Would You Bet on the Stylist, the Plumber or the Doc?

A plumber, a hairdresser and a doctor walk into a bar. When the server returns, in addition to handing over their drinks, he issues each an identical box of 100 facial photos and a challenge: Sort the box’s contents into two piles–smokers and non-smokers–and whomever achieves the highest degree of accuracy will drink free for the rest of the night.

Assuming each person is representative of their occupation, who is most likely to win? Who is most likely to go home perfectly sober?

Does this sound like a joke to you, Zesties? In fact, it’s connected to a medical study I read years ago, and to the theme of today’s post, which is that of games connected to people’s occupations.*

Back to the study for a moment and the results. If you played along, did you place the participants in this order of ascending accuracy?

plumber → hairdresser→physician

Then congratulations. Both your intuition and commonsense won out. After all, plumbers spend most of their time dealing with pipes, glue and architectural drawings. It’s not surprising they wouldn’t fare as well as those who work all the time with  people.  And while doctors are paid to directly ask about their patients’ lifestyles and should have a high degree of predictive accuracy, stylists weren’t far behind. They benefited from years of subconsciously pairing a client’s physical appearance with smoking-related cues: nicotine stains, clothing odors, raspy voices, the glimpse of a lighter in a handbag, and so on.

At this point in the blog post, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Why is Jan prattling on about an ancient study?” Well, my recent health scare lit a fire lit under my tush, meaning that I’ve been making long-overdue changes. I’ve been cooking and eating more whole-foods, plant-based dishes. I’ve joined a gym. (Am actually attending, too, so that’s helpful. If you haven’t tried Zumba, may I recommend it? It’s a good workout and addictive.)

As is the case whenever I make substantial alternations to my life, I’ve become obsessed, and one symptom is that I’ve resurrected a number of games from my days as a family doc.

For example, there’s the game of Identify the High Risk Smoker By Appearance Alone. (The reason I remembered the above study, and a game I was pretty good at when I was in practice.)

Then there’s the Shopping Cart Game in which I’ll look at the contents of a grocery cart and try to predict the appearance of the person or persons pushing it, or vice versa. The idea isn’t to stand in judgment but simply to reinforce the correlations between food and health, then make the best choices I can for myself. (It would be hard for me to be critical of others because of the mote in my eye. By virtue of where I live and my education, I’m an extraordinarily privileged person, yet I struggle to do the right things!)

In addition, it’s an intellectual puzzle to try and determine the person’s gender, age and ethnicity from the contents of their cart. (Did I mention I enjoy puzzles?)

Lastly, there’s the Pick the Runner Out of the Crowd guessing game, which is probably self-explanatory. I’m pretty good at this one, particularly if looking at Caucasian males. There’s something about the angle of the jaw and skin tone which gives it away. You might be able to see what I mean in these two photos:

Canadians will recognize the now-infamous Nigel Wright on the left--a known runner. On the right is Dr. Neal Barnard--one of the foremost researchers and experts on lifestyle medicine. I'm not certain he's a runner, but he has the right physique and he's certainly a regular exerciser.

Canadians will recognize the now-infamous Nigel Wright on the left–a known runner. On the right is Dr. Neal Barnard–one of the foremost researchers and experts on lifestyle medicine. I’m not certain he’s a runner, but he has the right physique and he’s certainly a regular exerciser.

Does serendipity play any role in your life? I was struggling for a way to describe the appearance of chronic exercisers when I happened to pick up a book and came across this passage.

I could tell right off that the Alternative school is supposed to be really unauthoritarian and everything. The teachers seemed nice but a bit too social-workerish. Take Mr. Richards, for example. He’s one of those fleece-wearing outdoorsy people who look so healthy that they don’t even look real. He looks like he should have something more adventurous to do with his life than teach misfits, like maybe he should be heli-skiing or hang gliding in the Andes. Maybe he does that stuff on weekends with some freckled, braided bombshell.

That’s from Susan Juby’s  Alice, I Think, a book I’d only recommend if you’re a human who enjoys laughter and helpless giggling. It’s about a misfit teenager who began her school career convinced that she was a Hobbit, and who never quite got over the stigma she earned during that time.

Related Odds And Ends, Which Might Interest You

  • A rapid, safe method to improve your appearance in a matter of 6-8 weeks.
  • A slide show which shows how smoking affects looks, including photos of identical twins.
  • As a complete side note, I’d really love to see a study about appearance and “vaping” now that many people are turning to e-cigarettes as an alternative to cigarettes. Would their skin color and elasticity be as profoundly affected? I wonder.
  • *Sadly, I couldn’t locate the study to reference it, but I remember its conclusions: There’s an entire population of smokers who evade the medical system until they are in crisis, making it too late to reach them for prevention. The authors of this study suggested using hair stylists in a kindler, gentler outreach program. Despite the intriguing idea, I don’t think  it went anywhere.

