Explaining Health at Every Size

I’m often asked how I explain HAES to others. In my experience this is trickier than it sounds. (Thanks to reader Knesija for the inspiration for today’s blog!)

First, you have to decide your goal:

  1. Do you simply want share what you do?
  2. Do you want to present it as an option for someone else?
  3. Are you trying to win a debate by saying that it’s better than something else.
  4. Are you trying to convince someone to practice HAES?

I’m not a big fan of 3 or 4 personally, but it’s all up to you.

When I want to explain HAES I usually have four goals:

  1. Explain it as a respectable path to health
  2. Present it as an option in case people don’t know about it
  3. Throw in a couple of resources
  4. Let people decide what they want to do and respect their choices

One of the things that still surprises me are the number of people who do not know that there is an option to be healthy that does not include trying to lose weight.  That is, of course, the whole point of this blog and my activism work.  I want to create the largest possible platform from which to tell people about this option.  I’m not invested in them choosing it or not, I’m not trying to persuade, I just want them to know that it’s out there.

I used to just say “I listen to my body and give it what it asks for”.  But I found the reaction to that was generally incredulous at best.  I realized that I wasn’t explaining HAES with the same gravitas with which other people describe their path to health.  As a society, at least in the States, we have fallen in love with diet programs, and our culture loves the idea of restricting and sacrificing to be thin.  So when someone says I’m on [Jenny Craig, Atkins, Weight Watchers etc.] people typically recognize the diet and respond in the affirmative. Even if they disagree with the diet choice, they understand it as a path to health and a discipline and they respect that.  When I say I practice HAES, I often get an eye-roll before I can explain what it is because people see it as an “easy way out” or justifying my fatness (although for my money it has taken me much more discipline to opt out of the diet culture than it did to be part of it, even as a failure.)

So I choose to very specifically talk about HAES as a practice – a path to health – that is just a respectable as any other life choice.  When the subject comes up I say some or all of the following:

I practice a version of Health at Every Size: I believe that my best path to health is to concentrate on healthy behaviors rather than on having a smaller body. I used to really focus on dieting and losing weight and I was terribly unhealthy and still fat.  Now that I practice HAES I’m the same weight I always was, but I’m very healthy and I’m much happier.  I originally heard of the idea through Linda Bacon.  She literally wrote the book on HAES and she has an awesome website with a more technical definition and lots of resources. You can also check out my blog and the blogs I link to for more perspectives.

I take my time, I don’t rush, I take great care not to accidentally appear as if I’m seeking their approval.  If they ask follow up questions I’m happy to answer but the important thing to me is that I presented my version of HAES as a serious health practice, and I stuck to my own experience (notice I didn’t add “so you should try it!”) I present the option, demand respect for my choices, and respect other people’s choices. Throw in the understanding that some people don’t want to understand or respect others people’s choices –  they just want to tell you that they are right and you are wrong –  and you’re all set to ‘splain.

On another topic, I’m sorry that I’m so behind on replying to comments and e-mails and such, but I do read and appreciate every one – even if it’s taking me a little while to reply.  Also, I have seen comments lately on other blogs talking about how awesome the comments here are.  Of course I’m not surprised because I already know that you are the most awesome readers ever, but I wanted to make sure that you all know that news of your ass kickery has traveled far and wide!

Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 6:35 am  Comments (13)  

13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. My first attempt at explaining HAES and my new belief in it was to my counselor. She listened and responded with, “I just want you to be sure that you’re not doing this because it’s the easy way out.” Um okay. I haven’t even tried explaining it to anyone else. For the record, my last appointment with her is next week.

    I’m totally going to write your explanation out on a note card (with some tweaking to personalize it) so that I’m better prepared to discuss HAES when it comes up. Do you mind? =)

  2. Awesome post, as usual! Thanks for the kind words. Just wanted to correct one sentence – I didn’t originate the HAES idea. It was around long before I got involved and there is a large community of amazing people who helped develop the concepts – and are continuing to develop them, you among them. But I’m proud to have written a book (www.HAESbook.com) that describes HAES and helps people along the path. I also wanted to alert readers to yet a great community website, called the HAES Community Resources (www.HAESCommunity.org), which is a fun place to register your support and find more information. Thanks for this wonderful blog!
    Linda Bacon

    • Hi Linda,

      I should probably stop blogging when I’m sleepy – I really thought that I typed that I originally heard about it through you, but when I woke up found that I had written that it originated with you. It’s now corrected! Thank you for the accuracy check and for all of the absolutely amazing work that you do!


