Health at Every Size (HAES) is a series of principles created to acknowledge that weight doesn’t determine one’s health. This model supports people of all sizes finding compassionate ways of taking care of themselves and ultimately achieving optimal health. There are three basic components to HAES:
Celebrates body diversity;
Honors differences in size, age, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, class, and other human attributes.
Challenges scientific and cultural assumptions;
Values body knowledge and lived experiences.
Finding the joy in moving one’s body and being physically active;
Eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, while respecting the social conditions that frame eating options.
HAES is founded on the evidence that a person’s weight and body size is NOT a good reflection of health, compared to health-promoting behaviors. For example, a study found that regular exercise, a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, moderate alcohol intake, and avoiding or quitting smoking were associated with a lower risk of mortality. It’s important to note that none of these specifically change body size. Another study found that incorporating fruits, vegetables, and fiber reduced the risk of diabetes, improved blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol even when weight loss didn’t occur.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, intentional weight loss is a failed model that leads to health problems like weight cycling, weight stigma, and disordered eating. One study found that larger bodied women who dieted experienced high blood pressure while larger bodied women who had never dieted had normal blood pressure. It seems that dieting and weight cycling can put an individual at higher risk for certain health issues, like high blood pressure, than body size alone.
People think that telling someone to lose weight will motivate them when it actually has the exact opposite effect. Research suggests that those who experience weight discrimination experience twice the physiological stress than people who don’t. Eliminating weight stigma may reduce physiological dysregulation, improving obesity-related morbidity and mortality.
When people feel supported and confident in their own skin, they are more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices and put their health first, regardless of the number on the scale. So, while we can’t always control social factors and we definitely can’t control the role our genetics play, what we can control are our behaviors. Let’s focus less on shaming ourselves and others for the natural shape or size of our bodies and more on respecting and treating our bodies right with food and physical activity that fuels us and makes us feel our best.