If Not Dieting…Then What? A HAES Primer

So far I’ve talked about not dieting. You might be thinking, well, if diets don’t work, what should I do to be healthy?

While there are many factors that affect health, many of them not entirely within our control, I like to focus on the factors we can influence, namely eating and exercise. The Health at Every Size (HAES®) philosophy helps us to do that. Here are the principles of HAES® from the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s website (sizediversityandhealth.org):

  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.

If you’ve been living with a diet mindset, this can be a lot to digest (pun intended. Dietitian humor is the worst!). As a long-time dieter, my first reaction was “What?! Not eat for weight control? No way.” As it happens, I was pretty hungry the whole time I was learning about this and I think that’s probably what put the nail in the coffin of my dieting mentality. “You’re right!” I thought. “I don’t have to be hungry to be healthy!” I stopped my self-imposed famine then and there and have been feeding my appetite ever since.

The bottom line here is that HAES® takes the focus away from manipulating weight and puts it on behaviors that support health.

I have met some folks who want to know if they can incorporate HAES® into a weight-loss strategy. The answer is a resounding…no. HAES® and intentional weight loss efforts are mutually exclusive. Weight loss may happen as a result of a HAES® approach as your body seeks its way to a more natural weight for you, but making weight loss a focus of health changes will prevent you from finding peace with eating and self-image. In short, you’ll never get to a non-diet life if you keep focusing on your weight.

While HAES® is the overarching non-diet philosophy, I sometimes feel it doesn’t tell you exactly how to get there if you’ve been floundering in Dietland for a long time. This is where Intuitive Eating (also called attuned eating or normalized eating) comes in. I’ll talk about that in my next post!