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Body Positivity? HAES? What It All Means (To Me, At Least)

A few months ago, I declared that I was no longer going to help people lose weight. Since then, I’ve been diving deeper into the world of body positivity, Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size® (HAES®), with the help of podcasts, blogs, articles and colleagues.

Many of these concepts are becoming more popular, which is great, but in some cases are being co-opted for purposes that run counter to these philosophies. *cough*weight loss*cough*

I thought that I would define these terms as I understand them, so that I can better articulate how I have transitioned my practice (and you can better understand what you’re getting into if you decide to work with me.)

I tried to create a venn diagram, but found that instead of simply overlapping in certain parts, these concepts encompass each other. In other words, in my mind, body positivity includes fat acceptance; within the fat acceptance movement there is the concept of HAES®; nutrition and eating is one aspect of HAES® (I personally practice from an Intuitive Eating model, but there are others), and mindful eating is one aspect of Intuitive Eating/nutrition.

Body Positivity

The term “body positive” was coined by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, founders of The Body Positive, in 1996. Oft confused with the concept of body love, body positivity is a political movement that “encourages the end to body shame, beauty standards and violence against all bodies“. While body positivity has its roots in the fat acceptance movement, it sits on the outside of my venn diagram because the definition has expanded to include all bodies, with an emphasis on oppressed groups like people of colour, disabled people and trans people.

Fat Acceptance

Can I just cheat and say that the fat acceptance movement “encourages the end to body shame, beauty standards and violence against fat/large bodies”?

The fat acceptance movement is a direct response to the weight bias and weight stigma that is rampant in our society today. To me, it boils down to the idea that every person deserves basic human dignity and respect, regardless of size, and sadly, that is not something that is afforded to fat people.

Studies consistently show that fat people are viewed as lazy, stupid, dishonest, and lacking in self-control. These negative attitudes that our society has toward fat people has led to barriers to employment, education, and even access to health care. Fat people are often told that their health issues are simply related to their weight, so they don’t receive adequate care, or they choose to avoid going to the doctor altogether.

Health At Every Size® (HAES®)

While no one is morally obligated to manage their health (i.e. you are not a bad person if you smoke, do drugs, don’t exercise, eat nothing but processed foods all day, never wash your hands and never see your doctor), HAES® is an approach to health that exists within the body positive and fat acceptance movements. Though HAES concepts have existed since the 1960s, the movement was popularized in 2008 by Linda Bacon with her book, Health At Every Size(Amazon affiliate link)

In short, HAES is about supporting people in adopting behaviours and habits to improve health, regardless of weight or size. It rejects the idea that BMI, weight or size are an accurate reflection of health, and highlights the research that shows that attempts at weight loss tend to not work in the long-term, and often lead to worse health outcomes.

The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) define the HAES principles as follows:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

One common misconception about HAES is that it stands for “healthy at every size” or “healthy at any size”, and many people argue that it is not possible to be healthy at every/any size. That is not the point of HAES.

HAES is not saying that any size is healthy – it’s saying that anyone can adopt habits that can improve their health regardless of size, ability and current health status. It’s also saying that despite popular belief, focusing on changing a person’s weight or size does not lead to better health outcomes, and in some/many cases, can worsen health.

Intuitive Eating

“Eating for Well-being” is one of the five core HAES principles, and Intuitive Eating, developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, is a HAES-informed approach to nutrition and eating. Other approaches include Ellyn Satter’s Eating Competence Model and the more general term, “Non-Diet Approach”.

The Intuitive Eating model posits that to achieve “authentic health”, we need to combine external health values with inner attunement to our own individual needs. As a society, we’re great at following external guidelines, diets, rules, etc, and we’ve lost touch with tuning in to our own needs, or we don’t trust what our body, mind and inner wisdom have to tell us. The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating are all about clearing the external barriers to attunement, as well as cultivating attunement, with the ultimate goal of making eating a positive, satisfying and nourishing experience.

Mindful Eating

Like body positivity, mindfulness and mindful eating are concepts that have gained traction in the past few years. I’ve described mindfulness, mindful eating and why it’s not for weight loss in this blog before, but briefly, it’s about using all your senses to observe the experience of acquiring, preparing and eating food, without judgement. While mindful eating and Intuitive Eating are often presented as separate concepts, I put mindful eating within Intuitive Eating in my venn diagram, as Intuitive Eating does promote mindful eating concepts, while encompassing a broader approach that touches on body image, emotional eating, movement and gentle nutrition.

What This Means for My Approach to Food & Nutrition

I believe that…

  • Everyone deserves access to inclusive, quality care.
  • Weight alone is not a determinant of health, and that focusing on changing one’s weight is usually futile and can lead to worse health outcomes.
  • It is possible to improve health without changing weight.
  • Each person is their own expert, and my role as a dietitian is to help people tune into and regain trust in their own inner wisdom, so that they can mend their relationship with food and with their bodies
Got more questions on body positivity, fat acceptance, HAES, Intuitive Eating and mindful eating? Leave a comment below, or book a free call with me and talk it out!

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