Health At Every Size and Weight Loss
At first, the concept of Health At Every Size can be challenging to wrap your head around and accept because it is the polar opposite to what we hear from our doctor and other well-meaning health professionals. We have all grown up being told that thin equals good and being overweight equals bad.
To remedy this, you are advised to go on a diet, which means, eat less and move more. But where has this advice gotten you? *I won’t get into that in this blog, but in short, this narrow advice is outdated and is slowly being refuted by reliable evidence that is not biased towards health, pharmaceutical or beauty industries making billions of dollars.
Dieting is one of the most common forms of disordered eating. Furthermore, research shows that dieting is common among people with eating disorders. As a professional health care practitioner our number one goal is to do NO harm. Focussing on weight and appearance IS harmful. And this is where Health At Every Size comes in.
Health At Every Size is not against weight loss. More accurately, it does not promote weight loss as a goal or a health strategy. The key reasons for this are:
A focus on body weight, shape and size perpetuates externalised and internalised weight stigma.
Weight stigma, also known as weight bias or weight-based discrimination, is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight.
Evidence shows that weight stigma leads to feelings of shame which makes people less likely to engage in healthy behaviours. It is more likely to result in decreased exercise, increased calorie consumption, unhelpful eating behaviours such as binge eating and/or Bulimia, and poorer weight loss outcomes. Furthermore, people who experience weight stigma have increased psychological stress, depression and anxiety.
Disappointingly, health-care settings are not exempt from stigmatising people living in larger bodies, with patients often reporting receiving poorer care.
Weight stigma is also often internalised—the person perceives themselves to be larger than they really are because they do not look like the thin ideal or they do not weigh a certain number on the scale. Yet, interestingly, by our culture’s standards, they do not have a larger frame body and they are often of “normal” weight or even underweight.
Weight stigma can increase body dissatisfaction, a leading risk factor in the development of eating disorders and an environmental contributor to the development of chronic dieting and disordered eating.
Another key problem with making weight loss the focus is that a person can actively take steps to improve their eating and movement habits, and not lose any weight at all. Despite their overall health greatly improving, that person may then become disheartened and go back to restrictive eating (dieting).
*By the way, there are also discrepancies in health across lower and higher socioeconomic statuses. I do not touch on this issue in this blog, although I am continually learning more about this. Genetics also play a role. So “health” is based on so much more than food and exercise.
The traditional dieting approach has been in vogue for more than 30 years, but it has the highest failure rate out of any industry.
Many of the women I speak to have spent years, if not their whole lives dieting and weight cycling. Weight cycling is problematic in itself, but the focus on weight can also erode self-worth and adversely affect psychological health.
The Health At Every Size (HAES) approach has received some negative press about not focusing on weight; it has also been suggested that HAES promotes obesity. However, this is where the approach is grossly misunderstood.
The HAES approach helps people find sustainable health behaviours that support overall well-being, acknowledge and address weight stigma, and is inclusive of human diversity in terms of body size, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification and social status.
There is no doubt when people feel better within themselves, they are more likely to engage in healthy behaviours and feel motivated to take care of their bodies.
With HAES, if a person loses weight through changing their health behaviours and better self-care, weight loss is a beneficial side effect, not the primary goal.
If you would like help incorporating the HAES principles into your health routine, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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