I got an e-mail from reader Sarah, who asked the two most common questions that I hear about starting a personal Health at Every Size practice. I’m going to answer them but before I do, just a reminder that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not size, health, or “healthy habit”, dependent, nobody is obligated to pursue health or health habits by any definition. Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size are two separate things, more about this here.
So the answers to these questions are for those who are interested in considering/practicing HAES, but we each get to choose how highly we prioritize our health and the path that we take to get their and that’s not anyone else’s business unless we decide to make it their business. Now that we’re clear on that, here is Sarah’s e-mail:
I have been reading your book and like it so far. I like the message that fat and health are not synonymous. I’ve heard about the HAES movement and feel it is the best option for me. I do have have a question or two for you:
1) I think a big part of my own health needs to be loving myself and I find that difficult. Any tips?
2) How does one eat healthy and exercise without weight loss in mind? Every time I try try a health approach, I I was end up worried about weight loss so I become scale dependent and depressed if it isn’t going well. I also tend to restrict too much and that never lasts long.
I don’t think that there is a single answer to question 1, I think it’s a process and it’s different for everyone. My journey started without getting to a place of being really grateful for what my body did. Then came the realization that the ability to perceive beauty is a skill (so if I can’t see the beauty in someone, it’s not because they aren’t beautiful, it’s because my skill set is lacking.) The last steps were the hardest and they started when I got to the point where every body but mine was beautiful. Feel free to get support around this, using books, blogs, classes and coaching. To me the most important thing was making the decision – I wasn’t going to stop until I figured out how to love myself, no matter what it took. From there it was about learning things, trying things and celebrating progress.
The second question is hands down the most common one I get. Many of us have been so inundated with the idea that the only acceptable “outcome” of eating and moving is weight loss, that we can’t imagine what other goals there could be. My advice here is to set goals that you can, for at least the most part, control and then measure those.
For example, one of my goals is five servings of vegetables a day. Another is at least 150 minutes of movement a week (of course training for the IRONMAN I get way more than this.) These are things that I can, for the most part, control. I can then measure things like how I feel, my energy level, strength, stamina, and flexibility to see how I’m doing. Sometimes I set specific goals, like as a random hypothetical completing an IRONMAN triathlon. In that case I get a training program, set intermediate smaller goals, and work through that.
I want to suggest a bit of caution with using metabolic health (blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure etc.) as a measure of success. These things can be affected by behaviors, but they can also be affected by genetics, other medications, and other factors. I think it’s interesting to get these measurements taken sometimes, but it’s important to remember that while you may be in control of the behaviors, you cannot control the outcome.
I would also recommend making your health practice blame free, shame free, and future oriented. As far as I can see, there’s no point in having any blame or shame for where we are now. The only thing that we can hope to control at this moment is our behavior moving forward (and that can often rely on how much privilege we have around access, money, and physical and mental health and other factors) .
To me, that’s at the heart of choosing the Health at Every Size.paradigm rather than the weight loss paradigm (and of course there are more than just two choices) HAES holds that people at every size can make choices based on their prioritization of health and the path we choose and our current situation (rather than the weight loss paradigm which suggests feeding our bodies less food than they need to survive in the hope that they will eat themselves and become smaller, and also healthier.)
I think the research suggests that, while of course there are never any guarantees and health is never entirely within our control, healthy behaviors are the best way for me to support my body. Based on the research I have rejected the idea that my best way to support my body is to use food and movement in an attempt to manipulate my size and hope that health comes along for that ride.
Finally, I think it helps to look at the whole thing as a journey, and remember that, like all journeys, there will be ups and downs and good days and bad days. What I know is that since i left the diet lifestyle to pursue Health at Every Size I’m healthier – but I also know that my health could change at any time, but know that I’m happier, my ups are higher and my downs are less low, and I have healthy relationships with food, movement, and my body, and a sense of peace and partnership with my body that never seemed possible during my diet days. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
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