Over the last several months, we have been learning more about the Health at Every Size® (HAES®) movement. The HAES® approach to health emphasizes eating intuitively and being physically active for pleasure rather than focusing on weight loss and dieting.
Clearly, the HAES® approach flies in the face of almost everything our society believes about health (i.e., that thin people are innately healthier than heavier people, and that losing weight is the be-all and end-all to being a healthier, happier person). Given the years and years of messages we have received about how dangerous it is to be overweight, the HAES® approach is a pretty revolutionary and scary premise.
The HAES® approach is most typically brought up in the context of overweight individuals, but health – or lack thereof – at leaner sizes also falls under the topic’s umbrella. In other words, just because someone is thin does not mean he or she is healthy.
Recently, a new patient was talking with me about the pressure she feels to be skinny in her community where so many of the women she sees around town are thin. While some of the women my patient envies no doubt are blessed with a foundation of helpful genetics on top of which they have built healthy lifestyles, some of them keep their figures through unhealthy means: excessive exercise, disordered eating, laxative abuse, anorexia, purging, etc.
The truth is that so many of us are dealing with health conditions invisible to others, such as diabetes, hypertension, depression, arthritis, Celiac disease, eating disorders, HIV, and high cholesterol, just to name a few, that we can judge neither one’s health nor lifestyle based on his or her size alone with any degree of accuracy.
I find a number of things about the HAES® approach interesting. The aspect I like the most is that it stresses that health is much more than just how much you weigh.
In a previous blog, I discussed the limitations of the BMI, as it does not give us enough information about an individual to determine his or her overall health. the HAES® approach says that health is about eating according to your body’s hunger, fullness, and appetite cues; exercising for pleasure (as opposed to doing so just to burn calories); and recognizing that health comes in all shapes and sizes.
These ideas are things that I try to stress in my sessions with clients – that if you are only focused on calories in vs. calories out, weight, and exercise solely for the purpose of weight loss, you are missing the bigger picture.