There are a few misconceptions floating around about what the Health At Every Size®* approach is and isn’t, so here is my take.
Having a Health At Every Size® approach is not about saying that everyone is automatically healthy no matter what size they are, it’s about saying that everyone can engage in healthy behaviours no matter what size they are, and that doing healthy things will make you healthier, regardless of whether or not you lose weight.
It’s not about saying that losing or gaining weight is bad, it’s about saying it’s worth focusing on doing healthy things because they’re healthy (physically, socially, emotionally etc) – and that if you’re doing lots of healthy things, your body should settle at its own healthiest weight*, which will differ from person to person.*
Some people worry that if we shift the focus away from weight loss even for a second, everyone is going to eat pizza for every meal and never exercise again. I think this sort of thing only happens if your only reason for eating vegetables and walking with your friends is to lose weight. I truly believe there are much better reasons – and health and enjoyment have got to be up there if something is going to be sustainable.
An example of a Health At Every Size® approach to fitness, using the principle of “life-enhancing movement” would be attending a group fitness class because you enjoy getting stronger and having less back pain, meeting new people and being challenged, or doing boring rehabilitation exercises because having more hip mobility makes it easier to climb over things. This is the opposite of attending a class you hate but gritting your teeth because if you keep going you think you’ll lose 5kg and reach an arbitrarily set “goal weight” (how likely are you to keep that up?!)
If making people worry and feel bad about their size or weight was helping people get healthier, it would have happened by now. The Biggest Loser would practically have cured cancer! By taking a Health At Every Size® approach, we can shift the paradigm away from shame and guilt-based behaviours and towards positive, proactive health choices for all of us – and be happier for it!
*I understand that some illnesses/physical conditions affect weight, and that health is different for all people (and not an obligation!), but a Health At Every Size® approach would emphasise health care that looked at the person’s health beyond their number in kilos and didn’t automatically blame their weight for all their health issues. Where weight gain was a symptom of an underlying issue, a health care provider with a Health At Every Size® approach would try to treat the issue, not just the weight, and encourage the person to engage in healthy behaviours in accordance with their abilities and interest.
**Health At Every Size and HAES are registered trademarks of the Association for Size Diversity and Health and used with permission