Health at Every Size® (HAES) is a paradigm shift in the health and wellness field, that is often misunderstood. For one, the name is slightly confusing. HAES does not directly mean you can be healthy at every size.
Secondly, we’ve been so accustomed to the narrative that thin people are healthy and that “obese” people are unhealthy. Because HAES challenges these notions, it sometimes take a long time to fully understand this movement.
That’s why we created this video to help flush out common questions and misconceptions. Below is the transcript as well. You can head over here for more information and research on HAES. Please reach out if you have questions or want to work with one of our HAES-aligned wellness professionals. You can also head to the Association for Size Diversity and Health to learn more about HAES.
Nathan: Welcome to our home. We’re excited to talk a little bit more about Health at Every Size. Both, what that means but also so common myths about it that we might be able to dispel. So, Brit, first off, could you just give everybody an overview of what Health at Every Size is?
Brit: So, health at every size is a paradigm shift in health and wellness and the medical industry that are really challenging the notion that being smaller or being thinner is healthy, or is the only way that you can be healthy. And so, instead of really pushing weight loss and using weight as a metric of health, it encourages people to pursue health promoting behaviors, and really moving away from weight loss. That, essentially when we feel better about ourselves we’re in a better position to take care of ourselves.
Nathan: So I think a lot of people think that if you’re saying Health at Every Size, you’re saying that regardless of what somebody’s weight is, they’re healthy. Like, you can be healthy at any size. Is that what the Health of Every Size means?
Brit: Not at all. So that’s actually one really common myth and I see this a lot. I think the name is kind of confusing, Health at Every Size. And oftentimes, I see people call it “healthy at every size.” But, that’s not what we’re not saying, that you can be healthy at any size. Really, what we’re saying is that people, regardless of their weight and their size, they deserve an unbiased opportunity to pursue health. And that’s really important because oftentimes at, for example, the doctors, is that people in a larger body might be whatever condition they have going on. The doctor might look in just a weight-normative approach, and so they might blame what’s going on for their weight, and say well you just have to lose weight. But, something else entirely could be going on. So really again, going back to that helping people feel comfortable with their body and their weight so that they’re in a better place to take care of themselves. And really promoting body diversity. We’re all different sizes and shapes, and we need to embrace that, instead of trying to push people into, you know one size.
Nathan: So I think another thing that you might have heard is or have an idea of, I know I kind of had this idea that being thinner is healthier. Like, regardless of how much you weigh like you know losing weight is, kind of seen as a good thing. Could you address that myth?
Brit: Yeah, this is so common everywhere you look. This is encouraged, that we need to be fit and we need to pursue weight loss to be healthy. Which is not true. A lot of the research that talks about “obesity” being affiliated or associated with negative health outcomes is just that, it’s an association. So in the Health at Every Size world we talk a lot about the difference between correlation and causation. So yes, higher weights are associated or correlated with diabetes or other diseases, but it doesn’t mean that being in a larger body causes those diseases. And so not only do they not cause it, when we look at intentional weight loss efforts, we know that they’re not only ineffective, but they can actually lead to negative health outcomes. So for example if we are you know dieting and we’re watching what we eat, and maybe on a low-calorie diet, our bodies are really smart and resilient. And so we are eventually going to make up for that. We call that the restrict-binge cycle. So we restrict, we limit our intake, and our bodies are smart, and so we overdo it and we binge. And we’re kind of in this negative spiral cycle which leads to weight cycling. So if you ever heard of yo-yo dieting, weight going up and down. We know that weight cycling is associated with negative health outcomes. So not only is thinness not always healthy but also intentional weight loss can lead to negative health outcomes.
Nathan: Okay so I think another thing that I’ve heard people say, like sometimes I’ll talk about Health at Every Size and people will react in this way of, “oh that’s great that you want to be compassionate and accepting but like, research shows that you know like being overweight is really bad for your heart and really bad for your lungs. Sort of say that Health at Every Size isn’t based in science. Is that true?
