Health at Every Size Is About Giving Up

Nobody panic, I’m not pulling a Jess Weiner or anything.  One of my readers asked me to respond to this blog [Warning:  triggering in many ways]. Basically, it is the response of a blogger who does a weight loss challenge on her blog, to one of my readers who suggested that she educate herself about the Health at Every Size(r) concept.

I have a policy of not going to other people’s blogs and trying to convince them that they are wrong.  My work is more about creating a safe space here where people can come for support, information, a point of view outside the mainstream (that is not funded by corporations) and respectful discussion (one of my favorite things about this blog is how respectful the regular commenters are).  I did find the blog interesting and so, in keeping with my policy, I’ll blog about it here.  If you want to skip the possibly triggering bits you can skip the indented material and just read my responses:

What is HAES (Healthy at Every Size)?
From the website and an excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD:

” Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health… Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat.”

We’ve lost the war on obesity so is she saying we should just give up? I don’t agree with that philosophy at all. However, I do agree “food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health” are the results of being obsessed with losing weight and trying to be thinner. But believe it or not, I don’t believe the diet industry is the root cause. It is certainly a huge part of the problem, but I personally feel all of it has deep roots in patriarchal society. The problem is that we are trying to fit an ideal that doesn’t exist and that was originally created by men. Women buy into it and perpetuate it. We absolutely should work on accepting ourselves as we are, building self-esteem, and loving ourselves. But that does that mean that we stop improving ourselves? Of course not. We need to do it for ourselves. Not for society, or a man, or because we think we are supposed to look a certain way.

This issue I have here is the confusion of the concept of “improving ourselves” with the concept of weight loss.  The scientific truth is that weight loss has an abysmal success rate.  It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for yourself, society, a man, or to meet expectations.  It doesn’t matter if you call it a diet, a lifestyle change, an eating plan or something else.  Almost everyone who attempts weight loss fails at weight loss and the majority end up heavier than they started within a few years.  I’ve talked before about the idea of HAES as “giving up”.  In a way it is.  It’s giving up the goal of being thin, giving up on a fantasy that leads to exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve most of the time and, instead, choosing a goal of better health which is possible for almost everyone.  (Since health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control, we can never guarantee health with our behaviors, but we can give ourselves our best chance for a healthy body with healthy behaviors.) Although I am a fan of  Linda Bacon I’m not a fan of the phrase “we’ve lost the war on obesity”.  I think the truth is that there is no real enemy to fight and we never should have had a war on body sizes, and that we will win the “war on obesity” in the  exact moment that we stop fighting it.

[From Dr. Bacon’s book]”Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people—of all sizes—in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.”

I agree that adopting healthy behaviors is the most important thing you can do for your body and yourself, regardless of size. I agree 100% that you should focus on adopting healthy behaviors first and worry about losing weight and getting thinner second. However, I do not agree that you should just give up on reaching a healthy body weight and a healthy body size.

Again here she is conflating the concepts of weight and health.  There is no such thing as a healthy weight or healthy body size.  There is no weight or body size that you can attain that will assure your health.  Thin people get all of the same illnesses that fat people do and so being thin is neither a preventative nor a cure.  Knowing that healthy behaviors are our best chance for a healthy body, and knowing that the most common outcome of weight loss attempts is actually weight gain, it does not make sense to focus on weight if your goal is health.


Wikipedia
says:

The major components of HAES, as described by Jon Robison, are:

  1. Self-Acceptance: Affirmation and reinforcement of human beauty and worth irrespective of differences in weight, physical size and shape.
  2. Physical Activity: Support for increasing social, pleasure-based movement for enjoyment and enhanced quality of life.
  3. Normalized Eating: Support for discarding externally-imposed rules and regimens for eating and attaining a more peaceful relationship with food by relearning to eat in response to physiological hunger and fullness cues.

I absolutely love the idea of promoting self-acceptance and I will admit that I felt I did not focus enough on that during the first round of this challenge. I fully intend on making self-love and acceptance part of the challenge in the future rounds. As a pagan and a feminist, this is a significant part of my philosophy. But at the same time, I believe that wanting to be thinner doesn’t make you bad or wrong. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like HAES wants me to feel shame for wanting to be fitter and thinner.

