What is HAES?
This concept is exactly what it sounds like. The number on the scale or the size of your clothing does not determine health.
The Health At Every Size (HAES) mentality is all about supporting people of every size and shape. HAES challenges the mindset that thinness equals health. Now, I know this can feel like a foreign concept, because our society continues to shove weight loss, dieting, and thinness into our faces every chance it gets. The truth is, the weight loss industry is designed to make you fail. If you had success with losing weight and keeping it off, then they would be out of business. Instead, this industry feeds off of our country’s obsession with being “skinny” and that being “fat” is not okay. If you go to any grocery store you will see countless food items branding themselves as low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb, etc. This is why so many people are consumed with food thoughts and feeling they have to restrict or limit certain foods/food groups. Because of this, it makes complete sense why body image issues, self-hatred, and eating disorders continue to rise in our society.
Eating disorders are scary, dangerous, and all-consuming. An eating disorder tricks you into having food rules. A food rule is any decision about food that is based on outside sources or what you view as “good” or “bad,” not your own knowledge or preference of what you like the taste of and what your body is needing.
Examples of Food Rules:
- Meals and snacks must be eaten at “XYZ” time.
- Eat as few carbs as possible.
- I can’t eat sweets because they are “bad” or “not healthy.”
- The longer I wait to eat each day the stronger I am.
- If I eat a “bad” food I need to work it off (ie self-induced vomiting or exercising).
Your Relationship to Food
I encourage you to reflect on your own relationship with food. Do you have any food rules? Where did they come from? Ask yourself, would I be anxious if I were to do let go of this food rule? How might I be able to follow it less? For example, if I’m choosing the lettuce wrap for fear of carbs, can I challenge myself instead to order it with bread and eat a portion of the bread. Or, can I buy the full-fat yogurt option and eat a few bites of that. If you feel like your food choice (food decision) is the boss of you, it’s most likely a food rule instead of a food preference.
Weight DOES NOT Equal Health
Now back to HAES. Again, this concept focuses on the fact that weight DOES NOT equal health. Health is determined by so much more than our clothing size or the number on the scale. Health is about ourselves as a whole: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Health can mean feeding our body throughout the day and not restricting it. Our bodies are smart, the second we let it go into starvation mode because we’ve restricted it in some way, it fights back. It knows where it naturally needs to be, but we get in its way. Often times restricting can cause overeating or even binge eating, which then keeps a person on a vicious cycle of unhelpful eating disorder behaviors. Health can also means moving our body with good intentions or for the joy of it, and not going for a run because we ate that doughnut or ate something other than a salad for lunch.
The Trick of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders trick us into thinking that we can only eat certain things. It tricks us into thinking that our weight is the most important thing about ourselves. An eating disorder is a bully or a virus that just takes over. HAES focuses on letting go of those diets or food rules you have tried to follow and then felt like you failed at. You did not fail. The diet failed you. HAES encourages learning what you like to eat and what your body needs to fuel itself. It means eating those desserts in a balanced way, eating something other than chicken for protein, or trying new foods without fear of what it would do to your weight. It means you can eat a salad, but you also eat tacos or a burger if you feel like it.
I know this can sound really scary, especially if you have gotten tangled up in diet culture, food rules, or are struggling with an eating disorder. You are allowed to eat. You deserve to fuel your body in a balanced way. You deserve to feel content or at peace with your body. Your clothes need to fit you - not the other way around. If a piece of clothing doesn’t flatter you, that doesn’t mean something is wrong with your body - it means there is something wrong with that piece of clothing.
Your Body is Awesome
Our bodies allow us to do so many things and often times a skewed sense of self or an eating disorder makes us think otherwise. Your body allows you to pick up your child, travel, or go on a walk with your partner. It allows you to be spontaneous and explore new things. When it’s compromised by diet culture, food rules, or an eating disorder, that can make for a poor quality of life.
I highly encourage checking out Dr. Linda Bacon’s book - Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. It’s eye opening.
I am passionate about helping my client’s learn to have a better relationship with food, body image, weight, and exercise. I also can connect you to some amazing certified eating disorder dietitians, which is hard to find. If you are working toward recovery from an eating disorder or just focusing on improving your overall relationship with food, it’s so helpful to have support from both an emotion expert and nutrition expert. If you have connected to anything in this article, please reach out to me. I would look forward to work with you.
Ready to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation?
Deva Murphy, MSW, LCSW
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