Let's Talk About Health At Every Size®!
By Danielle Carney, LMHC
You might have seen on my page that I approach my work as a therapist through a Health At Every Size® (HAES)-informed lens. You might have wondered, “what does that mean?” or maybe that’s part of why you landed on my page to begin with.
Before we get into it, this blog post will provide a very simplified overview of what Health At Every Size® is all about. The world of HAES is powerful, diverse, and nuanced. To appreciate its complexity, I’ll also include some additional resources for you to help you to fully grasp what HAES means.
What is “health at every size?”
I’m so glad you asked! HAES is a social justice-informed framework for care that makes the counter-to-popular-culture (and evidence-based) claim that people can be healthy at any size. It says weight, size, and body shape are not reliable markers of health, and it instead shifts the focus to health-based behaviors like eating for well-being and life-enhancing movement. Cue minds blowing.
Wild, right?! I’m so excited to get into this with you!
So now you know that HAES approaches health from a weight-neutral perspective, which might be difficult to wrap your head around initially. I get that. If you’re anything like the majority of the population, you’ve spent your whole life hearing from family, friends, coworkers, medical professionals, the media, and generally within society that weight loss is the path to health. We’ve all been conditioned to think that being in a thinner body is inherently healthier, and what I’m telling you now can be a novel, even radical way to think about things. I totally understand – this stuff can be tough to unlearn!
If you’re curious, this video can be a helpful place to start: Poodle Science. To summarize the analogy made in the video, if we were to go to the dog park, we wouldn’t make a judgment against a poodle with its tight curly hair, long snout, and long, lean legs because it didn’t look like an English Bulldog with its short, muscular legs, thick middle, and flatter face, would we? Of course not! We understand that certain dog breeds are going to look different from others. Golden Retrievers aren’t meant to look or weigh the same as Chihuahuas, and Chihuahuas aren’t going to look or weigh the same as a German Shepard. Duh! They are all genetically predisposed to have those differences! We would be pretty concerned if a Shih Tzu’s owner was trying to get it to weigh the same as a Great Dane, and vice versa. And yet, we expect ourselves as human beings to subscribe to this one-size-fits-all health mentality? That’s pretty silly, right? It’s even sillier than this is basically what we’ve been taught our entire lives and has been perpetuated by Western Medicine.
That brings us to the 5 principles of HAES.
The Health At Every Size® principles
The Association For Size Diversity And Health (ASDAH) is a non-profit organization formed in 2003 that is committed to HAES principles. Taken right from ASDAH’s website, the five principles of HAES are:
1. Weight Inclusivity
Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
2. Health Enhancement
Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
3. Respectful Care
Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
4. Eating for Well-being
Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
5. Life-Enhancing Movement
Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.”
In essence, HAES actively rejects diet culture (i.e. being in a thinner body is better and healthier, by default) and the idea that weight loss is the gateway to health. Instead, it opens the door to consider our unique genetic differences and acceptance of all bodies and all identities. It refocuses on health-focused behaviors such as eating enjoyable, nourishing foods according to your body’s cues and moving your body because you want to, in a way that feels good to you.
HAES offers a framework that makes care accessible, safe, and supportive in all bodies. If this is the first time you’re hearing about HAES, it can be a lot to take in. My hope is that this post is a stepping stone to begin examining your own mindset about health, getting in touch with why you think the way you do about weight and size, and how you might get curious about making some shifts.
I understand if you might not be ready to fully buy into all of this yet, too. It takes time and willingness to unlearn the beliefs diet culture has told us and become aware of the weight stigma we have all been conditioned by. If you’re hesitant, I’d recommend dipping your toe in the water rather than feeling like you need to dive in headfirst. Read, watch videos, and learn more about HAES, weight inclusivity, and being anti-diet before you close your mind to these ideas.
I’ve put together some resources to assist you in your toe-dipping.
I’d definitely recommend looking through ASDAH’s website for a thorough explanation of their work and Health At Every Size.
Here are some other wonderful resources to check out:
Size Diversity & Health at Every Size
What It Means to Be a Health at Every Size (HAES) Provider
What if Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss?
What Is Weight Discrimination & How Does It Affect Us?
Thin Is Not The Same As Healthy
Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift
Must-haves for your HAES reading list (note: as an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases):
As a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, I believe we absolutely need more people practicing and operating from a HAES framework in our world today. We have spent too much time and energy policing our own and other people’s bodies, and what impact has it had?
We know that the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness. We know that people in larger bodies suffering from eating disorders are rarely diagnosed due to weight stigma. We know that diets don’t work, and still the vast majority of people seem to be constantly on a diet in an effort to be thinner. We know weight stigma poses a significant threat to psychological and physical health and contributes to depression, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction.
Something needs to change.
We have gotten nowhere by trying to work against our own unique genetic blueprints, and we’d benefit way more from learning to make peace with our bodies and learning to take care of them in a way that feels supportive and nourishing.
If you’re ready to start your own journey of unlearning diet culture and making peace with your body, you can reach out to me here.