Ever wonder what it means to adopt a Health at Every Size approach? Terri Barger shares how HAES has completely changed the way she eats, exercises, and cares for her body and mind.
Health at Every Size
I was a lifelong dieter, starting my first diet before I was 10. Over the years, I’ve tried most of the popular diets, with temporary “success,” but after a while, I would find myself weighing even more than I did before I started. Over the years, I’ve lost – and gained – hundreds of pounds. By the time I was in my early 30s, I was convinced that I was a failure at being healthy – despite having no significant health issues and an active lifestyle. After I was unsuccessful in losing weight under a doctor’s supervision, she suggested that my inability to lose weight was due to mental illness and suggested that I see a psychologist. In this, I was extremely fortunate. I found a therapist who specialized in eating disorders, and who assured me that my inability to lose weight was not only normal, but an unfortunate side-effect of lifelong dieting. The psychologist, along with her partner nutritionist, introduced me to a completely different concept of health – Health at Every Size® (HAES).
The HAES approach:
- Recognizes that humans are diverse shapes and sizes.
- Recognizes that health encapsulates many aspects of our lives, including the physical, mental, emotional, social, and occupational.
- Promotes focusing on all aspects of health, and not measuring health by body size.
- Promotes balancing eating for nutritional needs, hunger, fullness, and pleasure.
- Promotes individualized, enjoyable physical activity, rather than exercise primarily as a weight-loss tool.
At its core, HAES takes the emphasis off weight-loss and focuses participants on areas that more accurately predict healthy outcomes, such as physical activity and self-acceptance. Approximately 95% of all dieters gain back the weight they lose (or more) over three years. Research consistently finds that this yo-yo change in size is detrimental to both physical and mental health. The wear on our bodies is well documented. HAES gave me a chance to try a different approach, one that focuses on being healthy and active now, not at some future point.
For me, this means focusing on healthy behaviors rather than on losing weight, and it’s been successful beyond my wildest dreams. Since changing my focus, I have begun setting goals that have nothing to do with my skinny jeans, and over the last five years, I have: completed my first (and second, and third…) 5K, started ballroom dancing, tried aerial yoga, taken a horseback ride through the Yucatan, and completed a push-up challenge (30 military style push-ups!). As a dieter, I was always waiting until I thought I was “thin” or “fit” enough to try something new.
Eating still challenges me – a lifetime of dieting has left me with some issues. For example, I struggle sometimes with trusting my hunger and recognizing fullness. But I am learning that I can trust my body to want healthy food most of the time, and food that makes me feel good physically and mentality is usually the right choice. Also, there are times when I eat for pleasure, and I’m learning that it’s okay to trust myself with that as well. I doubt that I will ever be an emotionally “neutral” eater, but I continue to work on eating mindfully – that is, being aware of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues. I still have a long way to go before I fully rid myself the “diet mentality,” but I am happier with my body, my fitness, and my relationship with food than I ever was while I was dieting, and that is an incredible incentive to keep working at it.
With this framework in mind, here are my best tips for a healthy lifestyle:
- Find a physical activity that you love, and do it regularly. (I hated aerial yoga, but I love spin classes.)
- Eat mindfully, and don’t beat yourself up when you don’t eat mindfully. No one does all the time.
- Get rid of your “skinny” and “fat” clothes. Keep the clothes that make you feel fabulous – today.
- Throw out the scale.
- Don’t wait until you’re “thin” or “fit” enough to try new things. There’s a whole world out there right now.
For more information on HAES visit:
 Health at Every Size is a registered trademark of Linda Bacon, PhD. The concepts discussed here are primarily from her book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight and related materials.