Someone accused me on Facebook recently of telling people that they were healthy at any size (she also told me that I was clearly unhealthy and unfit because of my obesity, despite never once having looked at my medical records. Perhaps she’s a psychic doctor?! No, just a run-of-the-mill internet troll). Aside from attributing to me words I have never uttered, it’s also a big misconstruing of the HAES® philosophy. But it’s something I hear enough that I think it warrants some clarification from time to time. If someone has not taken the time to look into the finer details of Health at Every Size® (which are encompassed in 5, easy-to-digest points, but hey, that could read like the ACA to some people), they might easily misunderstand what this philosophy is about. They might well think that what this movement says is that a person can be healthy at literally any weight, from 2 pounds to 1000 pounds.
So let me explain. That’s not at all what HAES® is about. But first let’s review the 5 tenets of HAES® as listed on the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s (ASDAH) website:
- Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
You’ll probably notice right off that it doesn’t say, “And BTW, you’re totally healthy at ANY size.” Nope. Nowhere is that said. The essential philosophy of Health at EVERY Size® is that no matter what your weight is right now, you can begin (or continue) your journey to health. Maybe you aren’t healthy right now – you don’t need to let your weight stop you from trying to become healthier (and just a reminder that health is not entirely within our control, nor is it an obligation). Maybe as a result of changes, your weight will change, but that’s not the important part of this whole shebang.
So the question remains – do I think anyone is healthy at any weight? Given that I don’t have access to most people’s medical records, I can’t ever tell that. It’s entirely possible that a person may not be healthy at literally any weight. What we know so far about metabolism and internal weight regulation is that the body seems to know what weight it wants to be within a certain range (set point theory), and despite our best dieting efforts, doesn’t want to be too far away from that range for very long (thus the very predictable results of the recent research on The Biggest Loser contestants). There may be a range of weights that your body could be healthy at, but I truly wouldn’t know. Only your body knows that.
But this is putting far too much emphasis on the “weight” part – because weight is not what makes someone healthy or unhealthy. We cannot simply look at a person and determine if they are healthy based on their weight. Genetics, environment, and behaviors all play a part in health. You can definitely work on the behavior part. Depending on your situation, maybe you can change your environment (this assumes a certain amount of economic privilege, certainly). Genetics – good luck, that’s always a roll of the dice. so yes, we can definitely influence our health to some degree. What more and more is shown in the science, though, is that while you may be able to influence your weight short-term, in the long-term, your body almost always wins out on that decision. What’s that serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Yeah, that works pretty well here. Serenity now.
No, I can’t tell you if you will be healthy at any size. I defer to your body’s wisdom on determining those things for you. I only know that weight does not equal health. My suggestion is to stop worrying about weight and just work on the things you can and want to change. Maybe you want to eat more intuitively, or find exercise you actually like, or learn to cope with stress better, or get some much needed social or psychological support. The wonderful thing about HAES® is that it is all-inclusive – people of every size can work on those things to the best of their ability and according to their own desire.
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Shameless Plugs for Other People
This is something new I’m doing. From time to time I’m going to promote someone who’s work I love and think is important to the HAES® movement, because we just need more of that. This week I want to give a shout-out to Green Mountain at Fox Run for their wonderful new website! They have a great blog – check it out and share as you see fit!