I got a question from a reader today from reader Jeannie who said “I’m ready to get off the diet roller coaster and start focusing on my health instead of my weight, do you have any advice on the practical side of doing that?” Indeed I do.
Before we go too far, I want to point out (for the first of several times) that health (including the pursuit of health by any definition) is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed regardless of one’s choices.
So, let’s start by comparing and contrasting the two methods:
A weight centered approach to health suggests that we try to manipulate our body into a specific height/weight ratio and hope that health comes along for that ride. It suggests that we do something that nobody has proven is possible for a reason that nobody has proven is valid, and for which failure is a near statistical certainty.
Health at Every Size (HAES) is a health practice where the focus is on behaviors rather than body size, based on the evidence that habits are a much better determinant of future health than body size. (HAES is not to be confused with Size Acceptance, which is a civil rights movement that asserts that fat people have the right to exist without stigma, shame, bullying, or oppression and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could/want to become thin).
HAES does not say that everyone can be healthy at any size – it says that body size and health are two different things and that people of all sizes get to choose how highly to prioritize their health and the path they want to travel to get there, and that the resources we need to support those choices should be available and accessible. With HAES the focus is on choosing behaviors, and allowing our bodies to settle at whatever weight they settle.
The transition from a weight-centered health practice to a health-centered health practice can be difficult. The problem that I most often hear from people initially is how to set goals. In a weight centered practice the scale is our judge and jury. All eating and movement activities are centered around changing the size and shape of the body and the number on the scale.
For those who choose HAES, our activities are chosen based on our prioritization of our health and the path that we choose to get there, and are focused around nurturing our bodies and increasing our odds for good health, rather than trying to make them a certain size or height/weight ratio. Goals can be set around movement – for example, I want to be able to life my grandkid, I want to be able to walk around the block etc. They can be set around the habits themselves – I want to get x minutes of activity a week, I want to eat x servings of vegetables a day etc.
There are lots of nuts and bolts to work out, and for most of us it’s an ongoing process – but for me the biggest step was deciding to stop hating my body for not fitting a societal stereotype of beauty or state-sponsored height/weight ratio, and start appreciating it for everything it does and making choices as if my body and were on the same side, rather than “struggling” with my weight or seeing my body as the enemy. I find that most people’s experience – including mine – is that once you make the decision to focus on your health and let your weight fall where it may, you’ve taken a huge step toward a HAES approach.
On your HAES journey you’ll try stuff – some things will be spectacular successes (like that time I took up dancing) and some may be spectacular failures and that’s ok. This is a lifelong journey and there is no right or wrong, there are just experiences and what you’re going to try next.
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