwashed into thinking any girl who is thin is automatically "sick".

You don't seem like the type that buys into this propaganda.
posted by Zambrano at 9:48 AM on June 13, 2009

Wow. Data point here...I'm 4'11", C-cup, skinny, and weighed 130 lbs when I was 22 (still do). I think you should visit a doctor, just to be safe, but this shows you the vast weight difference (40 LBS!) that can occur between two people of similar size. I'm actually quite amazed at how small she is. But then again people have always been amazed at how "heavy" I am. Point is, it's possible that she's normal and healthy, but you should check it out to make sure (because she's on an extreme end of things, as am I, I suppose).
posted by iamkimiam at 9:49 AM on June 13, 2009

Also -- give her 3 or 4 years. In that time, I'm guessing her metabolism will slow down as it does for most of us during her mid-to-late 20s. She'll gain some weight. She'll be able to carry it beautifully however, because of all her wiggle room with the scale.
posted by cgg at 9:54 AM on June 13, 2009

I know a girl with those numbers who is perfectly healthy (and is also South Indian). She eats well and seems fairly strong (good immune system, energy, not obsessive about food). I know another girl with roughly those numbers who does NOT look very healthy. She's always sick and obsessive about food. Has your girlfriend wondered about anything like this? The thyroid test is a really simple blood test - she could get it checked out at her next doctor's appointment if she'd like to know definitively.
posted by barnone at 10:22 AM on June 13, 2009

If you're fine boned you're going to weight a lot less than someone of normal stature or someone who's got a stocky build. No big deal.
posted by fshgrl at 11:22 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am five feet tall. When I was about 22 I suffered from an eating disorder which was a combo of anorexia and bulimia. It was hell. The lowest weight I reached was 85 pounds (I maintained a C to D cup throughout), which to many girls my height does not seem too low. But for me it was extremely unhealthy. My face looked sunken and all my ribs poked out. Every body is different. Though I am very short, I have a bigger frame than many girls my size. It took a lot of time and therapy, but I have now learned that I am *supposed* to be curvy (big butt and boobs!), and that's ok, and even sexy to a lot of guys :)

You can tell a lot by looking at someone's face. If someone is underweight -- for their body, not by the medical standards -- it will almost always show on their face. If your girlfriend's face looks healthy and vibrant, and well, has a decent amount of flesh on it, then I would think that means she's a healthy weight. But if her cheekbones seem way too pronounced and/or her eyes look sunken, there could be a problem. Also, if it almost seems like her head is too big for her body, that can be a sign too. She obviously doesn't have an eating disorder, but I would think this (very un-scientific) test would work in this case too.
posted by imalaowai at 1:25 PM on June 13, 2009

On the male side, I'm 6'3" and weighed 135lbs until my late 20s. Ate like a horse. Just skinny. Gained 30lbs in the last 10 years, but still look skinny to most people.
I've also found that what is considered very thin in the USA is considered normal in most other countries.
posted by conifer at 3:14 PM on June 13, 2009

My (incredibly fit, very flexible, energetic) climbing partner is 4'11" and 80 lb. I say this is nothing at all to worry about.
posted by jet_silver at 7:45 PM on June 13, 2009

However, she may want to make sure she gets enough calcium; all the tiny women in my family seem to have issues with osteoporosis as they get older.
Lifting weights is a good idea, too. Weight-bearing exercise strengthens your bones, and heavier women get weight-bearing exercise just by supporting their own bodies. Lighter women can benefit from weightlifting. At least, that's what my doctor told me, and while I'm a pretty small person, I weigh significantly more than 86 pounds.
posted by craichead at 9:14 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

She's like five pounds under weight for her height (according to bmi). Would you be worried about being five pounds over weight? No? Carry on...

FWIW you can judge anyone's weight by googling "bmi calculator" assuming you know their weight and height. Note: this scale isn't perfect for the very short (your gf), the very tall, or the extremely muscular.
posted by shownomercy at 3:51 PM on June 15, 2009

Adding another data point here. I'm 27f, 5'7" 115#, which makes my BMI 18, low on the charts. When I buy my own health insurance I pay extra for being underweight.

I rarely get sick, unless I ignore my allergies and get myself a sinus infection. I donate platelets to the Blood Bank. I walk and bike, but no other exercise these days because I wouldn't keep the weight on. I eat meat (bacon!)

I've never managed to get up to 120, but it's a goal.

And yes, other women are the worst. I hear it less now, but still get the occasional, "eat, eat!" And my coworkers always notice when I love even a pound.
posted by bilabial at 12:36 PM on June 16, 2009

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