Updated: Apr 23
The Health At Every Size® approach has been gaining popularity with many health professionals as a way to step away from diet culture and promote health for all. I myself, LOVE this approach and support it wholeheartedly! I think it is important to address this approach as many of you may have questions such as:
"Is it actually possible for everyone to be healthy at any size?"
"Is it possible to put weight aside when talking about nutrition and health?"
This article will explain what this approach is and how it can shift our focus away from weight as a way of defining our health.
Where did this movement come from?
The phrase HAES® is trademarked by ASDAH (The Association for Size Diversity and Health), a non-profit organisation based in the United States that promotes size-inclusivity and the acceptance of different body sizes (1). The HAES® approach is an alternative to the mainstream guidelines that promote weight loss through diet and exercise for people living in larger bodies. As we know, dieting and especially severe calorie restriction, a large part of the usual weight loss strategies, often leads to losing weight then regaining all of the weight lost in the first place and sometimes even more which has negative health consequences.(Read this blog post on diet consequences)
The HAES® movement promotes improving health and wellness without focusing on body size or weight. It promotes a balanced diet as well as exercise as a way of health promotion while encouraging respect for people of all body shapes and sizes and decreasing the weight stigma ever present in our society (1). The HAES® movement allows us to put unrealistic body standards aside and focus on what is best for the person to improve their health regardless of their weight.
Can you actually be healthy at any size? What about obesity?
The HAES® approach suggests that whatever your weight, you are entitled to treat your body the way that makes it feel its best. Though weight loss can lead to improved health markers in some cases, HAES® makes the point that it may not actually be the weight loss that leads to improved health but that the beneficial lifestyle changes the person has adopted are what actually lead to an improved health status (2). Another factor to take into account is that regardless of any weight change, making beneficial lifestyle changes will most likely still lead to improved health markers (2). We know that the weight loss cycle, yo-yo dieting and focusing on only weight as a goal is not sustainable long-term and has negative effects on self-esteem and health (2). Living with a higher weight is linked to higher risks of adverse health outcomes such as chronic diseases but working on health as a whole and adopting health habits can help mitigate these risks. We have very little control over our weight and how much weight we lose, so why focus on it as a goal? Weight is just a number and it does not determine the value a person has.
What about the BMI?
As you may already know, the BMI (the way we measure if people are overweight or obese) was developed for statistical reasons and the cut-offs used to determine the different categories are arbitrary and do not take into consideration many factors that influence health such as muscle mass, bone mass or the size of your frame. Using this tool does not give very much information about a person’s health status.
Living in a larger body does not mean that you are unhealthy and it does not mean that you cannot treat your body well. The same way that living in a smaller body does not make you automatically healthy. Health is more than how we look, it's about our health behaviours over time. Eating well and exercising are not reserved for people who are living in smaller bodies!! We are all entitled to treat our bodies with kindness and the way that makes us feel our best!
So how do we put this approach into practice? The easy answer is: We stop focusing on our weight and start focusing on our health behaviours. I know it is easier said than done, however it is crucial in order to let go of the pressure, restrictions and really live a healthy life.
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Here are some healthy behaviours that you can engage in at any size and do not involve weight loss goals:
Nourishing your beautiful body with nutrient dense foods. Eating without restrictions and guilt. Allowing space for all foods to fit and trusting your body. Need some guidance? Reach out to a HAES® aligned dietitian.
Exercise in a way that feels good to you! You do not have to go to a gym 17 times a week if you hate it! All movement is beneficial for our bodies so try to find something that brings you joy, this can include walks around the parc, dance parties in your living room and using YouTube to guide you in home workouts.
Improve your sleep! Quality sleep is key to our health (Read more on the impact of sleep and nutrition click here)
Reduce your stress! Stress has serious impacts on our health (Read more on stress and nutrition), focusing on treating our bodies with respect regardless of our weight can lead to decreased stress.
I hope you learned something from this brief introduction to HAES®! Please know that you deserve love and respect regardless of your weight and that there are many ways to be kind to our bodies and improve our health without focusing on weight loss.
Do not hesitate to reach out for support or guidance.
Marie-Pier Pitre-D'Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
This article was written by Céleste Bouchaud, RD. Thank you :)
1. ASDAH: Health At Every Size® Approach [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 20]. Available from: https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/content.asp?id=19 2. Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutr J. 2011 Jan 24;10(1):9.