All this has me curious, Zesties. Do you play any occupationally-related games or, like the above-quoted Alice MacLeod, am I destined to be considered a perpetual misfit? Have you read Susan Juby or tried Zumba? Is health a priority for you right now?

24 thoughts on “Would You Bet on the Stylist, the Plumber or the Doc?

  1. I’ve noticed that runner look before. I’ve even seen friends transform themselves into runners, and they sort of adapt to it — that tight face, bonier neck, etc. Speaking of which, I’m all for making healthy choices. And I try to eat well. I’m sort of an ‘everything-in-moderation’ type, though. I do imbibe, and I enjoy bacon every so often (but it’s really good, locally produced). But I’ve noticed several friends in my age group (early 50s) who’ve made the running thing into what seems an almost unhealthy obsession. I know two in particular, both of whom participate in two or more marathons or triathlons or extreme-athons per year. And, to me, they both look LESS healthy now than the rest of us more moderate slobs. I’ve started to suspect it’s a mid-life crisis vehicle. i.e. “If I can run 26 miles (or swim through mud after biking over a mountain,etc.), I’m not going to die.”

    A bit off topic, and just an observation, sorry. Speaking of apology, I just picked up some friends at the train station after they’d flown in from B.C. They knew I’d spent a lot of time in the Great White North, and asked, “What’s with Canadians?” I inquired about the context, and they said that everyone they met was beyond friendly and catering to their every need. I was happy to report that it’s just a very polite and empathetic society — moreso than Chicago, anyway. 🙂

    Okay, now I’m officially rambling in your blog comments. Fun post, Jan! Thanks for reminding me that I drink a bit too much craft beer and eat a bit too much bacon. And keep on creating those mental puzzles. It’ll keep you sharp, as well as polite and empathetic. 😉

    1. There is a topic from which you could stray? Somebody better inform my muse. 😉 As long as it’s civil, all conversation is welcome here, V.

      Re your runner friends: You’ve heard of Jim Fixx? Sadly, one can’t exercise enough to undo the damage done by a poor diet. And many of us late-to-life exercisers change out lifestyle precisely because we’ve had a glimpse of our mortality. In other words, on top of the midlife crisis, there’s the potential for selection bias on the basis of physical health. I sincerely hope that’s not the case for your friends! May they run on in health ad infinitum.

      As for Canadians, surely you jest, V. Look at me, for instance; under a thin veneer of civility and politeness lies a blackened corrupt heart. Don’t believe me? Prepare to be educated in another month. 😉

  2. I just came to see the renovations. 😉 And yes…moderation in everything. You have more fun that way.

    I’ve dreaded meeting you for one reason: I’m a smoker and you’re a doctor. It’s been a thorn in my side—smoking, that is, not you being a doctor—and I’ve put them down and picked them back up on more than one (two, three, etc.) occasion. But it will happen! My doctor and his nurse are ragging me too (and he’s also the head of smoking cessation).

    Don’t judge me. 😉

    1. Please let me know if you have any trouble with the site! It’s been stripped down and gutted in hopes of routing the bugs.

      As for the smoking, well I’m so glad we’re having this conversation. I understand the trepidation. It’s hard to meet online friends without thinking of the potential to disappoint them with the analogue version of oneself. I’m quieter, older, and wider than you’ve likely imagined. You’re a smoker. Guess what? I still can’t wait to meet you! (Besides the fact that it’s none of my business, and that two of my siblings smoke or have done so, and I love them dearly.)

      I’m sincere about the mote principle, Mike. Hope that’s reassuring!

      1. Not making excuses, but growing up, it was a different time, different place, different attitude toward smoking. Smoking was widely accepted, on TV, and all within the circle of our family and friends. It was ‘natural.’ Mom’s family made their money in tobacco and smoking was a way of life.

        Of course, I learned better as an adult. Simultaneously, smoking became more passé, and I palled around with non-smokers. I’ve tried to quit countless times, but just haven’t been able to.

        And I can feel your sincerity. Thanks. 🙂 Can’t wait to meet you.

        1. Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that doctors recommended smoking. Things have changed drastically in the last generation, but there are still many kids growing up in micro-cultures (families, communities) where smoking prevails. Add in the addictive nature of tobacco, and it’s not surprising that so many people struggle.