I can’t speak for every HAES practitioner but I don’t know any who believe that wanting to be thinner makes you bad or wrong and I don’t know anybody who would want anybody to feel ashamed of wanting to be thinner.  In a society where being fat comes with a tremendous amount of stigma, and being thin comes with a tremendous amount of privilege, it makes a lot of sense to want to move out of the stigmatized group. I’ve been very clear about my support of people’s right to choose dieting.   All HAES does is offer an alternative based on the facts.  I want to be able to fly but that’s not currently possible so I’m not going to spend my time throwing myself off of buildings and flapping my arms really hard.   If you want to be thin you should know that the research says that it’s probably not possible and that it’s likely that your attempts will leave you fatter than when you started, you then get to to decide if you want to spend your time dieting.

I have no issue with supporting social, pleasure-based movement for enjoyment. However, this is not the only type of exercise that I support. For example, I happen to like grueling weight training and I prefer to exercise in solitude. I truly enjoy challenging my body and feel that I am invoking the beautiful archetypical goddesses such as Athena, Artemis, and The Morrigan. When I am working out, I am not thinking “Wow, I’m going to look so hot in a bikini and I will get a great husband.” I am thinking “Wow, I bet this is what it is like to be strong and independent like Artemis.”

The idea that a workout can either be pleasurable or difficult is an often misunderstood part of HAES.  Evidence shows that we only need about 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week for health.  Most people are more likely to get this amount of exercise regularly if they do something that they enjoy.  For some people that is gardening or walking, for some it’s interval training and powerlifting.  HAES doesn’t preclude difficult or solitary workouts, it simply seeks to disabuse us of the incorrect notion that if you’re not miserable and killing yourself alone in the gym then you’re not contributing to your health.

What is normalized eating anyway? The fact that HAES even uses that word “normal” contradicts the entire philosophy! Why? Because they are claiming that the way they say you should eat is what is normal. Isn’t that the problem in the first place? That someone out there decided what is normal for us women? HAES is doing the exact thing they are criticizing everyone else for doing!

First of all, he does not say “Normal” he says “Normalized”.  This term, used in the HAES context, is about letting go of the idea that your information about eating must come from an external sources and instead encourages eating based on your body’s cues.  Normalized here relates to each person individually, not to everyone as a whole and speaks to the fact that due to dieting many people have lost connection with their internal cues.  HAES practitioners come to their eating a number of different ways.  Some work with a HAES based nutritionist, some use intuitive eating practices, still others have to account for allergies or a health diagnosis when they eat so their eating may be very different from someone else.  Normalized is used as opposed to the diet mentality where you ignore your bodies hunger queues and use external information (calorie counting, weight loss programs etc.) to tell you what to eat.

Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD says in the manifesto:

Find the joy in moving your body and becoming more physically vital in your everyday life.

Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and seek out pleasurable and satisfying foods.

Tailor your tastes so that you enjoy more nutritious foods, staying mindful that there is plenty of room for less nutritious choices in the context of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.

Well of course! This is common sense. I have been watching the diet and fitness industry for the last decade and while there are still snake oil salesmen out there, the fact is there are some very good fitness experts that are sharing this exact same philosophy! This philosophy is actually the mainstream now. Extreme dieting no longer is. I do not understand why HAES chooses demonize the entire industry rather than acknowledging that there is good, sound advice out there.

HAES criticizes the weight loss industry because they say the same thing that HAES does but then add “and then you’ll lose weight”.  Except that the vast majority of people will not maintain weight loss. Advice is neither good and sound if it is wrong almost all the time.  In fact, a study of fitness and fatness found that the obese people who did not have health issues “were more likely to be physically active and eat more fruits and vegetables” and “less likely to report engaging in weight loss practices.” (emphasis added)

In fact, Dr. Bacon tells all the experts in a message for fitness professionals that what they are doing is wrong and damaging their clients. She says tells them that everything they have learned may not supported by scientific evidence. This would be the equivalent of me telling everyone who reads my blog that “the way you have been practicing paganism may be wrong and I am here to tell you how to do it right.” Is that an extreme metaphor? I don’t think so. I don’t understand where Dr. Bacon gets off thinking she is the be all and end all to nutritional and fitness knowledge. Her holier than thou attitude is extremely off putting and arrogant. Why is she so angry and full of judgement? How ironic that she is trying to spread a message of peace, love, and self-acceptance.

