Diet culture teaches us that the only way to be healthy is to have a thin body…but if you happen to not live in a thin body then the only way to become healthy is to lose weight…
But this is not true!
Diet’s lead to more health and weight problems
Studies actually show that dieting makes your health and weight worse long term.
Yo-yo dieting is linked to increasing rates of obesity, diabetes type 2, insulin resistance, cancer, bone fractures, heart disease, higher blood pressure, inflammation, increased mortality, and long term weight gain.
Yes, we can all lose weight by dieting, by eating less and starving our bodies, but a lower weight doesn’t make us automatically healthy.
Diets don’t work and are extremely stressful for the body and come with a long list of negative side-effects. See more HERE.
Dieting is also one of the biggest triggers for a full-blown eating disorder. Where is the health in that??
BUT there is one much better approach to health than dieting – the Health At Every Size approach.
What is Health At Every Size (HAES)?
Health At Every Size is a weight-neutral approach to health care. It promotes healthy behaviors like enjoyable body movement, intuitive eating, body-acceptance without the focus on weight loss or weight control. It also celebrates body positivity, body diversity, and stands for social justice.
HAES approach was popularized by Linda Bacon who wrote the book “Health At Every Size” but the origin of HAES goes back to the 1970s, so it’s not a new concept actually.
Get the book “Health At Every Size” By Linda Bacon HERE.
HAES doesn’t use weight or the BMI number as a proxy for health. Because our BMI number actually can’t be an accurate representation of our health. BMI doesn’t tell you anything about your health parameters, health behaviors, or activity levels. It doesn’t say anything about your genetic makeup or take into account so many other things that affect our health – like early childhood development, level of education, financial health, employment, food security, having social support, and access to housing and healthcare. Also, it doesn’t reflect our mental health…so as you can see there are so many factors to health, than just our weight, size, and the BMI number.
And please see my post about “8 Reasons Why BMI Doesn’t Reflect Health” HERE.
HEAS also stands for stopping weight stigma and discrimination based on body size. Because in our culture many people are discriminated against because they live in larger bodies. And weight discrimination is shown to make people’s health worse, not better.
Focusing on our weight is rather damaging which can result in eating disorders, self-hatred, discrimination. It just increases our stress levels that will NOT make us healthy. Just the stress of living in a larger body and the discrimination people face because of it can cause health problems. Poor body image, internalized weight bias, and body shame are major sources of stress and can contribute to poor mental and medical outcomes.
Tp learn more about how stress affects your health and weight negatively see more HERE.
So HAES strongly stands against weight discrimination as everyone serves equal respect and everybody is worthy regardless of their body size.
And keep in mind that HEAS doesn’t say that people of all sizes are automatically healthy – it’s not true because even a thin person can be very unhealthy despite being thin. But what HAES promotes is adopting healthy behaviors regardless of your size. So there is an important distinction there.
And a study was done on HAES that actually shows that you CAN improve your health by adopting those healthy behaviors without focusing on weight loss.
So now we will look into the scientific evidence of why the HAES program is a better approach to health than weight loss dieting, regardless of your body size.
The author of the book, Linda Bacon, set up an experiment to find proof to her own scientific research. She wanted to see for herself if her findings hold true in real life with real people.
She teamed up with another scientist Judith S. Stern who is actually rather a supporter of dieting and weight loss based on her own work, so I feel like she was the perfect partner making sure the study results are correct and not affected by Linda Bacons own bias. And Linda Bacon asked two other obesity researchers to join the team as well.
The Set-Up Of The Study
70 women were chosen for the study. All of their BMI was over 30 so it fit the medical definition of “obese”. Most of those women had already tried numerous diets throughout their life and yet none of it ever worked and they were desperate to come to this study in the hopes that it would be a study aimed at weight loss. But it wasn’t.
To conduct the study the women were randomly divided into 2 groups:
1. The Conventional Diet group
They received conventional messages about dieting and attitudes towards their bodies. They moderately restricted fat and calories, monitored their food using a food diary, and were encouraged to weigh themselves weekly. They were encouraged to walk and exercise. They learned to count fat grams, understand food labels, and shop for food. They were taught about the benefits of exercise and behavioral strategies for success. They were encouraged to lose weight slowly. This group was led by an experienced dietitian.
2. The HAES (Health At Every Size) group
Their initial meeting focused on enhancing body acceptance and self-acceptance and to lead a full life as possible, regardless of weight. The goal was to first disconnect their feelings of self-worth from their weight before jumping in to talk about food, activity, or other lifestyle choices. This group was led by Linda Bacon herself.
1. The Conventional Diet group
They remained restricted eaters. They showed some initial weight loss and health improvements BUT they didn’t sustain those improvements, or the weight loss, long-term. So after some time, they were back to their previous size – a full year of depriving themselves and watching their weight and food resulted in nothing. Over time the health benefits they initially saw either stayed how it was before the study or it actually got even worse. Almost half the dieters dropped out of the study (because it’s not sustainable!) They had worse self-esteem when they started.
2. The HAES (Health At Every Size) group
The HAES group won hands down and showed phenomenally better results than the conventional diet group. These women no longer struggled with food. They had moved from dieting to intuitive eating – free to eat what they wanted when they wanted. They showed signs of improved cholesterol levels and blood pressure. They were physically active not because they “had to” move but because they enjoyed it now. They also showed better body image and self-esteem.
But did the HAES group lost weight?
No, at least not enough that is considered scientifically significant. But the dieting group didn’t as well. Yes, they lost weight initially, but then they gained it all back.
But the good news is that the HAES group kept all their health improvements, activity levels, life quality, and positive mental changes. But the dieting group’s physical and mental health was worse after the study.
So I hope you can see now how, yes, we can all lose weight by dieting and also may have some initial health improvements…BUT it’s only for the short-term because our body will start fighting back the weight loss as dieting is not sustainable for long-term. And the initial positive health benefits we might see with weight loss are only short-lived because studies show our physical and mental health gets worse with dieting.
And now you know why HAES is a better approach to health, regardless of your weight, because you will see health improvements by adopting this approach and its sustainable long-term.
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