Health at every size. Is that really a thing? I will be the first to admit I was skeptical about HAES because I (like so many women) had a very narrow image of what healthy looked like.
I thought health looked lean, strong, and thin. I thought that being obese was a disease.
And that if you’re overweight you’re also unhealthy.
Moment of truth, I’ve spent most of my life in the overweight borderline obese category.
Not because I’ve been unhealthy, but because I’m short relative to my weight. So why it was so hard for me to grasp the concept of HAES baffles me.
The BMI, which our health seems to be determined by doesn’t take into account your lifestyle choices, your gender, or your lean mass. Both the medical community and the fitness industry seem to have forgotten is that your weight and your height don’t tell you anything else about the person or they lifestyle choices.
The terms overweight and obese used to wreck me. We’re taught that being either of those things is not beautiful, it’s not worthy, it means you’re lazy, and you don’t care about yourself.
The aha moment for me, and the moment those terms seemed to lose their power was when realized they were nothing more than arbitrary numbers.
You can be healthy no matter what the BMI says about you, and you can be healthy even if you don’t look like society’s narrow minded view. Your health isn’t determined by what you look like, but rather the habits, behaviors, and the lifestyle you choose.
Your happiness and fulfillment does not hang on what you look like. It’s time we stop believing it does.
Where many who follow HAES miss the mark..
When I first started researching the health at every size movement, I was shocked to see some of the information out there.
The messaging of some who follow HAES and its closely related Intuitive Eating spew about all discipline and self-control being bad is crazy. In fact, in the book Healthy at Every Size, the author Linda Bacon, PhD never says anything of the sort. She does warn against the dangers of continuing to believe dieting will work for you.
She also emphasized the importance of eating whole foods as much as possible, moving your body in a way that brings joy, and being intentional about the food choices you’re making. Which to some degree will require both self-control and discipline. Especially if you know certain foods don’t nourish you, but you still crave them.
Other harmful messages I’ve seen HAES leading ladies sharing is there are no such things as healthy or unhealthy foods, and essentially all foods are health producing. Again, I did not find this to be the message in the Health at Every Size nor to be true from a true health standpoint as a certified nutrition coach or my years of study in exercise and sport science.
I’ve even seen some supporters of the HAES movement encourage their followers to disregard healthy habits or behaviors. calling them restrictive or diet-y. Huh?
Again, not the message I’ve seen from Linda Bacon or from the creators of the intuitive eating movement.
This is your superpower..
I am not one to believe we will be most happy or at peace if we just give into every whim and go for instant gratification. In fact, it’s been those times in my life where I end up being the least happy or at peace.
Just to be clear, I don’t think you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and however much you want without having to also make peace and accept the consequences of those actions. You wouldn’t act this way in any other area of your life, like your finances or in your marriage. So why would it be ok to act that way towards food?
I do think you are responsible for making mindful and the best choices in the moment when it comes to food. And sometimes it’s mindfully eating a slice of chocolate cake and enjoying it. Other times it might be skipping the cake and going for a walk instead.
Your superpower lies in making mindful and informed decisions. Once you realize this, you can step into the role of expert of your life with confidence.
No doubt, discipline used as punishment or as a measure of your worth is harmful. As is wearing it like a badge of honor or using it to judge yourself or others.
However, discipline and self-control used with compassion, grace, and love is powerful. Learn to harness that power, you will make the best decisions for yourself.
It’s ok to be scared
Of course, leaning into the idea of health at every size is a little scary. If you’re anything like me, you might be wondering if you will be able to love yourself at any size. The decision to reject society’s idea of what your healthy body *should* look like is filled with doubt and anxiety.
The fear of judgement or rejection based on what your body looks like is also a very real fear. Will your friends, family, and co-workers think you’ve ‘let yourself go’ ?
My solution to these fears was to get crystal clear on my own definition of success, and my own healthy body. I believe that solution will work for you too.
We have a tendency to categorize everything as black and white. Good or bad. it seems when it comes to what a healthy lifestyle looks like, it is no different.
On the one hand you have people who have taken the HAES idea and have gone to the extreme of giving the middle finger to any sort of structure or discipline. While on the other hand you have diet culture supporting the idea that health looks a certain way.
Often we are uncomfortable in our ability to navigate and manage the gray area between the two sides, so we end up swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other.
Surely, it’s easier to just go from hardcore rules and restriction to binge eating on the weekends. It takes more work upfront to figure out how to listen to our bodies, how to care for them inside and out, and how to handle being uncomfortable.
Is health at every size for you?
Like many women, I was doing all the “healthy things” and my body was revolting against me. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why all of a sudden I wasn’t losing weight or getting the results I once had.
Old disordered eating behaviors like food obsession started coming back. Monday through Friday I tried my hardest to be good on my diet, but the weekends were a pass for me. Saturday and Sunday were my days to eat without abandon and just start the diet back up on Monday.
I felt softer and fatter than ever.
Tired of trying so hard without anything to show for it, I knew it was time for a change, whatever that looked like.
You shouldn’t feel defeated because you’re not losing weight.
Almost as if a light bulb went off, it hit me. I’d been dieting again. This time though, it was more subtle and still looked healthy for the most part. This realization sparked questions in my head:
Could you be healthy and not look like it? Is it possible to do the same things (exercise, monitor food choices) and still get different results? Does the diet mindset exist?
I decided to suspend my idea about what healthy looked like for a moment. My focus shifted to effort and the consistency of behaviors over outcomes. Instead of tracking pounds lost, I celebrated the way I felt in my body.
This one mindset shift changed everything. At the end of the day, we can’t control whether our body will lose weight or not. Wee can control our effort, our attitude, and our outlook though. So why not focus on those things instead?
The thing that’s been the most surprising I’ve found is I’m as happy now as I ever was when I was 9% body fat. I may even be happier. It’s easier to be more engaged in life. Meal time is more enjoyable too.
Without the pressure of constantly micro-managing calories eaten and calories burned, I’m able to be more present when we sit down to eat as a family. And choosing what to eat has even become easier.
Living a healthy lifestyle should be easy
Food is not meant to be a sin or punishment. Exercise shouldn’t be a way to purge yourself from an evening of indulgent eating.
As a culture we’ve lost sight of that. We’ve normalized the idea that living a healthy lifestyle is either only for the select few who happen to be disciplined enough to follow a diet or should feel tough all the time.
I believe there is a happy medium, and it’s up to you to find it for yourself. The good news is you won’t have to do that by yourself. I’ve opened up a few spots in my program, and would love to see if it is the right fit for you. Click here to schedule your FREE consult.
I can’t wait to see what you can accomplish when you step into your purpose in the healthy body you’re meant to have.