I have trouble wrapping my head around this because I’ve met Dr. Bacon and she is one of the least arrogant, angry or judgmental people I have ever met.  I’m admittedly surprised that anyone would compare giving advice about religion (which is based on faith and unprovable) and giving advice about science (which is evidence-based and all about proof).  Do you feel that science teachers telling students that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around is the same as telling them that they aren’t praying correctly?

Telling people that they are practicing their religion incorrectly is very different than saying that a health practice is not supported by research.  Would you have asked the doctors who pointed out that thalidomide causes birth defects why they were so “angry and full of judgment”?  Would have have called them “holier than though and arrogant”? Linda Bacon earned her doctorate in physiology, specializing in weight regulation. She also holds graduate degrees in psychology, specializing in eating disorders and body image, and kinesiology, specializing in exercise metabolism, and has professional experience as a professor, researcher, psychotherapist, exercise physiologist, and consultant, so when she gives advice it’s from a basis of an extremely highly educated expert who is steeped in the research around the issue.

While I agree with the overall message of HAES, I find the delivery quite disturbing. In fact, that is just one of the messages that she has. Here is an entire list of messages for different groups where Dr. Bacon proceeds to tell every person or group in the entire industry just what they are doing wrong. I’m sorry but her arrogance makes Donald Trump look humble.

Do you find Copernicus arrogant?  Galileo?  Mendel?  I observe that Dr. Bacon is part of a time honored scientific tradition of looking at evidence, observing that the popular opinion is not supported by that evidence, making that information known, and then being roundly criticized for it.  I guess we are lucky that she can’t be forced to recant and be put under house arrest like Galileo.

In my research, I have learned the the #1 cause of illness is stress. The media ignores this and chalks us up to New Age nuts. However, there are facts that cannot be ignored regarding obesity and health.

Some of these facts include:There is a very clear link between diabetes and obesity – 80 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes are obese. Hypertension is approximately three times more common in obese than normal-weight persons.

I take exception to these statistics but let’s just say that they are true.  First, we have to be aware that there is also a clear link between disease and the stress of constant stigma.  Further, doctors test obese people earlier and more often for these diseases and often ignore the symptoms in thin people erroneously believing that they are “immune” because they are thin.  If you have two groups and you test the first group earlier and more often for a disease and ignore the symptoms in the second group you cannot be surprised if the first group has higher incidence.  Finally, healthy habits have been shown to mitigate these risks whether or not the people lose weight and weight loss fails 95% of the time, so even if these statistics are correct, weight loss is still not the answer.

Obesity also interferes with mobility. Quite simply, extra weight makes movement more difficult and, often, uncomfortable. People who are obese often experience pain in the knees and back due to increased pressure on the joints and vertebrae.

Feel free to see this video to observe my mobility as a Type 3 Super Obese Person. We’ve talked about obesity and joint pain already. Thin people get joint pain and we treat it with health interventions.  Fat people get joint pain and we treat it with a rarely successful body size intervention. Regular exercise can help these issues and more fat people would probably get regular exercise if they weren’t stigmatized when they go, and if they could find appropriate affordable workout wear in their size, and if they didn’t give up because it doesn’t lead to weight loss which they incorrectly believe is the path to health.  Once again, dieting does not predict weight loss but it does predict weight gain and obesity so  encouraging dieting means that you put people at 95% greater risk of having any issues that are associated with obesity.

Obesity:

  • raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • lowers HDL “good” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is linked with lower heart disease and stroke risk, so reducing it tends to raise the risk.
  • raises blood pressure levels.
  • can induce diabetes. In some people, diabetes makes these other risk factors much worse. The danger of heart attack is especially high for these people.

This is simply misinformation.  While these things have been shown to be correlated with obesity, they are not shown to be caused by obesity, reinforced by the fact that not all obese people have them and many thin people do.  As I mentioned previously, all of these issues have also been correlated with the stress of constant stigma.  Once again, a Health at Every Size approach where we remove size stigma and encourage healthy behaviors is a much better approach then to tell people that the way to be healthy is to try something that leaves them less healthy almost all of the time.  We do not know how to make people thinner (as much as we would like to believe that we do) but we do know how to make them healthier.

My conclusion about the HAES (Healthy at Every Size) philosophy is it has good intentions and some great aspects. It definitely deserves further study. However, the delivery of the message has underlying anger, judgement, and arrogance. In the end, it may also do serious harm by continuing to keep people in denial about the real state of their health. While they are “fat and happy” they may continue to be at risk of severe illness or death. Ironically, the natural effects of eating healthy and getting exercise that HEAS promotes is weight loss. The very thing it seems to be trying to avoid in the first place.

