I’m here to introduce you to something very special. Brace yourself, it may not be what you’re expecting.
In our thin obsessed culture, dieting and food restriction is approved of. We are told that good health is dependent on being a certain size, and warned of the dire consequences of getting larger. Terrifying news headlines compare fat people to terrorists and tsunamis, and fatness, they claim, is worse.
The diet industry is absolutely flourishing from people’s desperation – Australians spend $800 million dollars a year on weight loss products. People are even resorting to sewing plastic patches onto their tongues in an effort to lose weight!
But trouble is brewing in Dietland. Dissension is building. Educated people are doing the unthinkable. They are questioning whether the pursuit of weight loss is a good idea. They see that this ‘lose weight and get healthy’ message just isn’t working. These are the Health At Every Size people. And they are wonderful.
Health At Every Size (HAES) is a movement supported by professionals from many disciplines, including scientists, academic researchers, physicians, dietitians, exercise physiologists, psychologists, and civil rights activists, who advocate a new way of approaching weight.
Let me tell you what they stand for.
HAES reminds us that weight loss dieting doesn’t work in the long term. The world’s biggest review of weight loss dieting showed that a staggering 95% of dieters put the weight back on, and 2/3 of them end up even heavier than they were before dieting.
This result is terrible for the dieter, but a goldmine for the weight loss industry, who enjoy a steady flow of ‘repeat’ customers.
HAES scientists believe that consumers have the right to know that the product is faulty – not the dieter.
Physiology acts to defend body weight and fights to return to the set point at which the body feels comfortable. It’s not willpower.
Dieting interferes with metabolism, slowing it down and increasing fat stores. Yo-yo dieting (which is what most people experience) is associated with inflammation, which increases the risk of many ‘obesity-related diseases’ and death.
Just small details that the weight loss industry won’t tell you about, that HAES people want you to know.
HAES people are not affiliated with weight loss companies. They don’t work for pharmaceuticals. They are interested in the experience of the person in front of them, in hearing their story, and helping them to understand weight science. Not making money for shareholders.
The psychological harm inflicted by dieting is considerable. Dieting disturbs people’s relationship with food and their bodies, leading many to feel preoccupied, deprived and dissatisfied. Dieting causes binge eating, and the risk of developing a full blown eating disorder increases as peoples’ dieting careers progress. Repeated cycles of diet ‘failures’ leaves dieters’ self esteem in tatters (and terribly vulnerable to the plastic ‘tongue patch’ salesmen…).
HAES activists point out that society’s increasingly hysterical attitude towards ‘the obesity epidemic’ has damaged our attitude towards body diversity. Larger people are regularly subjected to size discrimination.
This prejudice is seen as ‘justified’ because having a higher BMI is assumed to mean ‘unhealthy’.
This assumption is just not true: BMI is a population statistic, not a measure of individual health.
Many larger people are perfectly healthy. Thin people aren’t always healthy. And even if someone was ‘unhealthy’, size prejudice is never ok!
Many in the obesity camp are aware of both the ineffectiveness and the harm done by dieting, but still insist that we should try to lose weight, because we ‘HAVE TO DO SOMETHING’.
But clearly, we can’t keep doing the rounds of the diet trap. It’s not right or ethical. People deserve a rational alternative to dieting – an effective way of caring for their bodies and their wellbeing without the collateral damage.
HAES is exactly the remedy we need. HAES is a peace movement which calls for a cease fire in this ‘war on obesity’, and for a radical change of tactics. (This is where you might need to brace yourself):
You see, there is a lot of evidence to show that we don’t need to frantically focus on weight loss to get healthy. Simply increasing physical activity (not a lot, just a little) and adopting mindful eating habits, greatly improves people’s metabolic health, even if you don’t lose weight.
HAES shifts the focus away from weight, with all of its pitfalls, and onto how we look after ourselves. There are three central ideas:
- Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body shapes and sizes
- Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honours internal cues of hunger and fullness
- Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital
Taking the focus off weight and learning to trust your body can be incredibly confronting. We are so used to being told that we need to change our body, being told what to eat, being told to exercise for weight loss. This is the havoc wreaked by diet mentality. We’ve been in diet prison, and we’ve forgotten how to live on our own. We’ve lost touch with our own internal wisdom.
It brings me immense joy to help people reconnect, learning that they can trust their bodies (not anyone else) to tell them when they are hungry and when they are full.
That food is just food, not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The amazing realisation that they naturally crave a wide variety of foods, and don’t need to over eat.
The uplifting power of self compassion to motivate self care, and the fulfilment of finding joy in moving their body.
And perhaps most meaningful at all, the knowledge that there is nothing wrong with their body. That body respect can happen right now, without waiting for weight loss.
Research shows that unlike dieting, HAES approaches are effective in helping people look after their health and wellbeing in the long term.
But for me, the most powerful evidence that HAES works doesn’t come from research. It’s in my clients’ faces.
I have the privilege of seeing the life changing experience that HAES gives people (and myself). There is nothing more empowering than connecting with true, unconditional self care. People get their life back, free from the shackles of dieting and the endless, self-hating cycle of the yo-yo.
The critics believe that if we dare give people permission to stop dieting, hordes of us will flood, tsunami-like, to the food courts in a gluttonous uprising of Roman orgy-style feasting. This is not the case. When people adopt HAES principles, binge eating stops (remember, it’s the dieting that causes binges in the first place!). People have a fundamental desire for their own wellbeing, and HAES connects us with that desire. It gives us our dignity back. Thanks, lovely HAES people.
The best part of HAES is there is no collateral damage. No harm. No terrible side effects. Oh, except maybe one – the weight loss industry suffers from profit loss. And I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
If you are interested in learning more about the wonderful work of the HAES people, visit www.haescommunity.org, where you can sign the pledge and link to hundreds of useful places. Great books are Dr Rick Kausman’s “If Not Dieting, Then What?”, or Dr Linda Bacon’s “Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight”. And if you’re keen to give the HAES approach a go, visit us at www.treatyourselfwell.com.au