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Health at Every Size: the Anti-Diet Movement

Updated: Jun 12, 2018

Tired of depriving yourself and feeling bad about your body? It doesn't have to be that way...


Our physiology is much more complicated than calories in - calories out. So why use weight as your only indicator of progress? There is a more body-positive way to improve your health.



I don’t like focusing on weight with clients. Some people find regular weigh-ins helpful, and I'm happy to work with whatever makes them comfortable. But I don't assume weight gain means that person lacks willpower to make changes.


Let me introduce you to Health at Every Size (HAES) - a strategy to improve health and well-being rather than achieve a specific body size. The basic principles are as follows:


Food

Learning to listen to your body’s natural hunger cues without relying on a diet or meal plan, also known as "Intuitive Eating". It’s important for long-term success that you actually ENJOY what you eat. It's not sustainable to weigh your food, count calories or avoid specific foods for the rest of your life. No foods are 'forbidden' unless medically necessary. And sometimes it’s okay to let yourself eat empty calories like cake at social gatherings.


Education on portion sizes and the nutritional composition of food is still important. But they are to build awareness rather than form strict rules. The main focus is recognizing internal cues vs. external cues to eat.



Exercise

Being physically active in ways that you truly enjoy, not necessarily a specific fitness routine. Some people are just not gym people (including yours truly!). It's about incorporating physical activity into your daily life in a way that is natural for you. Oh, and exercise is not a punishment for eating.



Body image

Accepting your body as it is and respecting yourself. Understanding that all bodies are different and there is no formula that can tell you how much YOU should weigh. Weight and health are not as tightly correlated as we think. Your body will reach its natural weight as you learn to listen to its needs.

HAES® supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control) - Laura Bacon, PhD

That's right, one of the most prominent HAES advocates is named Dr. Bacon. Don't you love her already?? Unfortunately she's been met with a lot of criticism for being too extremist, to the point of denying weight's role in health where it is proven.


While her message has helped many manage their health, science does not support ignoring weight completely. There needs to be a middle ground, which is a delicate balance to strike. That is why professional guidance is helpful.


3 Reasons I Practice HAES


1) Weight alone tells you nothing about a person's lifestyle, health, or values.

A single weight measurement is not a reliable indicator of health. And in case you haven't heard, Body-Mass Index (BMI) is not particularly useful either (whole other post coming up about that). Not everyone who is obese is unhealthy, and not everyone with a ‘healthy’ BMI is free of metabolic disease. Weight is a number, not a behaviour.




It's still important to track weight, as unintentional weight loss or gain are signs of many medical issues. And yes, obesity does increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer). But remember calories in vs out is not the only thing affecting weight. It's hormone imbalances, poor sleep hygiene, medication side effects, etc, etc.


All I'm saying is the number on the scale tells a much more complicated story than we're led to believe.


2) Fat shaming is bad and eating disorders suck.

Weight is associated with lots of stereotypes, a common one being that overweight people are lazy and unhealthy. This is called size discrimination. There is a ton of research showing that doctors show size discrimination in their treatment of patients. There are many reasons a person can be obese (see point #1), and there is no way for us to know what that reason is by looking at them.


Diet culture and these negative stereotypes can lead to preoccupation with food and body size. It can shame people into following increasingly strict diets to achieve the societal ideal. This can fuel yo-yo dieting, disordered eating, orthorexia, etc. And I'm not cool with that.


3) HAES is compassionate.

I'm going to be honest, there isn't a huge body of evidence supporting that HAES is more effective than weight centered treatments. But the handful of studies that do exist show they certainly don't hurt, and it aren't LESS effective. I choose to abide by it because it honours a person's history. It gives them dignity and an active voice in their own care. It acknowledges that health is multifaceted.

Interventions should be constructed from a holistic perspective, where consideration is given to physical, emotional, social, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, and ecological aspects of health. - HAES guidelines

What HAES is NOT Saying


To be clear, the message of HAES is NOT that weight doesn’t matter so eat as much as you want. It isn't claiming the rise in obesity rates has nothing to do with lifestyle. It IS saying that we don't need to focus on weight to improve our health, and that we shouldn't assume anything about people based on their size. That's something I think most can agree on.


If this sounds like the paradigm shift you've been looking for, I just so happen to offer HAES nutrition counseling online. Check out the services page! ;)


Be kind to yourselves!


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