Lies About Health At Every Size

Public HealthI see a LOT of misinformation being spread about Health at Every Size, sometimes by well-meaning but misinformed people, sometimes by those intentionally trying to discredit the concept. So today I thought I would repost this to help clear up some of what I think are common misconceptions:

1. Health at Every Size says that if you love your body you will be healthy

First of all, “healthy” is complicated to define. More to the point health – by any definition – isn’t an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstance. To me, HAES on a personal level is about putting the focus on habits and behavior that support our personal health concept (rather that putting the focus on trying to manipulate our bodies to a specific height/weight ratio.)

It’s also about acknowledging that we don’t have as much control over our health as we might like to think we do, and creating environments that are conducive to health, and I don’t mean fat-shaming and soda taxes, I mean creating environments that are free from stigma and oppression, removing barriers to access and information, making healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone, giving people the option to appreciate their bodies and think of them as worthy of care.

Finally, everyone has the option (though, of course never the obligation) to love their bodies regardless of “health” or anything having to do with “health.”  People are allowed to having complicated feelings when it comes to their bodies and “health.”

2. Health at Every Size is only for fat people

Nope-ity nope.  HAES is practiced by people of all sizes.  The reason that it’s most often talked about in conjunction with fat people is that fat people are typically told that the only path to health is to become thin (despite the fact that there are thin people who have all the health issues that fat people are told to lose weight to avoid) and so while many fat people find it while looking for an alternative to the intentional weight loss recommendations that have been failing us our entire lives, HAES is an option for those who want to pursue health rather than body size manipulation, it’s also practiced by people of all sizes who want an evidence-based health practice.

3.  Good Fat People Practice Health at Every Size 

The good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy is the idea that fat people who participate in “healthy” behaviors or are “healthy”  (as defined by the person who inappropriately and incorrectly thinks that it’s their right to judge) are better than the “bad fatties” who don’t practice “healthy” behaviors or aren’t “healthy” (by whatever definition.)

The GF/BF dichotomy is wrong and it needs to die.  Each person should have the right to define and prioritize “health” for themselves, and to choose the path that they want to travel -those are personal decisions and aren’t anyone else’s business (those wishing to make a “but muh tax dollarz!” argument can head over to this post) Public health isn’t about making fat people’s health the public’s business, or about creating healthism in the name of health, or about using “health” as a thin veil for fat bigotry.

4. I disagree with the science behind Health at Every Size, therefore I am justified in treating fat people like crap.

Noooooooo. World of no. Galaxy of no. Universe of no. No. People are free to believe whatever they want about body size and health. None of those beliefs are a “get out of Sizeism free” card.  Fat people have the right to exist without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression. Period.  What someone believes, or what is true, about Health at Every Size does not come into play here.

The seed for my HAES journey was reading the research about weight loss methods and realizing that there wasn’t a single study that would lead me to believe that future efforts at long term significant weight loss would have any different outcomes from my past attempts (which is to say, I had the same experience as almost everyone – losing weight short term and gaining it back long term, often plus more!)  Realizing that I had been sold a (massively profitable) lie about my size and health, I went looking for what the research actually said. And the research seemed pretty clear to me that, understanding that my health wasn’t entirely within our control, a focus on behaviors rather than body size was a much more evidence-based way to support my health.

There are people out there riding the weight loss roller coaster even though their experience, and the research, tells them that there is no reason to believe that attempting intentional weight loss will leave them thinner or healthier in the long term, because they want to be “healthy” and they don’t know that there is another option.  HAES is important because it provides a paradigm for personal choices and (perhaps more important) wellness care that doesn’t revolve around doing something that nobody has shown is possible for an outcome that nobody has proven is valid.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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14 thoughts on “Lies About Health At Every Size

  1. It’s really hard to get away from the mentality of ‘thinner is better’. I just started a new job and hearing other people random talk about weight loss around me makes me want to start the madness again. It’s still really jarring when someone you consider thin calls themselves fat.

