Health At Every Size (HAES)

coffee_cupI think recently I’ve had a breakthrough with my thinking and reading about HAES (Health at Every Size). Because we live in a world obsessed with ‘size-zero’ and ‘obesity’, at least in the UK and in the US (possibly in Europe too, I reckon), it has been so difficult to extract myself from this way of thinking. Not least because I have PCOS and have been advised by my doctor to lose weight, as all women with PCOS are advised to do (even though weight is just a symptom and not the cause – it will not go away if I am smaller). PCOS is such a huge collection of various ‘symptoms’ that doctors don’t know what causes it or even what makes it go away. The main advice is to ‘lose weight’, pretty much. Women who are not considered ‘overweight’ by narrow standards also get PCOS!

I have tried before to lose weight on a diet called ‘The South Beach Diet’ (about 4 years ago) which was horrendous – and the food was AWFUL. Imagine having to eat celery with soft cheese down the middle for a snack instead of something more fulfilling! It advocated eating bacon and stuff, and generally I don’t regularly eat bacon – so it was a struggle. I gave up after about 4 weeks of eating horrible food on a crash diet that was obviously not good for me. The diet industry is so easy to get sucked into – it is worth so much money, and is so misleading that I despair of all the lies ever being busted.

Most people go on crash diets and then gain the weight back a few weeks after they stop the diet. In some of the HAES information I have read, the idea is that our bodies compensate for all this dieting by retaining weight because our bodies think we are entering a starvation process. So, crash diets, any unhealthy diets like that, are not going to help you lose weight in the long run. They are NOT healthy, and will end up making you very ill. Our bodies need good food and fun exercise (the type you want to do, not the type that is a struggle, that you hate doing but do it out of ‘duty’).

I am heartily sick of thinking of having to ‘lose’ weight (which seems like such a difficult goal) instead of the language of health instead. Instead of “losing weight” it should be “eating well, keeping fit” – regardless of what size you are. And that is what HAES is. I know people who are really fit and healthy and are a size 18-20 (UK). I know people who are size 8-10 (UK) and are really unhealthy and unfit. Size is not an indication that someone is ill or unhealthy. What is an indication of unhealthiness is our obsession with the way people look.

Constantly counting the calories and weighing ourselves and feeling guilty if anything deemed ‘unhealthy’ ever passes our lips. I speak from experience here – I am a self confessed chocoholic, and love every minute of chocolate that passes my lips. I used to feel SO guilty and sometimes still do. But life is too short, and if you want some chocolate, why not? HAES is about intuitive eating – you listen to your body and what it is telling you it needs – a sugar lift? energy? a drink of water? carbs? protein?

Most of all, HAES is very much a common-sense way of looking after yourself – eat well, move well, and forget about weighing yourself on the scales. It is about how healthy you FEEL. Love yourself and your body. Don’t hate your body because society says ‘it’s too big for our narrow defined views!’ or ‘it’s too small for our narrow defined views!’. With this, I am determined to start looking after myself and ignoring the pressure I feel to go on a ‘diet’ and instead go for regular walks in our park (the weather is beautiful today) and eat well, not denying my body the fuel it needs to live.

It can be discouraging when you are bombarded with rubbish about an ‘obesity epidemic’ and crap from people who think all big people are unhealthy. Even worse is what this is going to do to children being bullied because of their size. I have no doubt that this sort of thing will get worse because our government, nhs and media are stirring up the ‘moral panic’.

I’m looking forward to buying Lara Frater’s ‘Fat Chicks Rule! How to Survive in a Thin-Centric World’ and Dr Linda Bacon’s book ‘Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight’ when I next get paid! I’m looking forward to reading something that cuts through the bullshit we get all the time from the media.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Anji says:

    I went running this evening. I read this post while eating a Lindt chocolate bunny (of whom only the feet remain, and they will shortly be in my rounded belly).

    I’m seventeen stone three. I’m proud of being seventeen stone three. I don’t wear “women’s” clothing, so I don’t know what size I am. I know my Levis have a 38″ waist and they tend to be quite true-to size, and I wear them on my hips because having a waistband around my belly feels weird. I know that my waist measurement (which is more like my belly measurement) is 50-51 inches (yes, I am the absolute opposite of an hourglass!)

    I started running three times a week a couple of weeks ago, not for health or weight, but because I’ve signed up for the Great South Run in October to raise money for Rape Crisis.

    I don’t care if the exercising makes me lose weight. In fact I think that would be rather tedious, as it would mean buying new clothes, and I’m rather fond of the clothes I have. I do hope the running makes my leg muscles stronger; I have chondromalacia patellae and I think improving the leg strength might make it easier for them to hold my weight, and therefore lessen the strain.

    I have no idea why I just bored you with all this.

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  2. Anji says:

    Damn, I hit ‘submit’ unintentionally.

