Health At Every Size (HAES) is an approach to health that considers the individual as a whole rather than focusing on their weight. HAES is a weight neutral approach rather than the traditional weight centric approach. In a weight centric approach, often times, individuals in larger bodies and at higher BMIs are only seen as their weight regardless of the symptoms presented with weight loss being the only or primary intervention prescribed. This leads to weight bias which disadvantages individuals in larger and smaller bodies. Larger bodies may not be provided the same treatment as those in smaller bodies may be given and those in smaller bodies may not be screened for health risks as necessary.
HAES is not only about health but also social justice to help remove weight bias and stigma from our everyday interactions. Body positivity, which is creating a positive relationship with our bodies, regardless of size, plays a big role in the HAES movement
A question that arises from those with concerns related to HAES and body positivity is usually something along the lines of doesn’t this normalize being overweight and glamorize it rather than motivate individuals to lose weight and improve their health?
In short, no but the answer is detailed.
First we have to understand what motivates us to improve our health, research has shown that weight stigma does not lead to improved health behaviors, it is actually harmful. Helping individuals reconnect with their bodies is a better motivator to health. The second component is answering the question of whether weight loss is the right intervention in the first place. What we see in the research is that up to two-thirds of individuals regain lost weight and up to one-third of them actually gain more than they lost. Besides that, dieting is not a risk free intervention with individuals regaining lost weight, weight cycling, developing negative relationships with food and body, and developing lower self-esteem. Weight cycling has been linked to poorer health outcomes.
So, if not weight loss – then what?
That one is easy, certain behaviors lead to improved health regardless of weight loss. These include quitting smoking, making dietary changes, and incorporating physical activity.
What do you think about HAES? Have you heard about it before? Please share your thoughts with me below!