December 9, 2020

What is Health at Every Size (HAES)?

Health at Every Size (HAES) is a weight-neutral, social justice approach to helping clients recover from eating disorders and body shame. In this post, Charis Stiles, LCSW discusses the basic principles of HAES.

By Charis Stiles, LCSW|Adulting

Health at Every Size (HAES) is a weight-neutral, social justice approach to helping clients recover from eating disorders and body shame. 

Its central focus is on helping clients achieve a sense of body autonomy and includes a critique of diet culture. 

Diet culture is the belief system that promotes thinness over happiness.

This includes the multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry that profits off of (intentionally) flawed weight loss programs. 

HAES is a helpful approach to take because of its focus on empowerment, body connection, and self-compassion. 

Therapists with this approach have a gentle, nonjudgmental stance towards clients of all body shapes and sizes. 

This approach takes openness on the part of the therapist and client to explore their assumptions about weight and food, and to develop a more nuanced understanding of wellness. 

The goal is to find more peace with food and our bodies, to feel freer in making choices that support our happiness, and to have a gentler attitude towards ourselves. 

Basic HAES principles:

-You can’t tell someone’s health status by their weight. Their weight does not signify how much they exercise, how they eat, or anything other than their weight. Higher weights do not mean poor health and lower weight does not correlate to good health. Health is more complex than just a person’s weight!

-Chronic dieting can be more harmful than being at a higher weight. Conditions associated with higher weights, such as high blood pressure, may actually be associated with frequent fluctuations in weight and with harmful weight loss efforts. 

-Dieting and intentional weight loss are often unsuccessful and the diet industry intentionally profits off of this. There’s a whole body of research that looks at the long term effects of dieting, and finds that diets don’t work! Our bodies usually reach a weight setpoint – basically, a point at which our weight levels out – and the setpoint actually increases as someone yo-yo diets. This means that usually folks that pursue intentional weight loss through repeated efforts at dieting end up with higher weights in the long run! 

-Traditional eating disorder therapy is limited and sometimes harmful, especially for folks in larger bodies. What we often prescribe to folks with larger bodies would be considered disordered eating in folks with thinner bodies. 

-Weight loss is neither positive nor negative (except for clients needing to weight restore after anorexia). Weight is neutral. There is no moral value attached to weight loss, and people in thinner bodies are not inherently more moral or have more self-discipline than people in larger bodies. 

-Bodies naturally come in a diverse range of shapes and sizes. There is no one size or weight that is normal or healthy for everyone.

-There are usually multiple complex reasons behind disordered eating and body shame. For some folks, they were body-shamed early in their lives and encouraged to diet when puberty started. For others, their bodies were the easiest places to feel a sense of control. And, for many others, they were simply doing what the society around them encouraged them to do. 

-There is no one right way to eat for everyone. Ideally, each person is eating in attunement with what’s best for their body. There’s also nothing wrong with eating for comfort or “emotional” eating. Food is a natural and understandable way humans comfort themselves, and food is a legitimate source of pleasure. 

-It is often the case that it’s more harmful to be highly restrictive with eating than to engage in bingeing behavior. There can be worse outcomes when a body does not get enough calories, thereby triggering starvation and survival mechanisms in the body, than to eat too many calories.

-Weight stigma, the social stigma against larger bodies or higher weights, has tangible, negative health impacts. It can also prohibit access to medical care. Fatphobia and weight stigma are social justice issues that are intrinsically connected to racism, sexism, and ableism.

-Much of the scientific study around weight loss and dieting is flawed and biased. HAES therapists challenge cultural assumptions around these issues and value the lived experiences of their clients, no matter their weight. 

-HAES therapists encourage being physically active while recognizing the complications that come with exercise. Such as the temptation to over-exercise, fears of judgment, and negative past experiences with movement. HAES therapists also encourage regular medical care while understanding the barriers fatphobia creates in our medical system. 

How do you know if it’s time for you to seek out a HAES-informed therapist?

  • Your therapist encourages intentional weight loss or uses diet language;
  • You don’t feel like your therapist understands your experiences of weight stigma;
  • Your therapist is not trained in working with eating disorders or body shame/dysmorphia;
  • You feel “obsessed” with food or with “problem areas” of your body;
  • You’re wanting to explore these issues, but feel scared to do it alone.

Therapy can help you with your body acceptance journey! 

Ultimately, HAES therapists believe in body autonomy and each client is empowered to build a strong, loving, and kind relationship with their bodies.  

Our team at Evergreen Counseling can help you with this. We have therapists trained in treating disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders. 

Please feel free to reach out to us to set up a Personalized Matching Consultation with our Clinical Intake Coordinator so we can match you with the best therapist for your situation.

Medical Disclaimer

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