If the natural effects of eating healthy and getting exercise were weight loss, then we would not see a 95% failure in weight loss.  Weight loss is a possible (but not guaranteed), typically temporary side effect of healthy behaviors.  I also cannot imagine how someone would research HAES and come away with the idea that promoting healthy behaviors is tantamount to keeping people in denial about their health.  The tremendous amount of denial that I see is the fact that there are still people encouraging weight loss when we know that it almost never succeeds.

Research from the University of Minnesota found that “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain. These findings demonstrate that these behaviors should not be viewed as innocuous and should be addressed in primary and secondary prevention efforts.”

“There isn’t even one peer-reviewed controlled clinical study of any intentional weight-loss diet that proves that people can be successful at long-term significant weight loss.  No commercial program, clinical program, or research model has been able to demonstrate significant long-term weight loss for more than a small fraction of the participants. Given the potential dangers of weight cycling and repeated failure, it is unscientific and unethical to support the continued use of dieting as an intervention for obesity.” — Wayne Miller, an exercise specialist at George Washington University (emphasis added)

You are the boss of your own underpants and I support everyone’s right to do what is right for their bodies.  However, I think that it’s absolutely irresponsible for anyone to promote weight loss without telling the truth – that 95% of people who attempt weight loss fail, that weight loss attempts don’t predict weight loss but do predicts weight gain, obesity and eating disorders; and that healthy habits have been shown to mitigate issues associated with being overweight and obese   even if they do not result in weight loss.

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Published in: on December 8, 2011 at 5:32 am  Comments (39)  

39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for addressing the HAES point of view on exercise – I also enjoy very intense weight training as well as cardio workouts, and actually like it when my muscles ache after a long workout. I was confused for awhile about whether this was compatible with the HAES vision of what exercise should be, and you’ve helped me see that it is – I’m not doing it to be thin or to punish my body, and I truly enjoy it, which is what matters.

  2. “HAES is about giving up” – I’ve given up coffee, does that count?🙂 (I’ll miss coffee, but it would appear to be the cause of my digestive issues. I’m better off without it.)

    • I gave up coffee (and all caffeine), too. I hated the anxious feeling coffee gave me and if I drank more than one cup I’d feel flutters in my chest. I haven’t felt anything like that since giving up coffee. Not doing it for weight loss, doing it for my health.

      I gotta start on that exercise now. 🙂

  3. I admit, HAES caused me to give up.

    I gave up
    – hating my body for being bigger than the women on TV.
    – mentally punishing myself when I ate food I enjoyed that wasn’t “health food.”
    – obsessing about what food I couldn’t eat 24/7.
    – hating to move my body because any movement was “exercise” and I hated running laps in P.E.

    It sounds to me like the blogger you’re responding to has heard some information about HAES and Size Acceptance before and is masking her reaction by taking quotes from Dr. Bacon’s book and Wikipedia. “Fat and happy” is a concept that is not anywhere in HAES (other than that ALL sizes can make their own health goals) and is more of a SA bugaboo. She’s trying show she’s looking at this objectively, but her years of conditioning to the Thin Is Heathy paradigm are skewing her results, possibly without her being aware of it.

  4. Wow, she’s really running the “Why are you so angry?” thing into the ground. I’ve seen this in a few different arguments. The idea seems to be “Vigorously disagreeing and telling other people they’re wrong=being angry=unhealthy attitude=not having a legitimate point”. It’s a strange string of assumptions, but a weirdly popular one.

    And comparing it to telling someone they’re wrong about their religion? Is there any form of disagreement she sees as legitimate?

    If HAES was all “Don’t lift weights, join a friendly and social aerobics or dance class instead!” I wouldn’t want to do it either. Fortunately, it doesn’t say those things, so I can do the weight training I find satisfying, get cardio through rowing or swimming or other means I find appealing, and avoid activities I deeply dislike participating in, such as dancing and aerobics, and still make use of HAES.

