Health At Every Size: an explainer

It’s become the norm in our culture to obsess over our diets. Sometimes it can feel like everyone around you is on some sort of diet or food restriction because ‘health’. And it’s little wonder why. The US $60 billion a year dieting industry would have you believe that there’s something wrong with you and/or your life and that the cure is as easy as starting a diet. David Asprey, creator of Bullet Proof Coffee, says it pretty plainly:

“You become a better employee, better parent, better friend, better person.”

All that from a drink? Wow. No wonder people are signing up in droves. I find that a lot of people sign up to the diet because they are unhappy with themselves and are looking externally for a fix. What if I told you there is another way? What if I told you that this framework encourages you to move dieting aside so that you can look internally for all the resources that you’ll need to look after yourself.

Introducing Health At Every Size ®

Health at Every Size ® (HAES) has been around for a little while now and is steadily gaining traction in Australia. Health at every size promotes the idea that health is possible at every size and that health is independent of size.

It’s not something that we are used to hearing about in our diet obsessed culture. Skinnier = healthier, right? Hmmm. Not always.

Isn’t this just promoting obesity?

I hear this all the time- the push back against this paradigm is mainly by people asking “aren’t you just promoting obesity?”

Well, to answer that we need to consider what HAES is all about.

Is HAES suggesting that we should all sit on the couch and not give two hoots about what goes in our mouths?

No.

HAES encourages us to take care of ourselves in the best way we know how to.

Taking care of our selves means we:

Exercise in a way that is enjoyable and sustainable for us as an individual. This means some of us will really enjoy going to the gym and some of us won’t – and that’s okay! You may really enjoy running, swimming, hiking, rock climbing or dancing – the choices are endless! The key here is that we aren’t moving our bodies to change the shape of them or to burn calories. We are finding enjoyable forms of movement because it feels good. It can make us feel strong, capable, help us manage stress, and help us to sleep better at night.

Eat a wide variety of foods and trust that our bodies know what and how much food it needs in order to thrive. This means we place trust in our hunger and fullness signals to tell us when to start and when to stop eating. It also means that we acknowledge that we don’t just eat for nutrients but also for pleasure and that is perfectly okay. We do our best to acknowledge that food, regardless of nutritional composition, is neither good or bad.

 Accept the body we have now. We don’t have to ‘love’ our bodies to do this or be positive about every part of our body. It simply means that we acknowledge that we have a body that is a certain shape. And whatever shape your body is, is okay. All bodies are good bodies. Some are tall, some are short. Some are straight, some have curves. All bodies are good bodies. You can check out this great youtube clip for more.

This also means that we dress for the body we have now. This doesn’t mean we buy those skinny jeans that we know we have to lose 5kg to fit into. We buy clothes that fit us now.  When we walk out your front door in the morning, our clothes should make us feel confident and empowered, not self conscious.

 Patient centered care

For health professionals, it means that we acknowledge that health isn’t an obligation. If someone has diabetes we can’t assume they want to be compliant with the management of their disease. We do our best to not make assumptions about our patients and their body shape. We also only address what the patient has come to see us for- if they don’t bring up their weight or body shape than neither do we.

We also do our best as health professionals to address our own internal biases. An internal bias can look like:

“Well of course she’s obese- look at all this junk food she eats!”

“His blood sugars would be so much better if only he didn’t eat cake so often”

Doing this ignores the huge body of evidence that acknowledges that good health is complicated and depended on many things. Yes, healthy eating and regular exercise can influence health outcomes. But so too can genetics, stress (acute and chronic), depression and disease. These things are often beyond an individuals control. We need to acknowledge this and keep it in mind when we are helping our patients achieve good health.

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