Health at Every Size

Health at Every Size?
By Renee Michael

"The start of Lent today will offer many of us yet another opportunity to renew that resolution we made at the start of the year (and abandoned by the time February rolled in), to lose the extra poundage. But before you vow to give up your glasses of Cabernet and your plates of pasta primavera, you might want to consider H.A.E.S., or Health at Every Size, a new “peace movement” that one of its proponents, Linda Bacon, a nutritionist in the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis, says was designed to halt “the collateral damage” — food and body preoccupation, self-hatred and eating disorders — that has resulted from the failed war on obesity. H.A.E.S. is based on the idea that “the best way to improve health is to honor your body,” and it supports the adoption of good health habits simply for the sake of health and well-being rather than weight control.

Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, a National Health Service specialist dietitian and an honorary research fellow at the Applied Research Center in Health and Lifestyle Interventions at Coventry University in England, published a paper in Nutrition Journal earlier this year. It argues that a weight-focused approach geared toward losing weight is — surprise! — not especially effective in either reducing the weight or creating healthier bodies. In fact, they say, such an approach can unintentionally lead to weight gain and worse health.

Bacon and Aphramor analyzed nearly 200 studies for their article, which lands where many frustrated dieters have already found themselves — with the knowledge that while dieting can result in short-term weight loss, the majority of overweight people are unable to maintain that loss for very long. Contrary to popular belief, the two researchers argue, weight-focused dieters do not achieve many of the supposed benefits of weight loss. The data present no compelling evidence to support the generally accepted notion that a weight-loss approach will prolong life. Nor does it support the common belief that anyone can lose weight and keep it off through diet, exercise and willpower. Or that weight loss is the only way overweight and obese people can improve their health. Bacon and Aphramor insist that adjusting your lifestyle habits with an eye toward improving markers of well-being like reduced blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, reduced stress, increased energy and improved self-esteem — independent of any weight loss at all — is a far more desirable goal for people of all sizes to pursue. And they suggest that the health care community should adopt an approach toward public-health nutrition that “encourages individuals to concentrate on developing healthy habits rather than on weight management.”

Of course, acceptance of such a philosophy would require a monumental change in mindset not just in the health care and weight-loss industries, but among waist-watchers themselves. As any dieter who has hopped on the scale a dozen times in one day to check whether he or she has lost any weight since the last weigh-in will tell you, as grateful as you may be for a higher count of good cholesterol or a decrease in your high blood-pressure stats, those aren’t really the numbers that you care most about when you are slipping on a dress or a suit twice the size of the one you wore five years ago. And even after some 30 years of campaigning on the part of fat-acceptance activists to get people to not automatically assume that a person carrying around a bit of extra girth is unhealthy, heavy people still suffer from discrimination and bias.

Still, for those among us who want to at least try a different approach to our health care efforts this Lenten season and make peace with the bodies we have, Linda Bacon invites you to pledge your commitment to the H.A.E.S. movement.

At the time that I wrote this post, fewer than 1,800 people had signed on."

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My first official introduction to HAES was a few weeks ago when a speaker came to talk to our students. She was a counselor at a local clinic in Portland that focuses and teaches the HAES program to their patients and clients.While she wasn't the best speaker it was nice to see/hear that there is movement to stop focusing on the (scale/weight) numbers and start looking more at the whole person.

I've always been on the plus side of life....and let's be honest you can only claim it's "Baby Fat" for so long.

I've been lucky, and I know it, I've never had an eating disorder, I never had my parents or boyfriends tell me I'm fat....that didn't stop me though from having insecurities about my weight. Growing up and having my school crushes see me as someone to partner up with during group work but then "date" the skinnier girls who could fit into this week's latest fashion trend. It made adolescence hard (but then really mother nature plays awful tricks on you when you're younger).

(Sorry. I just love this bit of Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill and when I saw it animated with stick figures I had to add it in. It just worked)

So, where was I? Oh yea....It was frustrating (and still is) to not dress like an 80-year old grandma in elastic pants and muumuus. But I trudged through and did what I could. I had only really been in (what I would consider) one major relationship. There had been a few minor ones here and there - but somewhere inside of me I didn't feel I was worth or attractive enough or desirable enough to have someone want me. To be in another relationship again.

At some point, some morning, I woke up and realized I was what was stopping me from having the relationships I was lacking. I decided I needed to work on my (internal) self-image. I went out and purchased a number of "Fat-Friendly" books: Fat!So?, The Fat Girl's Guide, Body Outlaws and Fat Chicks Rule!

Whether it was the books or just the intentionality behind my attitude and self-views or a combination - I'll never know. What I do know is I've started to love my curves. 

Started to appreciated that people come in all shapes and sizes and to not hate my body or myself for the curves I've been given. And once I opened myself up to loving myself I allowed myself to be loved. I know have a man who loves that I'm curvy. Loves my stomach - one of my least favorite body parts. 

I'm glad there are doctors and counselors out in the world trying to help people of all sizes embrace their bodies and know that your dress size does not equal how healthy (or happy) you are (or can be).


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