    • Her telling people not to be angry really struck me. It reminds me of the (sorry, not related to the fatosphere) post by an atheist blogger who explains that complaining that someone is angry is a way to try to disempower them and keep them from trying to enact social change (warning: you may disagree with her religious beliefs and feel uncomfortable by her rant … if so, just skip to the bottom of the blog post to read about why anger is an important tool for social change):

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2007/10/15/atheists-and-an/

      Or see her talk about this topic at:

      If you have evidence for why you are angry, don’t let someone take it away from you. Anger can be healthy when it helps identify wrongs that need fixed.

  5. Well argued, Ragen.

  6. Cheers on another great post!

    You might want to fix this, though: queues = cues. A queue is a line. A cue is an indication.

    • also “holier than though and arrogant” should be “holier than THOU” (I can’t help it; I’m a proofreader🙂

  7. I love the philosophy of HAES – as a trainee counsellor, and a humanist, I am all for helping people to love themselves and look after themselves in a way that takes into account their individuality. I love that people are encouraged to listen to their own bodies, and reject the idea that the same things apply to everyone.

    I admit, I still want to be thin. That’s the odd part – Ragen, you are beautiful and graceful and fitter than I will ever be. I admire you so much. I admire HAES and reject size prejudice. Looking at a fat person’s body tells me nothing about them, except how stigmatised they are and how badly people will probably treat them. So why can’t I apply that to myself? Why do I still want to be thin? I feel a blog post coming on….!

  8. I gave up a lot with HAES too, like Amber said ^^up there. I gave up a lot of false beliefs that if I just tried hard enough, I could be thin.

    I’ve seen pictures of myself at my thinnest, probably around 155-160. Even that’s considered “overweight” for my height, but it’s the thinnest I’ve ever been. I looked fantastic–there’s no denying that–but I was in the worst health of my life. With what it took for me to look like that I was headed for a MAJOR health break down, probably a cardiac condition. And for those who might be reading this and thinking, “She’ll just justifying being a fatty”, I’m not. I was actually dx’d with a myriad of health problems right around the point I lost 50 pounds, and I don’t believe in coincidence.

    So even at my “thinnest”, I still wasn’t thin, and I was really unhealthy and starving most of the time. And I ate very healthily but was only taking in about 1300 calories a day, not nearly enough for a full-time teacher of 145 7th-graders. Why on earth would I want to do that to myself again?? Honestly, I’d rather hop on my bike and go for a long ride than attend another weight-loss group meeting telling me that I’d failed that week because I was only down 6 ounces and I’d never “get there at this rate”.

    Maybe we should change HAES to MHAES…Mental Health at Every Size. That seems to be the root of the problem: our mental state!

    • Exactly this. I always tell people that I practice Health At Every Size, and that I start with mental health.

  9. Sounds like she hasn’t given up on the fantasy of thinness yet. When she finds that she regains weight, she may come around to HAES and be glad that it is there.

  10. I hear some major transference of anger here. She’s calling Dr. Bacon angry, when it’s this blogger who is feeling attacked. It sounds like she’s invested major time and energy in her health tactics and if you put that kind of effort into something, then you’re going to feel like it’s a personal affront in some ways, and I think this shines through in her responses. My guess is, she is probably already of a body type that is more prone to thinness, and that’s okay, but if that’s the case then she could never relate to our plight, and if not and she’s happy pursuing her health goals and they are consistently successful for her then good for her, but she can’t assume that everyone can have her same results.

    Personally, I”m right there with Yorkie. The smallest I’ve ever been in my life, when literally starving myself at the age of 14, was 155lbs and a size 14 and I started having migraines and vision problems and passing out, and I kept hiding what I was doing. I had MRIs and doctors tossing around terms like Multiple Sclerosis and I kept my secret out of my intense desire to stay thin thinking it was the only way to acceptance. When I did start eating again all of those issues disappeared, and my metabolism was so slow that not matter what I did after that I gained weight. I didn’t manage to lose any weight again until 2002 when I did weight watchers. I lost 25lbs and then inexplicably started gaining again. I was still following the program, doing all same things I had been and I started gaining again. Between the fact that my changes were no longer helping and a finance change made budgeting for the WW classes impossible, I stopped trying. Since then I have been diagnosed with Hypothyroidism and PCOS, both conditions I believe I may have had all along and just hadn’t been diagnosed with them until my weight finally popped up around 250. I still gained weight after that. Ironically the only time I did lose weight since WW was during my pregnancy. I lost nearly 50 lbs with each one and then gained it back within a year of delivery. I’ve finally balanced out, but I constantly catch heck with people, particularly family, but I’m just relieved to no longer be yoyoing. I play with my kids, I try to be active, and I just do the best I can.

