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You’ve probably heard about it by now. As the “ditch the diet” chatter continues, the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach is getting some well-deserved attention too. A high profile article in the Huffington Post in September 2018 shined a lot of light on this philosophy and started the wave of questions among my clients, which I am still receiving up to this day. I’m lining out the five things that you should know and need to know about this movement for both a healthier body and mind.
1.) It’s backed by research. Research shows that individuals actually improve various health parameters when they ditch the diet mentality and focus on trusting their bodies. In fact, a study performed by Linda Bacon, PhD (Author of Health at Every Size) and her colleagues, focused on the health outcomes of two different groups of women and proved just this.
During the two year study, one group was supported with a HAES approach, teaching participants to accept their bodies and listen to its natural cues for hunger, fullness, and appetite. The other was provided with a standard diet approach. Two years later, the HAES group showed continued improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol (total and LDL levels), and depression, while also showing signs of improved self-esteem and feeling better about themselves. Despite showing initial improvements in health parameters and weight loss, the diet group returned to their starting point within the first year, showed signs of lower self-esteem, and had a lower retention rate with 41% of the group dropping out of the program. Talk about a difference in results.
2.) It’s gaining momentum for good reason. Despite good intentions, the typical diet approach can actually have negative impacts on our overall health. The gig is now up and it’s about time. Over the past decade, concerns have risen that our society’s focus on “weight” and “obesity” have actually created more issues than they’ve solved. Not only are we not healthier and weighing less, but the occurrence of food and body preoccupation, weight cycling, decreased self-esteem, eating disorders, weight discrimination, and other health disorders have increased.
3.) It doesn’t just forget about your health altogether. HAES doesn’t mean that your health isn’t a priority. It simply eliminates the ineffective “weight focused” approach and shifts clinician's and individual's entire focus to improving behaviors, what research shows it's really all about anyway. Despite what the media has made us believe, HAES reminds us that one’s weight isn’t the actual problem. Less healthy behaviors, like poor diet, inactivity, smoking, alcohol consumption, stress, etc. are.
4.) Weight loss can and may still occur. Weight is NOT the focus of the HAES approach. However, that doesn’t mean that weight loss doesn’t sometimes occur. Think of it as a potential ripple effect. Once we put the right behaviors in place, we know from research that they will have a direct positive effect on the health of our body. However, how these behaviors effect each individual’s weight isn’t as predictable (as we’ve all learned). In fact, dieting, in itself, has actually been found to be a strong predictor of future weight gain. Therefore, just the decreased emphasis of the HAES approach on dieting alone could help with future weight maintenance or loss.
5.) It can apply the concept to performance too. Health at every size is all about shifting from a focus on weight to a focus on behaviors, so why not do the same for performance outcomes? Just as there are unproven ideas out there about weight causing disease, unproven ideas exist around the link between weight and athletic performance, as well. And, I’m here to argue that it’s not about the weight.
Of course weight and body composition can be an important component to athletic performance. However, I would beg to differ that if the right behaviors, like training, nutrition, rest, sleep, and stress management, are all in place to support peak performance then the weight will naturally fall in a place that supports it also. This won’t just support performance for one season either, it will better support it for the long run. With this in mind, shift your focus from the scale to the field (or track, court, road, or whatever surface you compete on).
Want more information on Health at Every Size? Check out these great resources:
Everything you Know about Obesity is Wrong – Huffington Post
Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight – Buy on Amazon here
Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight – One of my favorite quick, body positive reads.
The Body Positive Program
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I'm Lexi, a Certified Sports Dietitian and Yoga Instructor. I work with individuals to help them reach optimum health and performance through balanced nutrition.