Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Health At Every Size (HAES) - let go of the dieting mentality
by, Taryn McPherson
I am a Health at Every Size (HAES), Anti-Diet Dietitian. When I state my area of focus I often get a lot of questions and confused looks, so I thought I would take a few minutes to answer the most common questions.
What is Health At Every Size?
Health at Every Size (HAES) is a weight-inclusive approach to healthcare that is a response to the weight and diet centric focus that predominates healthcare.
My favorite way to explain it is that HAES is the belief that patients should be treated for their symptoms and not for their body size. HAES recognizes that people in smaller bodies are treated differently than those in larger bodies. This is true both in and out of a healthcare setting, but HAES focuses on healthcare with the hope of having reverberating effects outside of that setting as well.
For example, if a person in a smaller body came to their doctor with high blood pressure there would likely be a discussion about diet, exercise, stress reduction, proper sleep, and possibly medication. Whereas, if that patient were in a larger body they would be told to lose weight and sent on their way.
This is problematic for many reasons. One of which is that diets and intentional weight loss do not work. On average, 95-98% of people who lose weight intentionally will gain all or more of it back, this is called weight cycling. Weight cycling has been shown to increase the risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. This risk remains increased even when compared to people in larger bodies who have stayed at a high weight. A weight-centric focus also increases weight bias and weight stigma, both of which are also associated with poor health outcomes.
HAES healthcare practices from the understanding that bodies of all sizes have the potential for health and focuses on behavior modification without concern for whether or not weight is lost. As a dietitian, this means I focus on eating for well-being and life-enhancing movement, which brings me to the second question I often get.
How can you be a dietitian that’s anti-diet? Are you just against fad diets?
I am against fad diets, but being anti-diet is about more than just fad diets. I do not promote any form of eating that is nutrient or calorically restrictive, especially those with the goal of intentional weight loss. The reason why I don’t support diets is pretty simple - they don’t work!
Do you know that quick-talking voiceover at the end of every commercial for a prescription drug? If dieting had that kind of warning label it would sound like this:
“Only 2-5% of people experience success with (insert diet of choice here). Side effects include depression, increased risk of developing an eating disorder, weight gain, and weight cycling which will increase your risk for chronic disease and overall mortality. In long-term studies, participants on said diet saw no difference or decreased health outcomes and overall quality of life when compared to the control group.”
Yikes. If that was a prescription drug I can’t imagine anyone would go ask their doctor about it. It would probably be considered unethical for a doctor to prescribe it.
So I don’t focus on weight, and I don’t promote diets. What do I do?
I focus on helping people eat for well-being. My job as a dietitian is to help you reconnect to your body and finally make peace with food. This means I help people question their current thoughts around food, dive-in and understand where those food rules came from, and relearn how to listen to their body. Our bodies are amazing, and they know what and how much food we need. That knowledge and ability is something we’re born with, but various outside influences, from diet culture to food insecurity, can damage that mind-body connection and turn something innate into something incredibly challenging.
If you’re tired of feeling stressed, bored, anxious, or overwhelmed by food and ready to do things differently, I would love to support you on that journey and on your Mindfulpath. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay tuned for more!