Many people think that Health At Every Size (HAES) eschews health, that it promotes sitting on the couch, eating a bag of potato chips, day in, day out. Of course, I’m slightly exaggerating, but many people do hold similarly erroneous views of HAES.
Below, Linda Bacon, Ph.D, author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight and a physiologist specializing in nutrition and weight regulation, shares several other myths. She also talks about how your attitudes about being healthy are important.
Q: What were some of the most common misconceptions about Health At Every Size that you encountered?
A: One misconception — that the term Health at Every Size means that everyone is healthy regardless of their weight. That’s not what the short sound bite is saying.
There are both fat and thin people who are struggling with diseases – and not everyone is at the weight that’s right for them. (But that doesn’t mean that weight change goals are valuable! Health at Every Size is just trying to support people in making good health choices, regardless of what they weigh.)
Another misconception is that we’re promoting the idea that people shouldn’t be concerned about food and activity. People have linked in their minds that the only way you‘re supposed to be concerned about health is through weight and if we say weight isn’t the issue, people think that food and activity don’t matter. That’s not true.
Eating and exercise habits certainly play a role in health. By throwing out weight as an important factor, we’re not throwing out eating well or exercising.
People are concerned that if we drop weight as a concern, people will eat with abandon. But that’s not what HAES is about.
We’re talking about supporting people in making choices that make them feel good.
If you eat chocolate all the time and exclude other foods, you’ll notice this has an effect on your energy levels and it doesn’t feel good. We’re talking about making choices that help you to feel good. My research clearly showed that when feeling good is the goal, it results in improved health behaviors.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
A: In general, we need to stop making the connection between defining ourselves by how well we follow a set of prescribed rules. Intent is more important than action.
If you’re doing this out of a sense of obligation, it doesn’t support you in better happiness and you’ll be fighting yourself all the time. Somehow we need to relax around all of this.
Being healthy is also being content with the choices you make and less about what they are.
Let’s say someone goes for a run and feels virtuous for all the calories they burned. Sure that was a successful way of motivating them to run on that particular day, but that attitude over time actually wears away at their long-term motivation to run. When they notice after a while that they’re not losing weight from running, they’ll stop.
Instead if you have the attitude of feeling your own power and being amazed at your body, that it can run, and how good that feels, that will help you to run more in the future, whether you see any change in weight or not.
So it’s the feeling your own power that is more important, and what sustains you in being active.
I give people lots of tips about how to accomplish all of this in my book, Health at Every Size.
As a final note, I’d like to encourage people to drop by the (free) HAES Community Resources (www.HAESCommunity.org). It’s a great place to register your voice and find community.
A heartfelt thank-you to Linda for sharing her insight and for spreading the positive and important message of Health At Every Size!
By the way, the above image (which I think is just beautiful) represents HAES’s emphasis on engaging in joyful movement. That’s participating in physical activities that make you happy and feel good.
P.S., Please check out Judith Matz’s fantastic article in Psychotherapy Networker (PDF here) on why diets don’t work, what does work and much much more. She includes research that just might surprise you.