    • linda may i say (if you read this reply) that you have literally changed my life and made real recovery form a debilitating bout of bulimia for 15 years possible. Because of you i am realizing more and more that i am healthy and a competent eater. That i DONT have to oversize for 5 hours for it to “count”. Thanks for saving me.

  3. I’m honored. Thanks for telling me. What is beautiful about this community is that we all “pass it forward,” meaning so many of us have transformative experiences that we talk about and inspire others with. I’m glad to be part of that process.

    And Ragen, know that I’m a big fan of yours and do read your blog regularly!

    And a heads up to everyone – I’m facilitating a workshop soon (8/15, in San Francisco), should be a lot of fun. It’s called Find Your Voice! How to Challenge Resistance and Talk Persuasively About Size Acceptance. Details here: http://www.lindabacon.org/FindYourVoice.html. ASDAH is having a conference right before, that should also be a great place for the community to come together: http://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/content.asp?id=148. Hope to see some of you at those events. They’ll be intimate enough that we can say hi personally.


  4. HAES is hard to explain because the cultural norm is that we must change our bodies and make them smaller at all costs. Suggesting otherwise is often met with cries of “Heresy!” OR understanding nods followed by “But of course there’s a limit to how big someone should be, right?” and “Yes, it’s just lifestyle changes that take weight off,” indicating that they haven’t gotten it at all. SIGH. Thanks to Linda for putting me on a new path both personally and professionally and teaching her students that it’s okay to love their bodies as they are!

  5. Wow.
    This post rang SO very true for me. Specifically, I am a Thelemite. This means that my spiritual path is, to sum up and simplify, to decide what kind of person you want to be, and strive every day to be that person. Seems like a simple and workable concept. Yet when I explain it to people, I usually hear some variation of “Oh, so you just do whatever the hell you want.”

    I have felt like I’ve been battling outside forces for much of my life, and looking inward made so much sense. Listening to my body and my inner voice has allowed me to be more proactive and successful than I ever have been before. To hear that dismissed as weakness and self-indulgence is infuriating. But, you know…haters gonna hate.

  6. Thank you for this. Now I know exactly what to say when I go for my checkup with a new doctor. On our second visit he stated that I was “obviously overweight” with..this…nasty look and flippant attitude. It took me awhile to clue into the fact that there was anything wrong with that..and ever since then the Universe has been giving me little gifts as I move forward towards loving myself the way I am.
    You,your blog and the people I find through you are parts of that gift.

  7. “although for my money it has taken me much more discipline to opt out of the diet culture than it did to be part of it, even as a failure.”

    THIS! The amount of pressure surrounding us – from the media, from family, from friends, from people who don’t know us from Eve – is astounding. When you’re a part of the diet culture, it’s not all that noticeable; but once you decide not to be part of it, you realize how ubiquitous it is. And I have to say, it’s been a real struggle (I’m new to HAES).

  8. Thanks for answering my question with such good advice! You gave me the ideas and the attitude (one of the things I lack when talking about HAES) to promote healthy and self-loving attitude among the young girls I’m surrounded by.

    I’ll let you know how the mission progresses 🙂

    • You are very welcome. Definitely keep us posted about how it’s going!


  9. Hi Ragen,
    I am big fan of your blog, and this is where I first heard about HAES. So thank you so much for inspiring me to take better care of my fat, healthy body and I hope that I can share what I’ve learned with other people. I am currently reading Linda Bacon’s book, and when I showed it to a woman I work with she was really supportive and enthusiastic about HAES and wants to get the book herself. So, thanks again, and keep doing what you’re doing!

  10. “although for my money it has taken me much more discipline to opt out of the diet culture than it did to be part of it, even as a failure”

    Oh, yes. I ‘got’ HAES (before it had a name) twice before in my life, once as far back as about 1979 or 1980, and twice forgot it all–once to cultural pressures, and once to medical advice to diet and be thin. This is my third time around: Now that there’s a little more social support out here, maybe I can make it stick!

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