Brit: It’s not true. Yeah, so to your point, you know research shows that being overweight is bad for your heart is bad for your body. I want to point out that “the obesity epidemic” and kind of this pursuit of thinness has been around a lot longer than Health at Every Size. So, just historically, there’s more research on this stuff and there’s less research on Health at Every Size. But, there is research on Health at Every Size. Tt is evidence-based. We are seeing more and more positive outcomes when people pursue health from a weight- neutral approach. So they’re pushing weight loss aside and moving their body and you know eating intuitively and getting adequate sleep. So those are health promoting behaviors. And then the other thing I want to point out is when we do look at the “obesity” research, oftentimes there’s a conflict of interest and who’s funding that research. So you might see that a weight loss company is funding that research. So when you think of you know capitalism as the strong force who is you know, the diet industry is like a seventy billion dollar industry. So they’ve got a lot of funds to fund a lot of this research. And then also the sample sizes tend to be lower and the follow-ups are shorter. So in a lot of these weight loss intervention studies there might only be like a six to 12-month follow-up. But they’re not looking out longer-term. When we do look at longer term, what we see is, within five years folks are gaining that weight back. And, one-third to two-thirds of the people are gaining more weight back than where they started. So again there’s there’s a lot of research on diets being ineffective. And we’ve known this for a long time. And I hope to share it more widely.
Nathan: So I feel like when I first heard the term Health at Every Size, I thought oh, now I can eat all the fried chicken I want and not go to fitness classes and workout. Is that kind of included in Health at Every Size?
Brit: That is a great question and something I hear a lot. That’s not what Health at Every Size is saying. So one thing I want to address is the eating piece. So oftentimes I do hear that Health at Every Size means I can just eat whatever I want and still be healthy. That’s not that’s not part of Health at Every Size. And what we actually see is when people are working on their relationship with food and improving their relationship with food and really embracing the mentality that all foods fit, that fried chicken and bacon can fit in a diet. (Not in the weight-loss sense, just diet and what you eat sense) Then you’re kind of reducing the power of fried chicken. What we don’t see is that people just like binge on fried chicken and bacon forever. I mean would you actually feel good physically if you only ate bacon?
Nathan: Well it depends on the day. (laughter) But, I get your point.
Brit: Yeah, like long term. And so we find that people are like wow, maybe my stomach hurts or maybe I don’t have enough energy or whatever comes out of that. So we also find that people just get like tired of that food. It’s called like habituation. It’s just like I said, it loses the power so when all foods fit people over time, it takes practice, it’s not just a switch, but over time, people find a really nice balance with foods. And the other thing I think why Health at Every Size gets this bad rap of like we’re anti-health is that health and weight are so intertwined. So that when we take weight out, people are like, what you don’t care about health? But that’s not what we’re saying. We’re removing weight because weight stigma and weight cycling and ineffective diets all is unhealthy, and we’re not removing exercise. So one of the tenants of Health at Every Size is finding enjoyable movement. We are saying find a healthy relationship with food, nourish your body, get adequate sleep, all of these health behaviors are part of Health at Every Size without the weight stuff.
Nathan: So the reason that we’re talking about Health at Every Size is that we’re opening a wellness center, Current Wellness, which will have Health at Every Size in addition to some other values infused in it. So Brit, what do you mind talking about how we’ll be practicing Health at Every Size in The Current?
Brit: Yeah, so one of the ways that we will be using HAES principles is taking weight out of the picture. So we won’t have scales, we won’t have weight loss challenges, we’re not using BMI as a metric for health, anything around diet culture that is not part of our our values and that won’t be part of our day to day operations. The other way that you might notice HAES is our language. So I have trained all of our instructors and teachers who are going to be leading classes in our movement studio in Health at Every Size. So they all know the research, they all know how to apply these principles. And if you’re unfamiliar with HAES, or you maybe don’t struggle with body image or don’t struggle with an eating disorder you might not know a difference. You might just think like oh that was a cool fitness class. But if you do struggle with some of those things you certainly won’t get triggered in our movement studio because we won’t be talking about burning calories to earn your dinner or getting your beach body ready for this summer. None of that language. So we call that being weight-inclusive. And so yeah those are two of probably the main ways that you’ll see Health at Every Size employed in our studio.
Nathan: Awesome. Well thank you all for watching and letting us talk a little bit more about Health at Every Size and certainly if you would leave questions and comments below. Also we’ve included some resources both that Brit talked about, but other things that you might want to check out if you’re more interested in knowing more about this topic. And so have a great day and thanks again!