Health At Every Size (HAES, pronounced “hays”) is an approach to well-being. It is rooted in science and evidence-based healthcare, and its tenets have been proven effective in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Health At Every Size proponents believe:
1) Fatness isn’t inherently unhealthy.
Health and body size are not inherently related to each other. We believe that no convincing evidence shows that higher weight actually causes health issues. Thin people can be “healthy” or “unhealthy”, and likewise fat people can be “healthy” or “unhealthy”. We cannot look at a person’s body shape and size and know whether they are “healthy”.
You’ll notice I put those terms in quotation marks — that’s because we talk about health in such black-and-white terms in our society, which is a gross oversimplification. When pressed, most people can’t actually define what “health” really is.
This is also the key reason that Health At Every Size advocates shun the terms “overweight” and “obese” — we believe these terms shouldn’t exist and that there is no magical weight at which people become healthy or unhealthy.
2) Intentional weight loss via dieting is not sustainable in the long term.
This is a huge one. There have been numerous, numerous studies done that show that at least 95% (possibly more) of dieting attempts in medical literature do not result in sustained weight loss.
There is no doubt that it is possible to lose weight in the short term. I’ve done it, and you have probably done it too. But be honest with yourself: hasn’t the weight always crept back on?
You blamed yourself. We all blame ourselves, and that’s natural, because the dieting industry is set up to make us blame anyone but them. But the truth is that your body actively fights against being lighter than its “set-point weight” (this is a range of about 15-20 pounds where each person’s body wants to be).
You’ll notice the word “intentional” in the title of this section. Health At Every Size is not against weight loss in general. After all, weight loss naturally occurs due to a number of reasons, such as stress or illness. It can even occur naturally when you adopt intuitive eating behaviors if your weight has been artificially higher than its set-point (due to binge eating behaviors, for example). The only type of weight loss that Health At Every Size does not support is intentional weight loss through food restriction and exercise (otherwise known as dieting).
3) Health and well-being improvements can be made regardless of size.
If someone does want to improve their health and well-being, Health At Every Size believes in that possibility no matter what the person’s size.
This is not to say that every person is “healthy” at their current size, or that everyone can achieve “optimal health” (whatever that is) at any size, no matter what. But because the Health At Every Size approach believes that intentional weight loss (i.e., weight loss from dieting) is not sustainable in the long term, the goal is to focus on behaviors that promote health and well-being instead.
A good example is this: say a larger person is struggling with joint pain. The traditional medical response would be for the person to try to lose weight to relieve pressure on their joints. The Health At Every Size response would be to focus on ways to reduce your joint pain that don’t involve trying to lose weight. The approach would likely be strengthening the muscles around the joint to be better able to sustain the person’s weight (this would be standard advice for a thinner person), and helping the person find a form of movement they can enjoy with minimal pain (perhaps swimming).
4) Health and well-being are not exclusively about physical health.
We have a real bias towards promoting physical health over other types of health in our society. Yes, there are actually many types of health, including mental health, spiritual health, and social health.
We chase thinness because we equate thinness with optimal physical health (which isn’t true, but that’s beside the point right now.) Pause and do an honest assessment of your mental health when you diet. Have you felt sad, deprived, guilty, shameful, or maybe even angry?
What about your social health? Do you stay at home when your friends go to a new restaurant because they won’t have things you can eat? Has dieting led to binge eating that you have to hide from your partner? What other ways has dieting hurt your relationships with friends, family, or your partner, if you have one?
Somehow we’ve forgotten about the importance of our entire well-being. Health At Every Size looks at health holistically. It is an approach that allows us to pursue improved physical health while also improving our mental, social, and spiritual health.
5) Eating well and moving regularly can promote health.
Health can be improved by behaviors like eating well and moving regularly, but we define these terms differently than typical diets do.
We believe that food needs are incredibly individual, and thus we promote approaches like intuitive eating that focus on satiety, hunger, nourishment and satisfaction rather than forcing individuals to monitor calories, macronutrients, and the like. We believe that each individual body knows what it needs in any moment, and that natural food variety and moderation will result when we tune into its messages.
We also believe that regular movement can promote physical and mental well-being. The key to making movement a regular part of one’s life is tuning into the body’s needs for movement as well as finding movement that is pleasurable. We don’t believe in carrot-and-stick approaches to fitness that require guilt and shame as motivators.
6) Everyone in our society deserves respect regardless of their health status.
Health At Every Size isn’t about pushing “health” on every person. It believes that size discrimination is deeply problematic and that health discrimination (also known as “healthism”) is too. It is each individual’s choice to whether to pursue or not pursue specific behaviors that promote their own health in various ways, and no one is more or less worthy as a human being because of their choices.
Rather than including multitudes of references here, I want to direct you to some key books on Health At Every Size. Start with Body Respect and Body of Truth; they will explain everything that I’ve addressed here in much greater detail.
- My posts about the Health At Every Size Philosophy
- Books: Health At Every Size
- Videos & Films: Health At Every Size and Diet Culture
- Podcasts: Health at Every Size
- Articles & Sites: Health at Every Size