    The nice thing about the HAES movement is that it’s given me the chance to forgive myself for being grateful for stabilization and for the ‘sin’ of being obese. I’ve spent so much time throughout the course of my life being miserable and hating myself, to the point that I made myself sick as a teen to try to fit in, and now I”m starting to let go of all of that negativity and try to enjoy this one life I live, because it’s the only one I have be it as a thin person or a fat one. God made me this way for a reason, and I”m sick of hating myself for it. Time to love myself and stop being ashamed and be the best me I can be at any size, because the most important part of me is not my flesh and bones, but the kind of person I am on the inside!

  11. Like Yorkie & Jen W, I was at my thinnest (somewhere between 160-170) when I was 14 and counting calories like a fiend. I was down to about 1,000 – 800 calories a day (a ridiculous amount for a girl going through puberty and maintaining an after school job delivering newspapers) and was working towards lowering that when I had the epiphany that maybe starving myself wasn’t the best idea ever. I still did some dieting through the years and always seemed to gain the weight back (shocker!) and end up bigger than when I started which was also so demoralizing. And then I found HAES. And I’ve given up so much and ended up so much happier.

    I gave up:

    -mentally berating myself when I eat something other than “good for you” food.
    -the notion that there is “good” food and “bad” food
    -excercise has to be something I hate and that is hard
    -the feeling of being a horrible person when I found I need a size up in clothing. I’ve learned sizes vary between stores/designers and it’s not my fault if something runs smaller
    -the feeling that any health problems I have, are the fault of my fat. My fat may contribute, but there’s other factors like my genetics, environment, stress and side effects of any meds I take
    -that being fat means no one will love or be sexually attracted to me
    -that I have to be thin before I can live my life

    There’s a shit ton of other stuff that I’ve given up, but I honestly can’t say that I’m said to have lost any of stuff. I’m happier and working towards being healthier.

  12. Excellent post! Truly excellent!

    It drives me crazy — absolutely crazy! — when someone states that healthy eating and exercise leads to weight loss. It’s really a myth that needs to be busted. I want to scream at them, “No, DIETARY RESTRICTION leads to weight loss!” and time and time again we’ve been shown that dietary restriction, for all but 5% of the population, cannot be maintained over time, especially when all those neutrotransmitters, hormones, enzymes and proteins start doing their dance on your hypothalamus increasing intake and leading to regain.

    Why can’t they just call a spade a spade? Why can’t they just say, if you want to lose weight you must restrict and stay restricted throughout the lifespan and then let the person decide if they want to engage in that undertaking? Methinks it’s because if they told the truth, enrollment in Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig and the like would go way down. It’s a much easier sell if you label it nothing more than living the ol’ happy zippy healthy lifestyle. Because, really, who wouldn’t want to do that?

    It’s such a scam! Pardon my rant.

    HAES is the only sane way to go. Best thing that ever happened to me was getting off the diet train one year ago and getting in touch with my own body cues. After more than 30 years on the diet train, it feels good to finally be free and to be focusing on health and fitness for it’s own sake and not because the muckety mucks think it will make me “thin” — which, other than for very brief moments (literally!), never really happened and always resulted in rebound weight gain DESPITE continued exercise and healthy eating. But they don’t tell you that in the ads.

  13. “it has great intentions and aspects & deserves further study”
    but not till I drag the whole movement through the mud because it made me angry…

    So what is the right approach to tell the entire world its basically wrong? That for years and years and years we have been fed misinformation.
    There will be no way to not piss people off.

    I particularly enjoy when they slam HAES then quote the EXACT misinformation that HAES research (unfunded by weight loss industry) has discovered to be inaccurate.

    I dont’ really know what my role in activism is – I caused a similar firestorm when I responded to my favorite natural childbirth advocate -Mrs. Birth without Fear when she suggested new moms (breastfeeding at that) join in a money on the line weight loss challenge on her facebook page.

    I couldn’t stay out – but boy did I get roasted.

    Some people we just plant the seed. They will scratch their heads or scream and fight and years later after several more failed diets or “lifestyle” changes they may be ready to come back to the idea of HAES

    Too many people have their hopes and dreams hitched to a perfectly thin version of themselves in their mind and if we dare unhitch that train we take away all hope.

