"I don't believe in Health at Every Size," a dietitian friend of mine announced. "I've seen these fat people and they are not healthy. They eat McDonalds for every meal and then come into the hospital and have all sorts of health problems. They can't even wipe their own butt!" And sadly she is not alone. Many people, with varying backgrounds and education, do not understand the term Health at Every Size or HAES, and therefore refuse to accept it. HAES, they argue, is just going to make our nation fatter and more obese, increasing associated health issues. Accepting fatness is a problem, and if you accept it, you condone it, they argue. But not believing in Health at Every Size is like not believing in oxygen. HAES is a reality, backed up by research. So let's take a deep breath (mmmm, oxygen) and deconstruct the term HAES.
Health at Every Size is a movement that began in the 1960's as a backlash to the nation's obsession with thinness. The phrase, when taken literally means that health can be achieved despite your size. In other words, you can be healthy even if you weigh 300 lbs. But that doesn't mean every 300 lbs person is healthy. It just means that health should not be determined by size, weight or BMI. It should be determined by your behaviors. Do you exercise? That's healthy. Do you eat a balanced diet? That’s great too. Do you drink water? You get the idea. Research shows that you don't have to lose weight to get healthy, you just have to do healthy things. Most times weight loss is a side effect of healthy behaviors, but not always.
Even with a through understanding of HAES, some people still can't get on board. Critics think that people are fat because they over eat and don't exercise, plain and simple. If they stopped eating so much, they would be skinny. It is that type of thinking that stigmatizes larger people. The reality is that some people are just bigger. Just like some of us have blonde hair. And some of us have acne. And some of us have really large feet. We can't really help those things. Sure you could dye your hair, or wear lots of make up, or bind your feet...but those things do not foster happiness and acceptance, and may not last.
So that is HAES in a nutshell. What do you think? Do you believe in HAES?