I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Health at Every Size movement changed my life. Essentially, it gave me permission to practice compassionate self-care without waiting until I lost weight and finally, supposedly deserved it. It gave me permission to focus away from weight (and other arbitrary numbers) and to truly focus on my well-being, to focus on the joy of movement and the pleasure and flexibility of eating. Because our health and wellness is not dependent on weight.
It gave me permission to embrace and honor my body and myself. It also revealed many eye-opening, vital facts about health (more on that below).
Today, I’m sharing my interview with Kirsten Belzer, LCSW, a Chicago psychotherapist who also promotes HAES. (How wonderful and refreshing to find others who feel the same way!) Belzer specializes in couples, trauma, loss and life transitions. Below, she shares why HAES resonates with her, why it’s so powerful and so much more.
Q: How did you first discover Health at Every Size (HAES), and what resonated with you about it in particular?
A: I have to admit that I, like almost everyone in our culture, had previous biases against people who accepted being fat and said they could be healthy. From everything I had heard or read, being larger was something that was always unquestionably unhealthy.
I learned about HAES approximately 7 years ago. I had gained weight due to thyroid and adrenal issues. While in the past I had always been able to lose weight when I put some effort into it, this time nothing worked. Now I understand that after decades of dieting on and off, I was primed to gain weight and each time would be harder to lose it.
I read Judith Matz’s Diet Survivor Handbook on mindful eating, which was like a breath of fresh air. Matz mentioned HAES and Linda Bacon’s work. I then read Linda Bacon’s HAES book and it just clicked and made so much sense. It truly felt like a consciousness raising. The sense of freedom that came with releasing the struggle from the idea that I and others had to lose weight was truly liberating and intuitively felt much healthier. It’s also been a real gift to accept myself at this age and weight in a way I never did as a younger, thinner woman.
I was struck by so much of the scientific evidence HAES notes that is quite different from what the media promotes. For instance, the longest lived people have a BMI that is considered overweight. Yet doctors still tell people at this BMI they need to lose weight.
I was amazed to find out how the BMI numbers that supposedly constitute “overweight” and “obesity” were arbitrarily decided upon by a committee composed mainly of people with ties to the diet industry.
Q: Why is HAES so powerful and important?
A: HAES powerfully allows people to have compassion for themselves and accept themselves as they are. The work is important because it is a social justice movement. Bias against heavy people seems to be the last remaining accepted prejudice. I look forward to a time when the majority of Americans come to an acceptance of a variety of sizes and body shapes.
Q: How have your clients benefited from adopting HAES?
A: I feel much more compassion and understanding as a therapist toward my clients who are heavier. I don’t assume they want or need to lose weight if they are larger. Often I think it’s a great relief to them that someone in healthcare is not telling them directly or implying they must lose weight.
If they bring up the topic, they often look at me with wide eyes when I acknowledge to them my understanding that weight loss is almost impossible for the vast majority of people for the long-term without crazy-making, OCD-like behaviors. I think it frees them to know they are normal.
Q: What are the most common myths about HAES that you’d like to clear up?
A: I think some people may think HAES promotes eating whatever you want, whenever you want it and they assume this means lots of sweets or unlimited junk foods. The point of mindful eating is to really pay attention to what feels like the right match for your stomach, to enjoy your food, but also to listen to your body’s cues that you have had enough.
Many people have a misconception that the word “acceptance” implies a fatalistic giving up of any positive change. Acceptance simply means we acknowledge where we are in this moment without judgment. We can choose to makes positive changes if we realize in that moment of non-judgmental acceptance that something no longer works for us. As Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about HAES?
A: Before one writes off HAES without reading about it, take the time explore the ideas further and then come to your own informed conclusion. You may be surprised.
People also need to know that changing one’s perspective on weight and body acceptance is not an overnight shift. They should expect to take time on learning to eat mindfully. There is no perfect. It’s all just a process of accepting where you are in the present moment.
To learn more about Health at Every Size, read my interviews with Linda Bacon: Part 1 and Part 2. Read this interview with Bacon on myths, as well. And check out https://haescommunity.com and https://lindabacon.org.