As of late there has been a lot written and talked about regarding the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach to weight control. I was fascinated at the prospect of an approach to health and wellness that does not directly advocate the frustration and potential dangers of dieting, restricting, abstaining, etc. As I work to better understand HAES and how it can help people better approach their health and wellness, I wanted to share my thoughts and ask others for theirs as well.
HAES helps to reduce weight stigma and bias by shifting from a weight-focused to a health-focused paradigm, thereby challenging some of the key assumptions of traditional approaches to weight management ultimately allowing us to better accept our bodies wherever they are and have compassion for our shape and size.
The HAES approach does not claim that everyone is at a healthy weight, as some have come to believe. Rather, it is a paradigm that seeks to support and help people in the body that they currently have, whether or not they are at their optimal weight. HAES seeks to increase body respect, to shift from the focus that a person’s value is based solely on their weight and size, while increasing self-care and self-acceptance behaviors. This allows peoples weight to fall where it may based on intuitive eating, while recognizing that lifestyle is one risk factor for disease, but not the only one. Behaviors encouraged include eating a healthful diet (but not restricting intake), physical activity, getting the proper amount of sleep, stress management, finding joy in life, along with intuitive eating. Intuitive eating encourages an individual to respond to internal cues of hunger and satiety rather than external cues of specific meal times or events, and is thought to prevent negative body image and the disordered eating that often accompanies it.
The HAES approach is important as it supports the idea that physical presentation and weight should not be the primary way that people are looked at or judged. This is a critical first step to achieving body acceptance and body positivity. And since some studies show that up to 70% of an individual’s weight can be dictated by genetics, 90% of people fail on diets, and 60% of them end up gaining more weight than they lost, we have to find a way to be comfortable in our bodies, even while we work to keep them healthy.
That said, there are those who misinterpret this approach to mean that it is ok to let yourself go and not care about your weight and what you eat. Those practitioners who use HAES and intuitive eating have found that it can only work in conjunction with a significant amount of education and understanding. HAES then can be considered a tool to help us achieve body positivity, but, like all tools, must be implemented in a mindful and thoughtful way in order to properly benefit from it.
Please share your thoughts on HAES and any personal experiences, whether positive or negative, with me. Thank you!