Health At Every Size (HAES) is an innovative yet sometimes confusing method of delivering healthcare. This article introduces the HAES concept and states why I align my practices with this framework.
Health at Every Size, also known as HAES, is a weight-neutral, inclusive approach to health. It is based on a series of principles designed to promote a person’s physical and mental health, regardless of their weight.
HAES is also a social-justice movement that promotes acceptance of all body sizes. In a culture that holds high regard for thinness, it challenges weight-bias and seeks to end weight-discrimination.
Core Values of HAES
The framework of this approach includes the following core values:
- Respect for natural body diversity and individual human attributes, such as age, race, gender, ableness, class, religion, etc.
- Critical awareness of scientific and cultural assumptions surrounding weight and acknowledging that dieting and diet culture can be ineffective in promoting health.
- Compassionate self-care to encourage positive behaviors to support health, rather than trying to manipulate body size. The focus is placed on internal cues for managing one’s health.
How is HAES Different Than Traditional Healthcare?
The current health paradigm puts a heavy emphasis on a person’s weight. Weight is often considered first when assessing health. For example: if a person wants to reduce their blood pressure, they will go see their healthcare provider for guidance. If this person is categorized as overweight or obese (based on the Body Mass Index scale), the provider may encourage weight loss as the primary intervention.
That is an example of weight-bias. Weight-bias, or weight stigma, is the societal disapproval of a person in a body that is perceived to have too much fat. Unfortunately, this is fairly common in our more traditional model of healthcare. It can be harmful to a person’s mental health, and it can lead to ineffective care.
HAES shifts the focus away from weight. It acknowledges that people are genetically molded differently, therefore there is not one perfect picture of health. Instead, HAES encourages healthful actions for the fundamental health benefits of those behaviors, regardless of a person’s size.
HAES is Not “Healthy” At Every Size
To clarify, HAES does not just accept someone as being healthy no matter what. It just views health through a broader lens. There is no discrimination against a person’s size, or other factors that may not be in a person’s control at that time, like socioeconomic status, race, genetic makeup, and so on.
Also, weight loss is not discouraged through HAES. Rather, it embraces the idea that a person can begin a path towards better health without manipulating their body to be smaller. Weight loss may be achieved through HAES interventions, or it may not, and both are fine as long as the person is making improvements in their health status.
What are Examples of HAES Interventions?
A health professional that is aligned with HAES usually focuses on “adding in” versus “taking away.” Healthy behaviors are encouraged. Dietary restriction simply for weight loss is not part of the conversation. Instead, they may offer the following solutions to improve a person’s health:
- Adding in enjoyable movement each day for the cardiovascular and mental health benefits
- Eating more fruits and vegetables for better digestive health
- Drinking extra water to reduce symptoms of dehydration
- Eating consistent, balanced meals for better blood sugar balance
- Beginning a sleep routine to reduce fatigue and food cravings
Why Choose HAES?
Personally, I believe HAES is a better approach to healthcare for these reasons:
- HAES is more compassionate. A person’s health is considered from a non-judgmental lens. The motivation to make healthy lifestyle changes comes simply from wanting to achieve better health, not from wanting to manipulate body size.
- HAES is more ethical. Research shows the HAES approach creates positive shifts in health outcomes, as well as mental health outcomes. HAES strives to encourage good health. Dieting and food restriction, on the other hand, have been shown to lower a person’s self-esteem and promote shame, self-doubt, and fear-of-fatness.
- HAES is more effective. Weight loss can be challenging, especially when it is prescribed. Chronic dieting to achieve weight loss can actually lead to long-term negative health outcomes. HAES removes the pressure of losing weight or being in a smaller body. This allows more space for a person to make positive health changes at their own pace. Their physical, mental, and emotional health can benefit from the change.
See my article “Fad Diets: Why We Need to Ditch Them for Good” for more on the dangers of dieting.
If HAES is new to you and you’re not sure how you feel about it – don’t worry, I get it! To be honest, it took me a while to understand and embrace the HAES approach. It can be a confusing and polarizing topic, especially amongst healthcare workers.
My professional experience has allowed me to experience firsthand the very negative physical and emotional effects that forced weight loss attempts and chronic dieting can cause. And weight alone does not equal health. So, I choose to align with HAES for its compassionate approach towards good nutrition habits and healthful behaviors.
I hope this helps give you a better understanding of HAES. Please reach out if you have questions and I’ll be happy to discuss more with you!
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