    I meant to say: I have no idea why I just bored you with all this. I guess I just wanted to congratulate you on kicking the diet habit and finding HAES.

    And also, I have PCOS too. Interestingly enough, it was diagnosed about two and a half years ago, when my son was one. Normally people have it before pregnancy, and it goes away after giving birth. Clearly I just had to be difficult. 😉

    My doctor knows I have no interest in losing weight, and she’s fairly feminist herself. Her exact words were “Look, I don’t want you to look like a Playboy centrefold. Just try a stone, see if it eases the pain in your ovaries. If it doesn’t you can put it all back on for all I care.” I love my doctor. 😉

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  3. Liz says:

    Yum, Lindt bunnies are wonderful. Almost too cute to eat! 🙂 Your comments are always interesting, don’t worry!

    I haven’t bothered weighing myself for a long time (the last time I did I think I was about 15 stone), but whenever I bring up my plans to get fit with my Mum, she always brings up weighing myself on the scales. The scales are a nightmare – I have a mortal fear of them and think they cause a lot of anxiety. I don’t blame my Mum for being the way she is about ‘losing weight’ or ‘weighing on the scales’, because we all get indoctrinated into these things. I just avoid the scales!

    It’s very frustrating talking about HAES or size acceptance/fat positivity with my family and friends because they don’t seem to get it, generally. It’s very sad because they would be so much more happier with themselves if they freed themselves of all the crap we get told about health and size etc. I’m happier with myself now than I’ve been for a long time, even though I know that I’m not fit (and would like to be!)! I too am glad that I stopped dieting because life is too short to spend it counting calories 🙂

    Yep PCOS is a minefield – because the advice is always lose weight, take metformin and dianette/yasmin or something like that. Not to mention that having a snail’s pace metabolism – my doctor has said that only exercise will be any use for me! I also agree about the clothes thing – I love all the clothes I have and I know if I lose weight I will have to spend hours adjusting/sewing/customising them or have to buy a whole new wardrobe – far too expensive!

    And good luck – I hope training and the run is fun! I’m rubbish at running, I like walking and cycling more. My calves tend to seize up if I attempt running for any length of time! And Rape Crisis really do need the money, so it’s a fantastic cause 🙂

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  4. Liz says:

    And wow, I wish I had a doctor like yours 😉

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  5. Anji says:

    My doctor didn’t give me any medication for the PCOS – her view on it is that those drugs are generally used to help women with PCOS who are having trouble conceiving, and as I’m not trying to conceive then she doesn’t want to load me up with a load more stuff to screw with my hormones. Not sure if she’s right or wrong on that but I dislike taking medication so I’m fairly happy with it.

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  6. Liz says:

    I think the dianette or yasmin are for the menstruation regulation thing – I get scattered/irregular periods so I’m taking Dianette, and because I have strange hormones – too much testosterone, I think. However, I think that a lot of women get irregular periods anyway so I am not too happy about being on one of the ‘pills’ because I get quite emotional when I am on them – sometimes I get quite pessimistic when I am on the pill 😦 So yeah, it probably would screw with hormones!

    Metformin, I am informed is for the insulin resistance and to help people ‘lose weight’! Insulin resistance can be controlled by exercise and good healthy eating so you don’t necessarily need to be on Metformin to sort out the insulin resistance.

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  7. Anji says:

    Ah, I have a contraceptive implant (it lasts three years and I have a year left) so I don’t have periods anyway, so regulating my periods wouldn’t be an issue. 😉

    Why are so many doctors so insistent that people lose weight? I have a friend who weights nine stone or so. Her doctor told her to lose a stone – her BMI was 21 so smack in the middle of ‘healthy’, but he was insistent that it should be around 18-19. So he wanted her to be borderline underweight, basically. Luckily she knows better than that, but I worry how many other people have believed that “doctor = GOD” thing that doctors like to perpetuate, and are starving themselves to the point of ill health as a result? Grrrrrr.

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  8. Sarah says:

    Bravo!! I think you’re right about embracing our natural size, and that rather than dieting we should all just eat healthily and exercise the way WE want to…not always what is recommended for “weight-loss” or whatever! I personally feel that it is the media that sometimes stirs up all these social conceptions of what is “normal” is terms of weight and pretty much everything to be honest, and it often comes down to how easily influenced a person is by what they read/see in the media. A lot of the time the views that develop to be damaging are instilled in us as teenagers – that time of our lives when we’re extremely self-conscious and are easily manipulated by the media and conceptions of what beauty/healthy bodies should look like…and in most cases (I would like to hope), young women (and even young men I think) will change their thinking as they get older and begin to accept themselves more – I know I have, I’m verging on a size 14/16 (UK) now…and one of the only reasons I’d like to get back down to a size 14 is because so many of my clothes are that size…and you know how much I love my clothes!! But seriously, I’m glad you have found HAES…and you’ve inspired me to do a bit of research myself now 🙂

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