    In the meantime I will life a life full of happiness and hope in this fat body – Its strong enough to take my dreams alone on its own.

    Anyone is free to join me.

  14. Janie said,

    “Too many people have their hopes and dreams hitched to a perfectly thin version of themselves in their mind and if we dare unhitch that train we take away all hope.”

    This is it! This is exactly it! I can’t tell you how irrationally angry people get when I suggest that we should focus on healthy behaviors, love our bodies, and then let them be what they will be.

    They always (always!) accuse HAES followers of using it as a cover to eat vast quantities of Krispy Kreme donuts and lay on the couch all day. When I tell them how much I exercise (because I love it and want to be strong, fit and healthy!) and what I eat (very healthy because I want to take care of my body) they think I’m lying because I’m still overweight.

    They need to believe I’m lying because if they face my truth, that means all that talk of “just eat healthy and exercise and you’ll lose weight” is a bunch of bull dung and they’re not ready to go there yet. They need to believe the fantasy.

    • I think that’s where the author of the Domestic Pagan is at. It took me years to move past how I felt about giving up on the “perfect me”. It’s hard.

  15. As usual, love the post. What I have noticed the most since shifting my focus from weight loss, to health, is that people take what I say very defensively. Like I’m attacking them when I say, “I’m happy at 5′ 9″ and 215. I work out 4 days a week and I eat very little processed food. Living this way is how I need to live to be happy.” I’m very much a live and let live person. I don’t care if you love food out of boxes and hate exercise. I just know how I like to eat and move. But so many people get defensive when I explain that I’ve stopped trying to be skinny. Some days I feel ugly, and some days I feel cute, just like everyone else.

    I have also asked my friends to stop saying, “Have you lost weight?” or “You are looking skinnier” to me. I keep explaining that that is not a compliment. I would rather hear, “You’re glowing today” or “You look healthy lately!” I am working on changing my verbage as well. All the “You look skinny” stuff really DOES give the message that skinnier is better, and I most certainly DO NOT want to purvey that message.

  16. When it comes to the newest scientific finds in dieting and exercise I generally don’t believe it. What we now think is right, might be wrong pretty soon. Worse with the statistically proven facts, they often are already wrong by the moment somebody came up with them. I much rather get convinced by logic than by statistics. Thought I know, that logic can be wrong too.

    I’m slowly working my way towards HAES. I’m currently on a diet. My doctor told me, that I have to keep watching what I eat and exercising for the rest of my life. Since I have to do it forever, I’m trying to find out how I want to eat and exercise for the rest of my life.

  17. Thank you, Ragen. Your patience and grace are amazing and wonderful.

  18. Ragen,
    Very good. I agree with you and I felt the same way when I read her book. I disagree with some of her ideas as they are based on things she has learned from the past. Accepting ourselves is not easy. Especially for me after 61 years of hearing fat is bad. However, I know and I have lived it. It is not my “fault” I am fat. As Lady GaGa would say, ” I was born this way”.

  19. “I’m admittedly surprised that anyone would compare giving advice about religion (which is based on faith and unprovable) and giving advice about science (which is evidence-based and all about proof).”
    So first of all, and I’ve gotten in trouble for this viewpoint all over the place, I always get a little edgy when people try to put forth science as fact. That is not to say it is not a valuable way of looking at the world (I, myself, am a scientist), but rather than being about *fact* it is about making observations and supporting them with experimental data. To that end, one of my favorite biology teachers said it best, “You can’t prove things in science, only disprove them.” In my mind, science is beautiful because it is so malleable; constantly changing and improving because of critical minds, such as Galileo. The theory of Evolution is a theory because something might come along and disprove it later, not because of some token humility on the part of scientists.
    Secondly, I appreciate your point that just because some people are fat and have high LDL and low HDL, or diabetes does not mean that being fat automatically leads to this. No matter what I go into the doctor for, it always comes down to weight and they always want to test my blood. I always let them; Minimal of normal cholesterol, one point under on LDL in fact, normal to low blood sugar levels, and good everything else. They often seem almost disappointed, as if they’ll actually have to work on the problem now.
    Thirdly, I am not sure how I feel about eat when you’re hungry and until you feel full; on the one hand, it can be a healthy way of eating, on the other hand, your hormones can trick you, and this may be where the dieting failure comes into play. Leptins are hormones in your fat cells, they have many uses one of which is indicating to your brain that you’re low on energy-if you’ve shrunk your fat cells your letpins seem to think you need to unshrink them, and share this opinion with your brain-without talking to your stomach or the rest of your body.

