Dieting, Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size

This is not a blog about whether you can love your body and still want to lose weight,  the brilliant Deb Burgard already tackled that one in The Health at Every Size Blog.  This is about how these groups interact with each other.

First, I take great pains never to tell anybody else how to live, but I  make an exception when it comes to civil rights.  I think that everyone should be for Size Acceptance, regardless of their size, the path to health that they’ve chosen, or the path to health they think is best for others.  Civil rights are not up for debate or determined by a majority vote, or by how important those rights are to you individually.

Bodies are not barometers for health, intelligence, value, work ability, or anything else.  We have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that doesn’t start 50 pounds from now for me, even if you decide that it starts 50 pounds from now for you.  I would not personally recommend it or choose it, but I support people’s right to choose dieting. I can’t argue to limit their choices while simultaneously arguing that my choices should not be limited. By the same token I think that even fat people who don’t want to be fat and are actively trying to be thin should be for Size Acceptance.  True power is in having the right and choosing whether to exercise it – it’s not about taking rights away from others because you don’t want them for yourself.

So let’s talk about how HAES and Size Acceptance people interact with dieters.  I know that there are SA and HAES advocates who tell dieters, online or in person, that what they are doing is unhealthy and that they should stop dieting and do what HAES says is right, and they  say that they tell people this for their own good.  I’m asking those people to consider stopping that behavior.  If the message sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s the exact same thing that fat people who practice Health at Every Size get from those who think we should try to lose weight; and we RAIL against these messages and their messengers, flatly stating that they have no right to tell us what to do with our bodies.  So how about we avoid looking like, or actually being, hypocrites?  I hate it when people come to my blog and preach dieting,  so I would never, ever go to someone’s blog about dieting and preach HAES.

Please understand, I believe that weight centered health and Health at Every Size are two completely separate paradigms and I’m not suggesting that they “kiss and make up“, I’m working for a paradigm shift here.  I’m just suggesting that we stop attacking individuals who make different choices than us, using tactics that we don’t like having used on us.

We don’t need to resort to that because we are not a Potemkin movement. We have evidence, experts, and success stories on our side.  So let’s keep getting our information out there.   Let’s comment on news stories and get our experts in the media and create our own news.  Let’s create our own spaces on the internet and in the world to present our beliefs, explain them, and support them with evidence. (While I wouldn’t go to someone else’s site and talk about the dangers of dieting I sure as hell do it on this blog.)  Let’s get into debates and mix it up and let people hear what we have to say.  Let’s make sure that if people choose dieting it’s not just because they never heard of Health at Every Size or Size Acceptance.  And let’s make changes at an institutional level – get the medical community and the media on our side.  Let’s work to end the constant stream of body hate that so many people try to change their bodies to avoid.   But let’s commit to never bullying people the way that we’ve been, and continue to be, bullied.

While we’re talking about this – bashing thin people:  Not ok, not ever, not for any reason.  It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.  Let’s just put an end to all the body snarking and make room for everyone on the Size Acceptance Ark.

There are so many choices when it comes to prioritizing health, paths to health, food and movement etc. I am not interested in convincing everyone do what I think is right.  I am interested in all of us having the right to make our own choices about our bodies and  health, and in our ability live in our bodies and with those choices without losing civil rights, job opportunities, access to good healthcare or life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a consequence.  I’m also interested in working to make sure that everyone has access to all of the information, foods and movement options that they require to implement and support their choices, which I will respect as I want my choices respected.

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22 thoughts on “Dieting, Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size

  1. I have been learning and thinking a lot lately about accepting others and not judging no matter what. It’s hard to change habits of a life-time, but the more I think about it the more I see that judging is just as bad as assuming things about others. I really appreciate how much you advocate that people just accept others’ choices and let them be “the boss of their own underpants”! Keep it up! You rock!

  2. I’m glad you are such a supporter of not telling others how to live and not judging them for how they live. It’s an important thing for people who are advocating anything to remember. It comes down to treating people how you would like to be treated by them.

  3. Thank you so much for the thoughtful article. It can be excruciatingly difficult to accept the choices of others that are so different from our own. Your efforts to do so have made it really comfortable for me to read your blog, and learn so many utterly amazing new ideas & information. I can relate to being judged for my body (I am an almost 6′ tall woman), but have not often had the experience of being judged for my weight until I encountered less enlightened SA folk.

    If I had felt unwelcome because I am not traditionally considered fat, I wouldn’t have learned about HAES, and remained unaware of the rampant media & social biases towards obesity. You have really peeled the illusions away; now I am discussing HAES concepts with those around me, friends, family & hopefully my yoga students. Thanks for giving me the facts to get myself & those around me exploring whole new ideas about health!

    Oh, & thanks for the link to the HAES article! As someone who is losing weight due to healthy changes made to my diet & exercise, I was feeling conflicted about my reactions to my new size. The article gave me some new food for thought.

