Health At Every Size
Whether you’re someone who has always struggled to maintain an “ideal” weight, a middle-ager whose finding it difficult to maintain a size without severe calorie restriction, or just an advocate of healthful living void of dietary approaches to eating, Health At Every Size (HAES) is a movement dedicated to you. HAES is a concept, a commitment, a collection of resources, and a community dedicated to removing stigma, improving health, and increasing self-esteem for those who don’t conform to certain established body standards.
Though it’s become a movement, Linda Bacon PhD, who co-authored Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight with Dr. Lucy Aphramor, didn’t set out to start one. “I stumbled on these ideas while trying to save myself,” she says. “From a very young age, I thought I was fat, that there was something wrong with being fat, and that if only I could lose weight, I’d get the love, acceptance, and respect I deserved. That started me on the very painful path of fighting my weight: diets, exercise, and a slew of desperate measures too painful to dredge up again. I was very good at losing weight. But it rarely lasted for long, and never brought the peace I was hoping for.
“My pain was so preoccupying when I was in college that I figured I had little choice in a course of study: I became determined to understand everything I could about weight,” she continues. “Three graduate degrees and tons of hours immersed in laboratories, books, and clinical practice, and I emerged with a very different perspective, having determined that the problem had nothing to do with my weight and everything to do with my misinformed ideas about weight. I not only recovered from my weight obsession, but, even more importantly, I learned to love food and enjoy my body. And letting go of the shame I had felt led to other great stuff, like more depth and fulfillment in my life, including deeper intimacy in relationships. Now, my goal is to help translate what I learned in a way that is meaningful for others.”
Indeed, as stated on haescommunity.com, “People are tired of diets, tired of feeling like failures, and tired of being scared of food. They are excited to find a paradigm that respects the diversity of human bodies and starts from the very basic premise that they can trust themselves, a paradigm that respects pleasure rather than denial.
“We’re at a transition point. Many people are ready to move on from feeling shame about their bodies and being preoccupied with their weight, yet our institutions are still mired in damaging old-school thought. Large publishers hesitate to publish Health at Every Size books, worried that only books promising weight loss will sell. Many health professionals and organizations cling to the belief that fear-mongering about weight and promising weight loss motivate people to improve their health practices. The mainstream media is reluctant to give Health at Every Size sufficient air time, apparently convinced that reinforcing people’s weight insecurities generates more attention.”
Those who agree with this concept are asked to sign the HAES Pledge that supports these ideas, enters names into the registry, and makes them part of the community. “The Health at Every Size movement supports a holistic understanding of health, which includes well-being, mental and emotional health, as well as the more direct measures of physical health, such as mobility, glucose control, heart function, etc.,” Bacon says. “Its goal is to empower people to live well in their bodies, and it recognizes that we all have opportunity for well-being regardless of physical or mental health challenges. It also makes explicit the role of social determinants, such as poverty and discrimination, in health outcome. One way it explicitly differs from traditional measures of health is it throws out weight as a proxy for health.”
By removing weight from the health equation, HAES also seeks to reduce the social power and privilege given to thinness. “The high degree of stigmatization and discrimination result in real rewards to being thinner, and support a strong drive toward thinness,” Bacon contends. “People’s desperation to be thinner plays a large role in their inability to look critically at issues related to its value and the credibility around our understanding of weight. It also hooks many people into feeling bad about themselves, fighting their weight, and an inability to manage it.”
HAES detractors, who view the concept as nothing more than an excuse for obesity, are misunderstanding HAES, Bacon asserts: “HAES does not claim that everyone is at a healthy weight. What it does do is ask for respect and help people shift their focus away from changing their size to enhancing their self-care behaviors—so they let weight fall where it may naturally. This is about people taking control of their lives, not giving up; it gives them the power to make better choices, whether it’s about eating more nutritiously or demanding more respect in relationships. HAES practice… leads us toward a world where people of all shapes and sizes feel respected and are supported in taking care of their bodies.”
Donna Hoke is a frequent Spree contributor and editor of Spree Home.