‘Health in all sizes (HAES)’ is an approach to improving health that changes the focus of weight loss by placing it instead of healthy behaviors.
Highlighting weight loss through exercise, diet and behavior modification is rarely successful. It often leads to cycles of loss and weight gain, with potential risks to physical and psychological health, and contributes to physical hatred, dangerous eating disorders, and exercise dependency. However, we believe that if we continue to use the same approaches, we will achieve different results in some way. In reality, this is the definition of madness presented by Alcoholics Anonymous.
However, there is an exciting and effective alternative approach to this problem. It’s called health in all sizes (HAES). The basic mechanics of this approach includes the acceptance of:
- Natural diversity in the shape and size of the body
- Ineffectiveness and dangers of slimming diets
- Importance of a relaxed diet in response to internal body signals
- The fundamental contribution of social, emotional and spiritual factors, as well as physical, to health and happiness.
What’s the purpose of HAES?
The philosophy of HAES promotes the concept that an adequate and healthy weight for an individual can not be determined by numbers on a scale, by a height/weight table, or by the calculation of body mass index or body fat percentages. Rather, HAES defines a “healthy weight” as the weight of a person while moving towards a more satisfying and meaningful lifestyle. This includes, but is not limited to, eating following signs of hunger, appetite, and satiety internally directed and participating in reasonable and sustainable levels of physical activity.
Although research and experience have clearly demonstrated that focusing on weight loss as a primary goal is more likely to produce weight cycles and weight gain over time, the HAES approach does not suggest that all people currently have a weight that is healthy for your circumstances. However, what is really understood is that the move towards a healthier lifestyle will eventually produce a healthy weight for that person.
It is important to understand that eliminating attention to weight does not mean ignoring health risks and medical problems. When heavy people present medical problems, HAES suggests that health professionals offer the same approaches as a lean person with similar problems. In the case of a skinny person with essential hypertension, for example, conventional wisdom suggests changes in diet, increases in aerobic exercise and stress management followed by medication, if necessary. However, a heavy person with the same diagnosis is told to lose weight, regardless of what is known about the most likely consequences of this recommendation.
Weight loss and HAES
The HAES approach supports a “holistic” view of health that promotes feeling good about oneself. Eat well in a natural and relaxed way, and be comfortably active. The following list describes the main objectives to help people with food and weight problems from the HAES point of view:
Self-acceptance: affirmation and strengthening of beauty and human value, regardless of differences in weight, physical size, and form.
Physical activity: support to increase social movement based on the pleasure of enjoying and improving the quality of life; is
Standardized feed: support for excluding rules and regimes imposed from the outside to eat and get a more peaceful relationship with food by learning to eat again in response to physiological signs of hunger.
It is well known that weight loss can reduce the risk of diseases related to the diet, however, achieving weight loss is not simple, and for some people, a focus on weight will not necessarily achieve weight loss or improve physical health. This concern for weight loss can come at the expense of psychological health, self-esteem and a positive relationship with food.
Therefore, an approach like HAES focused not on weight loss, but on physical and psychosocial well-being in general, can be useful for some people and for health professionals. The HAES approach does not deny the clear link between overweight and obesity and an increased risk of many chronic diseases. It simply redirects the focus of results, such as weight loss, to healthy behaviors with the potential to cause reduced modifiable risk factors, such as overweight and obesity.
The main goal for health professionals is to help people live healthier and more fulfilling lives by taking care of their bodies they currently have.
What other things does HAES offer?
HAES offers an effective and compassionate alternative to the defects of traditional approaches. There is extensive literature that clearly shows that most so-called weight problems can be effectively cured with minimal or no weight loss.
Even in type 2 diabetes, blood sugar can be normalized without weight loss, even when the patient is still significantly obese according to traditional medical standards. This finding is strengthened by the growing body of research that shows that obese people who are active and fit have lower mortality rates than people of normal weight who are inactive and unfit.
Although HAES does not always help people lose weight, by adopting this new approach we can help people of all sizes to be healthier. By not promoting weight loss as a primary goal, we can prevent future generations of children, women, and men from developing feeding problems, participate in risky weight loss strategies and die losing weight.