Healthy at Every Size is a movement. It asserts that the best way to be healthy is to stop caring about your body fat percentage and start caring about the food you eat and the life you live. Officially, HAES “supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being rather than weight control.”
Now this definition doesn’t mean exactly that HAES believes you can be healthy at every size. The official definition shies away from saying that. But the movement itself is closely associated with the idea. Most people in it really do believe that you can be healthy at every size.
Why I used to hate HAES
I used to really dislike HAES. I thought, for one, that it was basically wrong.
I thought that being overweight was unhealthy. Period. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
I also used to think that HAES was an excuse to be lazy.
I thought HAES adherents simply wanted to eat whatever they wanted, all the time. You can be “healthy” so long as you feel good about yourself.
I was so wrong
So, I know a lot of people in the paleosphere are on the side of the fence that I used to be on. A lot of people think that being overweight is unhealthy, at best, and immoral, at worst.
But I have since become more educated about these issues, and come to really love HAES. It turns out the movement is more about spreading awareness of the true ambiguity in the medical literature about body fatness, and about recommending a healthy diet and lifestyle no matter someone’s size.
For HAES, the recommendation for everyone is eat well, de-stress, and live well. Love yourself. Here is a quote I pulled off of their website:
Health at Every Size® principles help us be at peace in our bodies, supporting people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves. It includes the following basic components:
- Respect, including respect for body diversity.
- Compassionate Self-care
- Eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite;
- Finding the joy in moving one’s body and being physically active.
- Critical Awareness
- Challenges scientific and cultural assumptions;
- Values body knowledge and people’s lived experiences.
I think you could do a whole lot worse than that.
It is totally possible to be overweight and healthy
Contrary to popular dogma, it is totally possible to be “overweight” and healthy at the same time. In fact, there are many health conditions that extra weight can be explicitly helpful for.
Pneumonia, burns, general immune system health, stroke, many varieties of cancer, hypertension, and heart disease have all been shown to be overcome more easily — or survived at greater rates — in people who are overweight relative to people who are normal weight. People who are underweight or who are very obese fare the worst. In heart disease, there is actually a four times greater chance of dying if you are thin with heart disease than moderately overweight.
Finally, fairly significant research has shown that people who are overweight tend to live longer than anybody else. Really, more than anybody else.
You can read my post about being healthy and overweight at: Can Being Overweight Be Healthier than Being Normal Weight?
Losing weight isn’t what makes people healthier; healthier living does.
Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.
Time and time again we find that it isn’t weight loss that makes people healthier. Losing weight doesn’t suddenly improve someone’s nutritional status, blood markers, or risk for diseases. It really doesn’t. When people get healthier as they lose weight, it is typically because they are actually eating better food.
Of course, there are some things weight loss helps for. If you have a fair amount of abdominal fat, losing it may reduce your inflammation levels, since abdominal fat tends to secrete inflammatory molecules. Losing weight can also take a hefty burden off of your joints, and can certainly improve athletic performance.
But if it’s freedom from disease you are after, the real answer is to eat super well most of the time, sleep often, reduce stress, and be as happy and purposeful in your life as possible.
Why Healthy At Every Size is Successful
Healthy At Every Size is successful because it encourages people to think about their health, moreso than their weight.
It isn’t about being lazy. It isn’t about simple “acceptance” of where you are, and never striving towards greater wellness in your life.
Instead, it’s about prioritizing your wellbeing. You don’t have to stop caring about your weight. I think weight loss is a perfectly legitimate goal for a ton of reasons. I have a program for weight loss that I stand by proudly — it emphasizes health and love above all things, and still acknowledges that weight loss can be a worthwhile pursuit. It just has to happen with the right mindset.
Healthy At Every Size is successful because shifting your priorities away from aesthetics helps you stay loyal to a healthy diet.
When your happiness is yoked to the way that you look, you can’t help but have good days and bad (and usually more bad than good). You can’t help but be disappointed and frustrated with your progress. You can’t help but compare the way you look to others, and invariably feel like you are lacking in some regard. You can’t help but judge yourself, criticize yourself, and punish yourself.
Negative mentalities like this are terrible for weight loss. Negative feelings make people who diet want to eat. That’s just an inevitability that comes from being a human being. I read about it in the literature and I see it happen on a daily basis.
You might eat even if you are not ‘hungry’ because you feel deprived of your favorite foods. You might eat because you are stressed out. You might eat because your goal of “hourglass figure” seems hopeless. There’s a good chance you’ll eat more than you intended, and you’ll feel terrible about it. You’ll spiral even further into the black hole of negative self talk and unhealthy food choices, and keep cycling between guilt and over-eating.
When you choose health over the way that you look, choosing healthy food to eat stops being a battle. They stop being competitions. They stop being perfectly weighed and measured, controlled within an inch of your life. Prioritizing health doesn’t plummet you into a dark hole of despair. Quite the opposite, actually. Health is not a “lose or win” battle. Instead, health happens gradually–it “wins” gradually–over the course of days, weeks, and years.
Health is about being consistent in eating well most of the time, not being as strict as possible every second. Health is about caring about yourself and the world around you more than the numbers on a scale. Prioritizing health is liberating in the most true sense. It sets you free from the shackles of judgment and self-criticism, and enables you to truly be loyal to yourself and your happiness.
Sure, focusing on health might not make you a size zero. Then again, I’m willing to bet that focusing on your waistline isn’t going to either. And even if it does, it probably won’t last, since the vast majority of people who diet like that regain the weight they’ve lost.
The thing is, your weight status and your health are really genuinely not all that tied together. You can be overweight and perfectly healthy. So then why kill yourself trying to shed pounds?
Life is about love and energy and joy. Being in good health helps increase that. Punishing yourself with a low calorie, strictly-regimented diet? Not quite so much.
Healthy At Every Size asks us to reconsider our assumptions about weight and health, and get our priorities in line. It’s totally fine and nice to lose weight, but that has to happen in a context of love, in which health and happiness are the priority.
If you want to learn a bit more about how to accept your body and love yourself, you may want to check out my book Sexy by Nature or my blog post How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Weight Loss. If you want to lose weight in a super healthy and self-loving way, you may wish to check out my program for weight loss, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution.
What do you think of Healthy at Every Size? Do you think you can be healthy at every size? Do you think this movement has the right idea, or does it encourage people to be “lazy”? I’d love to hear what you think!!