    1. I’m student teaching and this other teacher I didn’t know came into the room and was telling the other teachers (there were 3 others besides me) how she lost 6 pounds, and she was so happy and proud of herself. And the other teachers were so happy too telling her how great she looked and how great of a job she was doing. Oh and the whole thing started because they asked her if she wanted a slice of pizza and she said no because that would mess it all up. Well, this woman I would consider average weight, and how could one slice of pizza mess it all up. And how rude to talk about that in front of me who is much larger than she is. Anyways, it is crazy when an average sized woman starves herself and other women tell her how great she is doing.

      1. OMG! I hear you! A friend got me a sign that says: “No one wants to hear about your diet, just eat your salad and be sad.” I have the smaller magnet at my desk at work. I plan on bringing the larger sign to put in the snack bar area after we move it.
        I actually like salads, but I found that it actually is a great discussion starter with regard to food shaming. I had the larger sign in the snack bar of my last office because I got so tired of people explaining to me their chocolate or chip choices. Enjoy the food that you crave!

    2. Not hearing all that daily is an unexpected plus of prolonged unemployment.

      [50 paragraph rant about how much “feminine bonding” centers on WL blather and terrible group fad diets goes here]

      1. Feminine bonding . . . My best friend has lost 30 pounds over the past few months. She wants to talk to me about it, and I know that she’s puzzled, maybe even hurt, by my reluctance to get into those conversations. But we’ve been there before, I know that 3 years from now she’ll weigh the same as she did before this weight loss (or more), I think she’s beautiful now but I thought she was beautiful 30 pounds ago, and I just can’t bring myself to praise her or encourage her when she goes to the office Christmas party and eats about 2 ounces of salad and one cookie (totally ignoring the lasagna that was the actual lunch) and goes on and on about her diet. And I can’t help feeling that she’s judging me for not jumping on the diet bandwagon with her. I just really wish that none of this were an issue at all.

        1. I know, like there is so much shame and guilt and morality tied into diet. I think people truly are miserable when they diet, because they are starving. They need to talk about it constantly and get praise and compliments to make it worth the pain. I actually feel terrible for those people when they inevitably regain all the weight.

        2. Yeah, I hate that. But we marinate so heavily in the “joys” of weight loss, almost from the day we’re born. Even when I was beginning to grasp what a dead end dieting almost always is… I’d catch myself wanting to yap about it to some poor slob at work or on the bus or whatever. You can really feel the power of how we’re programmed when you’re drawn into these things literally against your will. :/

          That’s the aspect of “willpower” the diet hard-liners never want to get into. I really do wish that my fluctuations in weight could be talked about in a neutral sense, with other people. But they can’t. That’s not the society we’ve made for ourselves. 😦

          1. Absolutely. The thing is, I’ve talked to this friend over the years (since I discovered Ragen’s blog!) about how I’m not going to diet again, and about accepting my body at the size it wants to be, and she seemed supportive of all that . . . but now she’s dieting and losing weight and I feel as though I should be supportive of her choices, but I just CAN’T be. And when other people say to her, in my presence, “Wow,you’ve lost a LOT of weight! You look wonderful! Good for you!” I can’t help but feel awkward. And I think my friend assumes that I still want to lose weight but just don’t have the “willpower” (that horrible word!!) to do so. It’s all so, so fraught with potential for hurt feelings and misunderstandings and wounding friends . . . it’s a minefield. And so needless. It makes me really sad, especially because I know when she regains the weight she’ll think she “failed”. I wish I could tell her to just jump off the merry-go-round and stop worrying about it. But . . . underpants rule, you know? If she wants to lose weight, I can’t tell her not to. But . . . but but but.

            1. Related: I don’t *think* I know anyone IRL who’s done WLS. But I admit to unfollowing/avoiding certain people online who I know have had it. I just don’t want to hear about that, or think about it.

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