I 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 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 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 a research-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. 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.
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