There is no one way to apply the Health At Every Size® (HAES®) model. This is my blog, so I am going to describe my own approach here, but I do not mean to suggest that this is the only way to think about or describe the HAES principles.
To me, the essence of the HAES model is the simple idea that health is not, and should not be, connected to size. We can all improve our health through various actions and attitudes, including honoring our bodies regardless of our size, but focusing on weight is the antithesis of health promotion. Research confirms that health improvements are possible through our lifestyle choices regardless of whether or not body size or weight changes. A HAES approach is appropriate for everyone, but is especially important for those with a history of dieting, disordered eating, and/or body image problems.
More particularly, a HAES approach involves:
No more diets
Restrictive dieting doesn’t work, and can in fact lead to serious health problems, disordered eating, and eating disorders, not to mention long-term weight gain. Also, consider how dieting contributes to low self-esteem; the act of dieting says “I’m not OK as I am.” When diets fail (95% of the time!), we assume that we have “failed.” Enough – it’s time to stop this destructive practice. Just say NO!
We lead healthier and happier lives when we accept our natural diversity in body size and shape, and stop trying to force our bodies to be what they were never meant to be.
We can learn to attend to our bodies’ internal cues about when, what, and how much to eat through the principles of “intuitive eating.” Once disordered eating has been normalized, we can learn to incorporate sound nutrition principles into our eating practices.
We all need to move our bodies in ways that make us happier and healthier. Finding the unique ways of moving that work for each of us is a worthwhile challenge.
I also emphasize the following in my HAES practice:
Connecting with others in meaningful ways
Many of us tend to bond with others over our body shame and dieting behaviors. We can support our well-being by cultivating relationships that help us to laugh, love, and be loved for who we are.
It is important to be able to navigate the current media landscape and understand how messages about body size and weight affect us.
Freedom from fear-based and shame-based health education
Many health education approaches purposely instill fear or shame in hopes of persuading people to make lifestyle changes. A more holistic approach is to focus on the essence of each person – his or her core values and characteristics – and discover what lifestyle choices best support those values and characteristics.
Freedom from “judgmentalism”
Judgment – particularly self-judgment – is one of our most destructive habits. Unfortunately, our culture tends to support standing in judgment of each other and ourselves, what I characterize as extreme “judgmentalism.” When we release negative judgments about ourselves and others – including but not limited to judgments about body size and shape – our lives and our health improve immeasurably.
Freedom from weight- and size-based discrimination
Very fat people and very thin people are entitled to fair and equal treatment anywhere that size discrimination affects us. Both as a fat woman, and as a health education professional, I advocate for such freedom from discrimination. The act of advocacy is liberating and health-promoting in and of itself; it is an affirmation that “I am not a victim.” I recommend that everyone become an activist in a way that works for y0u, such as teaching your children about size acceptance, speaking out when you witness small acts of cruelty against yourself or others, or posting responses to articles advocating weight loss diets.