    Sorry for my long reply, I do enjoy your blog when I get a chance to read it, it is very well presented and I appreciate that it deconstructs arguments while presenting your own.

    • Hi Agriako,

      I just want to clarify that I never intended to said that science is fact and never changes, I apologize if it sounded that way. I was trying to point out that science is based on evidence and proof rather than on faith. Part of science is knowing that things change and that you may be proven wrong – especially as our ability to measure and observe improves. The fact that science sometimes gets it wrong or that some things can’t be proven beyond a doubt should not serve to confuse it with religion which is based on faith in the absence of proof. It’s not that one is inherently better than the other – it’s that they are different and have may have different applicabilities. That’s why it’s ok to tell a kid that he got the atomic number of Tungsten wrong, but not ok to tell him that he is worshipping wrong. My point was that a scientist who observes that the popular belief is not supported by evidence is doing their job by pointing that out, not being arrogant or lacking in humility.

      As to eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full, certainly everyone gets to choose what they believe will work for them. Many of us who practice Health at Every Size initially felt that our own internal cues were not to be trusted but have learned that we have the maximum energy and health when we follow those cues. Again, that’s not to say that will be the case for everyone. The main thing is that we each get to choose for ourselves and not for others.

      Thanks for the comment!

      ~Ragen

  20. Ragen, you are amazing. Thank you. xoxoxo, Paula

    • Thank you Paula! xoxoxo right back at you🙂

      ~Ragen

  21. Thank you. I hope that someday, sooner rather than later, this might make a difference.

  22. Great comments! I have to say when (mostly) women talk about dieting, I’ll hear, Weight Watchers has always worked for me. Or Jenny Craig works for me. There is a plethora of weight loss programs out there, but my question to them is: If these weight loss programs “always” work for you, why aren’t you thin????? I mean, you said they always work for you. Unless you can dedicate yourself to living the rest of your life on this “program”, you are just wasting your money.
    And for myself, personally, I have always been fat. I started working out at Curves, I enjoyed it tremendously, working out 4-5 times a week for an hour or so. (I know, it should just be 30 minutes) I was truly in the best shape of my life. In 1 1/2 years I had lost 16 inches…but just 6 pounds!

  23. #1 thing I have given up since accepting HAES?

    Giving extraneous fucks about people who don’t give a fuck about my actual health or well-being.😀

  24. I had to stop reading that post because I was worried my continued facepalming would bash in my forehead. =P

    Thank you for going through for me and offering all the arguments my brain was trying to make, in a far less confrontational way than I’d be able to manage.

    • Ditto!

    • Well you can’t go back now, I went back to respond to a response to my previous comment but she’s removed the post.. So, who gave up? ~;p

      • Gave up? Hardly. I just decided that this was turning into an me vs. you battle that was only going to escalate. I’ve engaged in enough “witch wars” to know the only way to keep something from raging out of control is to put it out straight away. I decided to agree to disagree and move on.

  25. I just wanted to take time to thank you for all the comments both ony my own blog and those that I have read here. It is always educational to learn about yourself through another’s eyes, as well as an alternative point of view. I also want to thank those that took the time to visit my blog. I knew when I wrote the original post that I would get considerable backlash. However, I do not find everything in the HAES movement negative. In fact, I find much of it in line with my philosophy as a pagan and as a feminist. This entire exchange has opened my eyes to a different perspective.

    • Hi Serenity,

      I just saw that you took down the original post, I’m sorry for the drama on your blog and I appreciate you taking the time to read all of this with an open mind. Blessed be!

      ~Ragen

  26. I was listening to this Freakonomics podcast yesterday: http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/11/23/the-truth-is-out-there%e2%80%a6isn%e2%80%99t-it-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

    My takeaway is that the smarter we are, and more scientifically literate, the more we are predisposed to find evidence to support our position on an issue. And, the more complex an issue, the more likely we are to hold our opinion on it as a belief, rather than a reasoned decision, AND that our beliefs are strongly influenced by our peer groups.

    We’ve got a long way to go to change our society’s belief system regarding weight and health.

  27. Amazing, as usual, Ragen. I’ll be keeping this one in my pocket for the times I get push-back from folks who want to silence the HAES and fat acceptance perspectives. Thank you!


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