5 Things I Want You to Know about HAES
Health at Every Size (HAES) is a movement that is based on HEALTH and RESPECT as opposed to WEIGHT. I see the truth in this movement EVERYDAY when I see my clients making healthy lifestyle changes that include:
- feeding themselves well
- cooking for themselves
- moving their body in ways they enjoy
- prioritizing sleep
- practicing self-care
Unfortunately, HAES in often misunderstood. My goal in this blog is to explain HAES to those who are open to a new mindset about what being healthy means.
1. Why do I believe in HAES?
In our dieting culture the message “thinner is better” is played on repeat. I would argue that the message can also take the form “thinner is healthier”. Even more concerning, the dieting culture proclaims that achieving thinness is desirable by any means necessary. This is dangerous and irresponsible. The restriction and unhealthy behaviors around dieting can actually put you at greater risk. Health at Every Size is a movement that separates the fusion between size and health. HAES takes the focus off of weight loss and affirms that people deserve respect no matter what size they are.
This is also when I would like to acknowledge that I live in a thin body and have thin privilege. I do not have the experience of being in a larger body in a world that is consumed by thinness. I have educated myself, listened to my patients, and will continue to learn and grow to support my clients of all body sizes and shapes.
What is health?
Health is determined by the quality of food you eat, regular and pleasurable movement, stress management and sleep hygiene. When those ducks are in a row that is when we see improvement in chronic disease states, regardless as to whether weight has been lost (as seen in this study Bacon et al, Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese female chronic dieters. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2005: 929-936).
Again, HAES means that healthy is achievable regardless of size. Why is it so important to me that others understand this? Because our focus on size=health puts our kids at a greater risk of participating in unhealthy dieting behaviors and at risk for developing disordered eating. Many of my clients report that they avoid going to their doctor because of fear that their doctor may shame them about their weight. Avoiding the doctor appointments to avoid weight stigma keeps clients from getting the medical care they deserve. The pressure to lose weight increases anxiety around food and events, which can deteriorate a person’s quality of life.
2. What happens when we focus on weight?
Up to 95% of people who lose weight by dieting will regain their weight within 5 years, and many will actually end up at a higher weight than before they started the diet. Dieting throughout a lifetime can also contribute to weight cycling (also known as “yo-yo” dieting) which contributes to stress on the body creating inflammation and increasing the risk of heart disease.
3. Genetics plays a large role in our weight and shape.
Did you know that 50-80% of weight is determined by genes? We are essentially trying to CONTROL something that is majorly out of our hands. We are all destine to be different sizes. Set point is the weight at which our body wants to be. This can be found once we are eating in accordance with our hunger and fullness cues and by moving our bodies regularly.
The body is amazing at regulating itself to maintain its weight even with slight daily variations in our nutritional intake and exercise patterns. Set point is not one specific number but a range of 10-20 pounds.
4. Majority of all weight and mortality studies find weight to be irrelevant to mortality except perhaps at the extremes of BMI.
Studies show that people who are “overweight’ or moderately “obese’ live at least as long as the “normal” weight people, and often longer. How about chronic disease? “Obese” people with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and chronic kidney disease all have greater longevity than thinner people with these conditions. When studies control for factors like fitness, activity, nutrient intake, weight cycling or socioeconomic status, increased risk disappears or is significantly reduced.
5. What happens when we focus on healthy behaviors?
Changes in diet and physical activity have resulted in health improvement (lower blood glucose, lower blood fats, lower blood pressure) with little or no weight loss. Without a weight focused approach there is also an increase in self-esteem, decrease in depression and increase in physical activity. I can help you live a HEALTHY and HAPPY life enjoying the pleasures of food and its ability to nourish us.
Here are the 5 Tenets of Health at Every Size (HAES):
Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
Eating for Well-being:
Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.
To mend your relationship with food and stop the scale from determining your happiness, contact our HAES dietitian Dana Magee here or call at 301-474-2499. Dana sees clients in our Annapolis and Columbia, Maryland locations.
Dana uses her advanced training in functional nutrition and food sensitivities to help her clients love and trust food again as they heal from years of painful symptoms that have dominated their lives. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating and Cooking with Food Sensitivities Survival Guide.