          I used to tell my patients that it takes an average of 12 attempts before a smoker can quit, and that’s an average. Some people manage on the first try, some on their thirtieth. One gentleman in my practice finally kicked it after 70-pack-years! That’s 2 packs per day for 35 years. When I asked him why he managed, he said it’s because I told him too. 🙂 (He was in his 70s and an inveterate flirt. We both knew quite well that I was merely his cheerleader, he’d done all the work. But he got mileage out of it. ;))

          Anywho, good. I was trepidatious about doing this post. Would my foibles be seen as fat-shaming, critical, or petty when they’re about me and my obsessions? But I’m so glad I put it out there for this conversation alone. 🙂

  3. Hey, Jan, nice to see you again! I’m glad your situation turned out well. Dave and I had our own encounters with mortality recently, leading us to say “Now’s the time!” and head to Yellowstone in September. It was the right thing to do.

    Now I’m using your post as the last nudge to start the self-pubbing dominoes toppling. Onward!

    1. Hope everything is okay with you both, MJ! Isn’t it interesting how often travel makes it to our bucket list? So glad you seized the geyser. 😉

      As for publishing, good for you! Looking forward to reading it.

      I’m running out of 2014, but I’ve got a novella I’m going to SP in 2015. There. I put it out in the ether. No take-backsies.

  4. Health is definitely an issue and interest for me right now. For instance I’ve learnt there is a big difference between diet and nutrition, the latter being far more important. As for Zumba, have never tried it but don’t know anyone who does that doesn’t enjoy it. I’ve never been, or will be, a runner but love walking.

    1. I’ve been thinking of you, Vicki. Hope all is well.

      You’re absolutely right about the distinction between diet an nutrition. If only we women learned that at a younger age, huh?

      I’ve tried running but it doesn’t agree with my knees. I LOVE walking. Zumba is such a different experience but fun in a different way. If you have any interest, I’d encourage you to give it a try.

  5. Really interesting post. I work at maintaining a healthy diet, (I’m a vegetarian) and I swim laps at the gym and hit the treadmill 4 – 5 times a week. Sometimes circumstances force me to go to the gym after the day job, but I try to go before as often as possible. The reason? I have a high stress day job, that involves dealing with people placing and picking up internet orders. I find when I’ve had a good swim or hit a few miles on the treadmill before the grueling (physically and mentally) work day, I am in a better state of mind and handle the stress far more easily and I have more physical energy.

    I’ve noticed too, that I can also pretty much pinpoint which of my customers live a healthy lifestyle and which don’t, without even seeing them first, just based on their attitudes over the phone, and their ability to handle the stress in a civilized manner when faced with an unexpected problem with their order.

    An overall more proactive attitude seems to be a side effect of a healthy lifestyle.

    1. Your middle paragraph is most intriguing, B. I’d never have thought to play that specific predictive game–linking phone mannerisms with physical health–but that’s brilliant and makes perfect sense. How neat! Reminds me of a blog post I almost put up on the WU FB page yesterday by the Harvard Business Review blog. In case you’re interested, here are the deets. Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job – http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/10/regular-exercise-is-part-of-your-job/

      As for getting up and exercising first thing, I so admire your ability to prioritize. I tried going that route when I was younger, but between hospital and child-related emergencies, could never seem to acquire the habit. When I made it happen, though, it certainly made a difference to how I felt about my entire day. Hmmm. I won’t give up Zumba classes, but now you have me thinking about the other days of the week. Thanks, B!

      1. Thanks, Jan! . But, i can’t take credit for my initial motivation. That goes to my youngest son. He talked me into going to the gym, and became my personal chef/trainer. I’ve been going regularly for nearly two years now, and I feel ten years younger. I have more stamina, my fat pants are hanging in the back of the closet and I’ve started to fit into all my old clothes. It’s been a gradual evolution, taking off the weight slowly and keeping it off, with a few pounds still to go. And the coolest thing is that when I’m hungry I actually crave healthy food now. When I stress, i crave a walk or a swim. Sugar craving at an all time low, and I’m working on the caffeine.

        Thanks for the link to the article, going to go check it out.

        1. I used to go to the YMCA years ago but gave it up for various reasons, some legitimate, others not. I replaced it with dance which was great fun and helpful for being part of a community, but not enough of a workout, IMHO. It was MY daughter who pulled me into trying her Zumba class. After dropping in twice, that was it for me. I’ve already experienced the marked stress reduction and it’s so enjoyable it doesn’t feel like work. Isn’t it wonderful when our young people can prod and support us into good choices? It’s also satisfying in that it closes the loop.