  4. Thank you for this. I recently had a friend join WW awhile ago and now our mutual friend has done the same. And I’ve been battling with it. Cause I don’t wanna tell them what to do with their bodies, but I worry that WW is setting them up for failure & unhappiness in the future. Especially since the friend that just started it has been updating her G+ with statuses like ” OMG! Starving! Need 0 point snacks in the house NOW”

    It’s just frustrating. But – I know that her life is her life, and I have no right to tell her how to live her life. I wouldn’t like it if she suddenly started telling me how to live my life. However if she brings up dieting or food talk or whatever, it wouldn’t be bad to talk about what works for me in the range of eating. Or recipes that I like. Or at least, that’s my thoughts on it.

    1. Same sort of thing going on here, Dayna. Two young relatives of mine, sisters – lovely, intelligent girls, both of them – have recently announced to FB that they’re both on some ‘3-day diet’. Which is their choice, but I was really, really having to bite my tongue today when one of them was complaining how much she hated everything she ‘had’ to eat. Part of me wants to yell at her electronically that she’s a grown adult, she doesn’t have to eat anything she doesn’t want to (that’s before you get to this regime promising ridiculous weight loss, falsely claiming to be endorsed by a heart charity, and causing fainting in some people on it)…but how would I like her taking me to task about my eating habits? Exactly. It’s difficult.

  5. As someone who has lost weight due to healthy changes in my diet, and a new found love of exercise, I’m glad to see you address this topic. Even though I do not weigh as much as I once did, I still support fat acceptance and HAES 100%. If I had not discovered HAES, I would not be the healthy person I am today. Without HAES, I would have never discovered my passion for yoga and other forms of exercise, because I used to be too ashamed to walk into a yoga class or gym. I would not have learned to slowly build my strength and stamina while loving my body. You often talk about the myriad factors that contribute to weight gain and being fat. Losing weight is similar. I have always believed that I can control what I put into my body (good foods, exercise) but I can not control whether or not I lose weight. For some people (but not all or even most!!) making healthy choices and exercising more can lead to weight loss. I may be the minority, but this has been my experience.
    Losing weight while believing in HAES and FA can be a very strange experience. When dieters talk about their “former” self, they use a lot of hurtful language, and disassociate themselves with their larger body. I am the same person now as I was 50 lbs ago. I have tremendous respect for myself now and then. You would not believe how many people think it’s ok to say, “We were really worried about your health” (oh really? you had a conversation behind my back about it? that’s nice) “You were HUGE” (ummm how do you not get that’s rude?) and “You’re a completely different person” (nope, same person). It’s also strange to enjoy the benefits of being less stigmatized, while thinking stigma shouldn’t exist in the first place. I think it’s great to realize that people of all sizes can be on the HAES team, and to respect and individual’s choices. Whether the number on the scale begins with 1 or 2 (or 3 or 4!) I will remain an advocate for FA and HAES.

  6. I agree with this post 100%. I have stopped trying to lose weight or diet, but this doesn’t mean I have the right to tell others what to do.

    What I do is right for me. I have no place to judge what is right for someone else.

  7. Yeah, autonomy is for everyone, even people making decisions I don’t agree with. Otherwise, it’s not meaningful autonomy. Non-dieting fat people have the right to be treated as adults with control over our own bodies and not helpless idiot victims who need to be rescued and shown the way to ‘true’ health. So do dieters.

    Putting information about HAES and the downsides of dieting out there to better enable people to make their own decisions is good. Treating dieters as some sort of project to be rescued? Not so much.

  8. I have been following your blog for a couple of months now. I love that you believe everyone has a right to live their lives however they want. I know that I am very guilty of the “skinny girl” bashing. I have said “oh my god, that girl needs a sandwich” and not realized that I was doing the exact thing that had been done to me. I no longer say things like that. I will say I still occasionally think it, it takes a while to completely change how you think but I am on the right path, I believe. Thank you for your articulate and thought provoking blogs that always leave me with something new that I have learned. I believe we need to “be the change you want to see” and I think you are definitely following that saying.

  9. Though I have never been medically or socially designated as overweight (right in the middle of “average” on both counts, really) I like to think that the people who choose to practice HAES are helping their body find their own equilibrium points. For some people after making this choice, their weight will remain the same, for some they may lose weight, for some they may gain weight- but the common factor being that they are all becoming healthier, more fit, more active, and helping their body find the place it *wants* to be. Even as a thin person I have to keep reminding myself that the reason I maintain a healthy lifestyle is for *health*, and whatever my body looks like will be what it is supposed to look like.

    Being surrounded by wonderful fitness- and nutrition-loving friends, many of whom do CrossFit and follow the Paleo diet or something similar, it’s sometimes hard when the conversation turns to weight instead of fitness, not because I personally feel stigmatized but because I know how hard people are working to make weight a non-issue. Though I personally do buy into the studies surrounding why eating and working out this way is great for your body, I’m not going to tell any of my other friends how to live their life, unless they specifically ask for what I think or want to have an open, two-way dialogue about nutrition or activity! (disclosure: I am definitely not a fitness or nutrition expert nor should anyone treat me as such :p)

    Anyway… I love reading this blog as part of my daily rotation… it helps provide an extremely important perspective that keeps all of my other nutrition and fitness blogs in the context of being a decent human being and respecting other people’s choices, while being willing to help direct people to educational resources *if they want it*

  10. Right on Ragen. It’s called Health At EVERY Size. That’s because sometimes body size goes up, and sometimes it goes down but you can get and give respect at all points on the spectrum.

