By Jasimine Felder
Editor’s note: [The intention of this article is to introduce the reader to the HAES approach and is in no way a replacement to medical advice. If you would like more information about the program contact a HAES provider in your area. If you have medical questions, please contact your healthcare professional.]
As I twist my fork between my fingers and round up the last bite of my Alfredo pasta, I let out a deep sigh that used to be filled with calorie regret and gym time responsibility. Now this release represents joy, a simple yet powerful happiness that I can now take in the flavors of a dish without trying to swallow my thoughts of consequence. I stab at the last chunk of shrimp, smother it in the remaining mushroom, garlic and cheese sauce, and with one final sigh, I indulge and finalize my commitment to honor my body.
The Health at Every Size theory, or HAES, has made it possible for more people to indulge and experience joy filled sighs as a result of pleasurable eating. Based on the idea of honoring your body to improve you health, HAES encourages accepting and respecting body diversity, pleasurable eating habits and finding joy in everyday physical activity.
Changing Focus from Weight to Health
Linda Bacon, who holds a doctorate in physiology, developed the HAES theory, pushing for more focus on health than weight. After training in multiple disciplines, including graduate degrees in psychology and kinesiology, years of scientific research, and clinical experience, Bacon authored “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight.” The book lays down the foundation to leading a HAES lifestyle, which is a lifestyle that includes acceptance for all sizes rather than delegating people into categories, such as healthy and unhealthy, based on weight. “Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size,” reads an excerpt from Bacon’s book. “It supports people—of all sizes—in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.”
Although Bacon encourages physical activity, she does not dictate what types of exercises to perform, but instead encourages followers to engage in physical activities that are pleasurable to them. In her book, Bacon provides a list of ideas to support engaging in more physical activity. “Find activities that are fun for you and that you can look forward to,” she wrote. This idea is followed by encouragements to take risk, connect with the environment, ditch preconceived notions of limitations due to size, age or ability, standup against people who ridicule you and find people with similar size or ability as exercise buddies and a support system. The Association for Size Diversity and Health states that the HAES approach is about, “Promoting individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity, rather than exercise that is focused on a goal of weight loss.”
The HAES Pledge
In an effort to motivate HAES followers and further develop the HAES community, Bacon has launched a HAES community website where viewers can read over inspirational messages from Bacon, many of which come from her book, and create user info that will allow them to interact with other community members. Bacon has also organized a pledge on the website where users can show their commitment to leading healthier and more active lifestyles, while encouraging others to join their fight against dieting.
Along with the pledge, there are countless support groups and classes to learn the HAES approach and how to eat in accordance to satiety and fullness. Green Mountain at Fox Run is a residential weight loss program that teaches women to think and act differently so they can let go of negative feelings about their bodies and food, “You’ll understand how good it feels to be a woman who is a normal, intuitive eater who has a healthy relationship with food and your body and who stays physically active because it makes you feel good,” according to the program’s website. More importantly, it teaches women that they should not be confined by caloric intake or what a diet dictates, but instead, let their bodies tell them when they are full rather than a diet.
Although pledge numbers are just under 5,000, the concept has shown to be an easier transition than the previous methods of dieting. “Like most [registered dieticians], I was trained in didactic and diet-based methods to promote health,” said Registered Dietician Julie Dillon. “After about three or four years I noticed a few things: most people would only come to one appointment, [and] when people did come back, they often would gain weight instead of lose weight, and if people did lose weight, they were not able to keep it off for very long.”
Located in Greensboro, N.C., Dillon has been working with the HAES approach since 2002 and has seen more positive results from this technique than with any other she has practiced. “I was trained that helping large people lose weight is the end all be all of health. These experiences led me to different counseling methods, which led me to HAES,” Dillon said. “I’ve noticed that all my clients come back now. The approach breaks through the shame a diet approach brings, so my clients look to me to help them through the tough times instead of thinking of me as the enemy.”
Dillon admits her way of thinking has changed, not judging the effectiveness of treatment methods through weight measurements but instead noticing eating and exercise patterns in relation to hunger, satiety and fullness. Outside of physical changes, Dillon has seen a boost in body image and a decrease in depression, both of which play a large part in weight cycling and whether or not clients will be receptive to talking about their weight issues.
Being Healthy at Any Size on Your Own
So let’s face it, although we would all love to change something about ourselves, sometimes we don’t have the time or the money to do so. For those of us whose “something” is becoming healthier, Dillon recommends intuitive eating, the answer to our empty wallets and loaded day planners. This way of eating teaches us to eat according to hunger, satiety and fullness cues with the food we can afford.
The intuitive eating theory was created based on the same objective as HAES, to fight weight consciousness and move into health consciousness. The difference is that the intuitive eating theory is based on intuition. The theory recognizes that our bodies will tell us what is good for us by the way we feel after eating certain foods. This method eliminates the dictation of what to eat and allows you to learn what works best for your body on your budget. According to Dr. Michelle May’s website on her program, “Am I Hungry?” intuitive eating can be relearned. “Hunger is a physical feeling,” the website states. “It’s not the same thing as appetite, cravings or just wanting to eat.” People who have issues with food may eat as a response to stress or boredom. By relearning your body’s feeling of being full, you will learn how to eat less.
In the book “Intuitive Eating,” authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch provide 10 principles to intuitive eating, all of which are more mental than physical. This helps make the approach accessible to everyone. A number of these principles are part of the HAES lifestyle, especially in the list created in Bacon’s book to support physical activity. Most, if not all, of the ideas on that list encourage people to break through mental barriers that may be keeping them from living naturally healthy lives. The intuitive eating theory also pushes people to push themselves mentally and although it does not push the idea of movement as heavily, it does share the same goal as HAES, which is honoring your body.
So when you are enjoying that balanced lunch and dinner, don’t fight with your body, honor it and enjoy that delicious final spoonful of whatever your body desires.