I am very proud to call myself a Health At Every Size® Dietitian. I believe it is my calling to spread the Health at Every Size® (HAES) message and help chronic dieters get off of the vicious cycle of dieting and truly care for their bodies. One issue I, and many other Health at Every Size® practitioners, face is that not many people know what Health at Every Size® is. I thought I would take this opportunity to share the HAES principles and a little insight into what they mean.
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and all bodies deserve respect. We love dogs, right? We love teacup Yorkies and Great Danes, and we love them for their unique qualities. We don’t expect Great Danes to diet and exercise down to become teacup Yorkies, and we certainly don’t shame, harass, or torment the larger dog because of its largeness. So why shouldn’t it be the same for people? Naturally, people come in all shapes and sizes. It is our society that has decided what is beautiful and what is not. Unlike how we treat dogs (by embracing their differences), we pathologize fat people – deeming them unhealthy, lazy, etc – and that’s not fair (or kind!) Health at Every Size includes all people and all sizes and celebrates our diversity.
Want to see a cool video about Health At Every Size with another dog analogy? Check out this one (after you finish reading this article): Poodle video
Our culture doesn’t change without people standing up and speaking out. Health enhancement goes beyond physical health and encompasses supporting scientific research, legislation, and social movements towards total wellness. Access to practitioners, programs, and resources to improve or maintain total wellness is not available to all. Health At Every Size supports equalizing access in order to achieve total wellness. As a Registered Dietitian, speaking out to reduce weight stigma and educating others in the health field about Health At Every Size® will help more people receive equal access to healthcare.
Weight stigma, discrimination, and bias is not only part of our culture, it is part of our healthcare system. Too often, people in larger bodies are shamed when receiving medical care, by being told to lose weight and exercise as a solution to their “problem.” The problem with this approach is three-fold. First, people who experience shaming in while seeking medical care tend not to seek care in the future, risking their future health. Second, not every ailment can be cured with weight loss and exercise. In fact, there is no research to prove that weight loss alone is an effective tool to curing or treating disease. And third, telling someone to lose weight solely based on their body weight or BMI can result in the misdiagnosis, or a lack of a diagnosis, of an illness or disease. Furthermore, telling someone to lose weight via food restriction can trigger those with a genetic propensity for an eating disorder. Health care practitioners need to treat all people from a weight-neutral place; taking weight out of the equation and treating our metabolic health (measurements of our risk for disease like blood pressure, blood glucose, and hormone levels). This does not mean that nutrition is left out of the conversation. For example, a person with high blood pressure who is instructed to use the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) as a guideline (not calorically restrictive) to regulate blood pressure has a higher success rate than dieting (restricting calories) does.
Eating For Well-Being
This is probably my favorite Health at Every Size® principle. Eating for well-being means honoring what your body needs. It means learning to listen for your hunger and satiety cues, rather than the restriction and shame associated with diet rules. Everybody is unique, thus our needs to fuel and nourish our bodies are unique. Following a boilerplate diet will not give us all the same results, no matter how many times we try it. In fact, dieting – aka restrictive eating – does not honor our bodies. But, quitting dieting does not mean that we let ourselves go either. Eating for well-being includes honoring our nutritional needs to maintain our metabolic health, while also finding pleasure in eating, rather than following a strict set of guidelines aimed at weight reduction. Some non-HAES believers think that if you are not seeking weight loss then you are promoting “obesity” and gluttony. This is simply not true. When you re-learn to listen to what your body needs – what fuels you, what energizes you, what make you feel good – and what it doesn’t – what depletes you, what leaves you “crashing”, what doesn’t satisfy your hunger – your body will be nourished and cared for. And, size just doesn’t matter in the case of metabolic health. You can be fat and healthy or thin and unhealthy. You can be fat and be battling Anorexia or thin and struggling with Binge Eating Disorder. As the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover; doing so with people can be life-threatening.
Exercise, or movement, relieves stress, strengthens muscles and bones, supports a healthy heart, keeps certain organs running efficiently, and reduces the risk of some diseases including heart disease and some cancers. What exercise doesn’t do is lead to weight loss. Using exercise as a weight loss tool leads to frustration, and in many cases, ends with dieters not using movement as part of self-care. Therefore, finding forms of movement that you enjoy will lead to a sustainable practice of taking care of your body and mind. Health at Every Size® promotes movement for all people, at every size and level of ability. You don’t need to sweat, be out of breath, or in pain at the end of a workout for it to “count.” Yoga, hiking, Zumba, walking, running, weight-lifting, cleaning, dancing, gardening, Pilates, playing with your kids/dog/friends, etc are all forms of movement that will benefit your total well-being, and is not limited to those who fit the “thin ideal.” Movement is for all of us, at every size.
If the Health At Every Size® principles resonate with you, feel free to read any of my posts in the Diet-Free Living section of this blog, as they all support these principles. I was also recently interviewed by Tabitha Farrar of Eating Disorders Podcast on the subject. Have a listen to hear more about my take on Health at Every Size and the dangers of dieting.
Psst! I released my FREE e-book! Click here to download “The Inner Girl Power Challenge” and get a jump-start on ditching dieting, eating fearlessly and making peace with the skin you are in.