  11. I think there’s an important distinction to be made between conventional dieting, which commonly includes calorie restriction and bland/unappetizing food and lifestyle change “diets” which focus more on quality of food than quantity and are generally sating.

    The former can be miserable and sometimes dangerous, so I think sometimes those situations may warrant an open conversation with the dieting individual, not under the auspices of “all dieting fails”, but that a diet that starves them or makes them miserable may not be in their best interest. If they balk at conversation, of course be kind and leave them to their choices. (Unless they’re at immediate risk of starving to death, of course!)

    The latter I think is more compatible with a HAES approach. Everyone’s body is different and certain food choices work better for others. Paleo, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free… all of these are lifestyle food variations that may make people feel better (relieving tummy troubles, for instance) and may cause them to lose weight while not feeling deprived.

    Personally, I had the epiphany lately that I should rely less on doctrinal dietary restrictions (I try to eat Paleo), even if I do well with them, and instead concentrate on those foods that body clearly “approves of”. Foods that are nutritious, delicious, and sating, but don’t saddle me with side effects like stomach pain, bloating, or allergic reactions.

  12. A (weight loss) diet is the creation of a sufficient calorie deficit to induce weight loss, full stop.

    As long as people don’t try to rope me or fat people in general into their wl diets, I don’t give a crap.

  13. Thank you, so much..

    I am fat and actively trying to lose weight. I am also very, very much for fat acceptance (and not afraid of the word fat). I know I eat healthily (or used to..) – I know other fat people do too. I actually know what Im doing and how Im doing it is quite unhealthy.. I do know that. I know I’d be much healthier if I stopped being scared of food, and ate yummy nutritious meals instead of counting every calorie, going to bed hungry.

    That’s me being completely honest.

    The truth is, I’m only doing it because I dont have strength, and its a complete reaction to how society views aesthetics (rather than health). I feel ugly because others tell me I am. I dont feel beautiful. I see other fat women and think ‘Christ, gorgeous! Nothing wrong at all. Why cant I see that in myself?’ but I just dont feel the same way about my own body. I dont think fat bodies are ugly. I feel like Im ugly. Wrong. Worthless. But definitely not fat people and I’ll always be for fat acceptance and HAES.

    Confusing? Yes.. it is for me too. It really is, and Im sad all the time.

    I come to these weblogs because I believe in them.. but I feel so hated at some of the FA blogs (as well as feeling hated everywhere else, at every turn, which is what you’re fighting against). I feel as if I dont belong anywhere. I have all this guilt about my size.. all this guilt because I feel like Im seen as a traitor accepting HAES but then doing what Im doing. I’m just trying to be happy.. and find my place in the world. At the moment, I dont feel like I have one. I just dont want to be hated anymore.

    I dont love my body, but I love everybody elses no matter what size and firmly believe a fat person can be perfectly healthy (Infact, I know it. I know I was healthy before I caved in.. healthier, than I am now). I think thats the only way I can even attempt to explain myself 😦

    1. Hi Dannan,

      thank you for sharing your story so honestly, I think that you are at a place where a lot of people are. It’s understandable that when you’re part of a stigmatized group you try to see if there’s a way to get out of it and sometimes even believe the stigma that is spread about you. I wish you the best of luck at finding a path that brings you peace and joy.



    2. Confusing? Yes.. it is for me too. It really is, and Im sad all the time.

      Lots of us have felt this similar split, including Kate Harding. I know I did and it was that lack of hatred of others which ended up helping me in the end making me confront-when I was ready- that difference.

      You say you don’t want to be hated anymore, but that can only really start with you stopping your own habits of self hatred.

      I’m sorry if that sounds at all harsh, it’s not meant to, but you will never stop feeling got at, when you are getting at yourself 24/7 stripping your defenses which leaves you permanently raw, that’s just the way it is. When you get past that and I believe you will, you’ll eventually understand that a lot of your “feeling hated” is actually more about what is going on inside than outside.

      I personally think you have real strength of character which you’ve shown by having the guts to tell the truth about your calorie restriction, by doing that, you actually honour and respect yourself too, whether you feel it or not. You as much as any of us are made for self respect, allow it.

    3. Hi Dannan,

      You are so brave to write your thoughts out this way. Please remember that many, many people are in this in-between place. It’s confusing and frustrating. But it is also a normal part of the process. Forgiving yourself and loving yourself is essential, but nobody gets there overnight. I hope you can find a way to both honor yourself–hearing that small, scared, and sad voice inside of you, while at the same time, leaving a small part of your heart open. Be open to the messages you are reading here about loving yourself and being loved. But honey, I know it ‘aint easy. And that’s a fact. Hang in there. It gets better.

  14. Thank you so much for this post. I really appreciate how you write and the way in which you express your views. This post is a really important part of the Health At Every Size discussion.

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