          Your son has to feel good about his role but I’m sure he’s proud of you and how you grabbed hold. Hope I’ll have your tenacity, because you’re doing it exactly right. If I’ve worked it into my lifestyle so that in two years its a no-brainer to go to the gym, I’ll be mighty pleased. (Think I’ve got the food part down already because of my prior research and efforts. Also, I enjoy cooking.)

  6. I do a similar game, Jan — I look at children and try to pick out their parents. I’m really interested in how genetics and environment influence us, and how I can help my kids be the best they can be given the genetic load they are inheriting. It’s rare for me to spot an obese child with a slim parent, but I do see more the other way around.

    I’ve tried Zumba and it was … dangerous for the people around me. Running or walking in a straight line is much more my thing.

    1. Child-parent correlation would be a fun game, Liz. I can’t say as I’ve played it consciously but now I’m going to go to the food court and do surveillance. 🙂

      As for Zumba, I could say I don’t believe you, but people definitely vary in their ability to pick it up. Let me be clear that I have no dancing talent, but over the years I’ve done enough instructor-directed activities that I can generally pick up the feet movements. At least, enough to stay out of the way. Having that muscle memory is helpful and essential to having fun, IMHO. And both you and the Slobbering Beast love your running, so that works out fine.

  7. In a former life I used to facilitate adoptions for an OB/GYN practice. I had a list of prospective adoptive parents and a pregnant patient and I would try my hardest to match up colouring – hair, skin, etc. Even when I couldn’t, it never failed that no matter what the baby looked like – red hair and freckles, e.g. when the parents were dark haired and olive skinned – they would say something like, “he looks just like Uncle Joe!” So I gave up the colour matching and went for possible genetic talents. I always wondered whether the baby from the girl who sang like an angel I matched with the musician parents was musically talented.

    As for looking at people and wondering about their professions or families, I admit to an obsession with pigeonholing physicians – sorry, Jan. I can’t help it. It comes from having worked with them for so many years. For instance, pathologists generally like their own company and don’t have good bedside manner, dermatologists and ophthalmologists want to be home with their families and not on call at all hours of the night, pediatricians really do love children because they have terrible hours and aren’t at the top of the pay scale. Plastic surgeons, and pretty much most surgeons, ego and money driven. Gynecologists…well, don’t get me started. I have 4 reasons why they choose this profession and they pretty much hold true.

    Nutrition and exercise are both very important to me and I hope they help stave off some genetic predisposition to heart disease.

    Lastly, I saw that comment about you self-publishing a novella in 2015. Good on you and don’t think I’m going to forget about it. 🙂

    1. That’s hilarious about the rationalization, Deborah, though it’s rather reassuring that the adoptive parents would be so enamored with their child they’d retroactively create a non-biologic relationship. (Hope that makes sense.)

      You have a lot of stories in you. Love the idea about the musically-gifted family you created.

      I could hardly take umbrage with your pigeonholing when there’s much truth in your assertions. I notice you left “family physician” off that list, meaning I probably don’t want to know your opinion on that subgroup. Kidding, of course.

      As for holding my feet to the fire, would you? 😉 I’m ready to get ‘er done.

      1. We all know that family physicians are overworked and underpaid. So clearly they go into it with a love of medicine and what they feel they can do for their patient. I’m not sure if reality meets expectation, but hopefully it does more often than not. I should have put them in the pediatrician class, because that’s where I see them.

  8. Interesting post, Jan. I’m not sure I considered it a ‘game,’ but I could almost always tell if a person smoked just by looking at their face, and hearing their voice. I have significant health problems now, and need a second neck fusion. My surgeon informed me that I have an advanced case of degenerative disc disease ( I think that’s what it’s called), similar to an elderly person in their 80’s. I would love to try Yoga and see if it strengthens my spine and core to slow down the progression, being only 42 years old.

    1. Jennifer, that sucks royally. I’m sorry. I hope the doc gives you the clear to exercise and you’re able to get some relief.

      I don’t know if this would remotely interest you, and I’m offering this resource as a layperson, NOT a medical professional, but some people find relief from various forms of arthritis through an anti-inflammatory diet. Fortunately, it’s the same one which is good for the cardiovascular system, prevention of cancer, etc. The doc who wrote this article has a ton of free resources on his site. He’s a plain-spoken person, FYI, which I something I like but doesn’t appeal to all people. 🙂 Anyway, here’s a place you might begin if you’re intrigued: https://www.drmcdougall.com/health/education/health-science/featured-articles/articles/diet-only-hope-for-arthritis/

      As for your predictive abilities, awesome, whether you call it a game or not. 🙂

        1. Sheesh, Jennifer, I’m so sorry. I only just found this in my spam folder and didn’t get notification about its arrival.

          Hope you’re getting some relief and again, I apologize!

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