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  • Writer's pictureKelly Neilson, MDA RD LD

What Is the HAES® Approach?

You know it’s time to give up dieting and disordered behaviors, but are you still holding onto the false belief that thinness equals health?

Our weight-centric healthcare system and society at large preaches that body weight is directly linked to health. Weight loss and a “normal” BMI (a faulty system) are seen as the “epitome” of well-being.

It’s understandable that many people have a desire for thinness, given how infiltrated our everyday life is with fatphobic messages and weight stigma.

Diet culture tells you that it’s your personal responsibility to control your weight and you should, otherwise you’re made to feel like you’re a failure. In reality, the diet failed you, it always does.

These impossible standards have no truth behind them, and that’s why understanding the HAES® approach helps to completely shift your perspective about health.

HAES model/ women of size on the beach/ HAES/ health at every size

What Is HAES?

HAES stands for Health at Every Size, which is an approach, movement, and framework that is an alternative to the traditional weight-centric model of care.

HAES rejects the use of weight, size, and BMI as determinants for health, while firmly upholding the position that diets do not work, weight is not a choice, and body size is not correlated with health status.

In the book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, the author Lindo Bacon, states that the “war on obesity” has resulted in significant harm both physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.

Our society's narrow view of health, which focuses on appearance and weight loss, has only led to more physical and mental health issues including:

  • Food and body preoccupation

  • Increased discrimination and stigmitization

  • Disordered eating and eating disorders

  • Decreased psychological well-being such as self-blame, self-hatred, and depression

  • Ineffective and damaging interventions that lead to poor health outcomes

HAES advocates for bodies of all sizes, promotes size acceptance, and aims to end weight discrimination. Working to put a stop to our culture’s fixation on thinness and weight loss, HAES stands for the truth that body diversity is real and that all bodies are deserving of respect and dignity.

HAES encourages a holistic definition of health, supporting intuitive eating and pleasurable movement, while also affirming that health is highly individual and varies depending on time and circumstance.

Grounded in a social justice framework, HAES acknowledges that social context has influence on health behaviors. HAES looks at both policy and individual decision-making and focuses on broad ways to improve access to safe and affordable health practices.

Health should be available to all, taking into account personal experiences, needs of a diverse community, and life’s realistic circumstances. Acknowledging the barriers people face can help a person reduce self-blame and find ways to compassionately engage in self-care depending on their unique situation.

Health at Every Size Principles

There are five principles the HAES approach is guided by. The following principles are directly quoted from the Association for Size Diversity and Health website.

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. 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.

4. 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.

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.

Health at Every Size Research

Research shows that a HAES approach achieves sustainable and better health benefits than dieting or weight-centric approaches do. The HAES approach is associated with:

  • Improved cholesterol

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Decreased weight cycling

  • Less disordered eating and in turn, eating intuitively

  • Higher self-esteem and body image

  • Increased physical activity

Lindo Bacon states, “HAES acknowledges that well-being and healthy habits are more important than any number on the scale.”

HAES takes the focus off of weight, because ultimately you can change your behaviors to support your health, but you do not have total control over your genetic weight. Remember, weight is not a behavior and health is not a size.

There are so many ways to positively impact your health regardless of weight. HAES declares that health is not just the absence of physical or mental illness. It encompasses so much more such as eating intuitively and your relationship to food, joyful movement, social connections, prioritizing sleep, and managing stress levels.

How can you start implementing the HAES approach into your life? Accept your size, embrace body diversity, learn to trust your body, and adopt health promoting habits and behaviors that are attainable and realistic for YOU.

When it comes to health, there’s no “right” way to do it. Practicing health at every size will look different for everyone.

It’s important to address a common misconception, in which people think HAES means, “everyone is healthy at every size.” HAES is not making claims about body sizes, rather HAES is a weight-neutral approach that communicates that everyone deserves to pursue health, regardless of body size and without facing social inequities.

Connect with a Registered Dietitian Aligned with the HAES Approach

In eating disorder recovery it can take a lot of unlearning and dismantling what is typically believed about bodies and weight. It's so important to grasp the HAES approach to have an understanding of true health and body diversity in order to break free from the lies of diet culture.

Reach out today and contact me so that we can get you on the road to hope and healing!

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