Health at Every Size (HAES) is an idea and a growing movement that “supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control)”. While the movement’s origins can be traced to the 1960s, in the past decade the message has gained traction and widespread attention from the work of Linda Bacon, Ph.D. Linda is an internationally-recognized authority on topics related to nutrition, weight and health. Her 2008 ground-breaking book, “Health at Every Size,” has created a large community of advocates who are spreading the message that being overweight is not directly related to poor health and disease, and that anybody of any size can achieve health without dieting or weight loss.
Her own experience with weight and dieting led her to meticulously explore the published research on the topic. As a young woman, Linda received the cultural message that we need to be thin to be socially accepted and healthy. She went on many diets and even took the advice of her own doctors to lose weight. What she found was that weight often comes back, but the discussion still focused on weight loss and not on true health and vitality. Linda recognized that this was a psychologically destructive model.
The HAES movement focuses on research, and epidemiological studies that support the idea that health is achievable at any weight. Some core findings include:
-Underweight people get the same diseases as their overweight counterparts
-Overweight people live just as long, if not longer, than normal weight people
-Underweight and obese people have an equally higher mortality rate
-Focusing on weight loss as a tool for health has a very low success rate
While studies have shown that overweight people may be at higher rate for certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, the causation is not weight, but many other factors such as lifestyle, genetics, income, and environment. As with Mind Body Nutrition, placing greater attention on improving many lifestyle factors such as social support, community, healthy movement, higher quality food, self-esteem and meaningful work, subjects experience an overall improvement in health including lower insulin, blood lipids and blood pressure.
So the focus shifts to lifestyle factors and away from weight loss. Not all those achieving improved health markers will actually lose weight. In many cases their weight may stay in the overweight category. Research shows only a small percentage of people who lose weight can maintain that weight loss over a period of 2 or more years.
By taking the focus off of weight, overweight individuals can reduce the stigma associated with their weight and stop the shame-blame cycle. Up to 97% percent of dieters regain most or all of the weight they lose on a diet. So the HAES movement calls for a paradigm shift in the way our health professionals treat weight and disease. HAES advocates are not saying it’s okay to be overweight; their message is about changing the culture of dieting to focus on healthy lifestyle changes and create a more positive body image and relationship to self. People take better care of things that they like. So HAES calls for people to like themselves into better health, instead of using the restrictive diet model that often fails.
There is a war on obesity and this battle seems to be getting worse. The culture’s preoccupation with “thinness” has created casualties of people who have developed body shame, eating disorders, self-hatred and isolation. There’s an us versus them attitude, those of normal weight and those who are overweight, and this overweight group is often made to feel it’s their fault. They are told that they are lazy, willpower weaklings who eat all day and are a drag to society. This, of course, is a gross generalization. But most overweight and obese people have dieted, or spend a lot of time trying to diet.
HAES proponents are working to change this culture and create a more peaceful approach to weight and health. Frustration by those who have dieted for years and failed to lose weight has led them to discover one of the many health at every size online groups,including the official “HAES Community” where you can sign a pledge that includes the message of finding peace in your body, and to support people of all sizes through compassionate care.
The movement is not just for overweight people. It’s for everyone who wants to stop the negative weight messaging produced by media and medical professionals. Consumers are invited to question the information being propagated about weight and health. Who is producing the information and where is the funding? Companies do not receive direct financial gain from people having a more healthful, mindful relationship with food and body. Diet and pharmaceutical companies are looking for products and medications that can be packaged and sold for profit.
HAES educates us to always look at the source of any research on weight and disease. Who funded the study, and who benefits from the outcome?
There is a strong, ever-growing community of doctors, therapists, health coaches, fitness instructors, teachers, parents, political activities and more who are working with individuals, groups and via social media to shift the message.
Below is information from the HAES Manifesto found on Linda Bacon’s website.
It’s the basic steps for those who are ready to join the movement. At the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, these principles are part of our teachings on Dynamic Eating Psychology.
1. Accept your size. Love and appreciate the body you have. Self-acceptance empowers you to move on and make positive changes.
2. Trust yourself. We all have internal systems designed to keep us healthy—and at a healthy weight. Support your body in naturally finding its appropriate weight by honoring its signals of hunger, fullness, and appetite.
3. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Develop and nurture connections with others and look for purpose and meaning in your life. Fulfilling your social, emotional, and spiritual needs restores food to its rightful place as a source of nourishment and pleasure.
4. Embrace size diversity. Humans come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Open to the beauty found across the spectrum and support others in recognizing their unique attractiveness.
There’s a wealth of information and support on this topic only a few keystrokes away. In addition to the HAES Communities, you can search for “HAES” on the internet and social media outlets.
Here at the Institute, we support the work of HAES and look forward to evolving this conversation away from just losing weight and towards a healthier and happier life. You can be a powerful change advocate for yourself and perhaps start a whole new career to help others! Check out our Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training to learn more.
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