Health at Every Size: How to Embrace Food Freedom and the Body You Have

Feb 15, 2024

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People often become frustrated after a period of dieting when their weight remains the same – — or begins to go up — even when consistently eating the same amount of food or meticulously counting calories.

This is not your fault. You’re not “bad” at dieting, and you didn’t fail. It’s quite the opposite: Diets fail people.

Moving away from diet culture ideals ingrained into our society that teach us we have to look a certain way can be challenging. However, embracing the Health at Every Size movement — or “HAES” — can help us embrace existing exactly as we are – which you deserve!

But what is HAES? Here’s a look at why we should focus less on weight and more on choosing a lifestyle that allows us to exist as we are.

Why Numbers Are Arbitrary

It’s not uncommon for people to focus on a number — or a set of numbers — regarding their weight, what they eat, and more.

From body weight to BMI, to calories, carbs or fat content in food, numbers linked with exercises, and more, there is no shortage of numbers for people to fixate on. Often, these numbers can be a defining factor for individuals’ happiness and success.

Many people think: “If I could just lose X pounds, then I’d be happy,” or “Once the scale says X, then I’ll be okay.”

However, these numbers don’t really tell us anything about ourselves — even if society often makes us feel like we’d be better if they were different.

Weight is truly just a number on a scale — it can’t tell you anything about your health, activity level, and other factors. This is the case for many other numbers we may fixate on, including BMI.

The BMI Lie

While BMI is somewhat of a medical standard, it was actually developed by Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, a mathematician. The formula was created to see if “the laws of probability could be applied to human beings at the population level” — and was never meant to be used clinically. ¹

As shared by NPR, Quetelet himself said it should not be used to measure people’s body composition levels. ²

Do you know how BMI is calculated? A person’s weight is simply divided by their height, squared. This does not at all factor in body type, composition, activity level, and many other factors that contribute to our overall health.

Research also shows that BMI generally is not a good indicator of mortality. ³ There are people who may be categorized in a “normal” range that may be very unhealthy, while those who are categorized as “overweight” or “obese” are in good health.

Furthermore, in 1998, the National Institute of Health suddenly changed the BMI categories. Many people who previously fell within a “healthy” range were suddenly “overweight” or “obese” despite their bodies not having changed at all. ⁴

Despite all of this, many doctors still use BMI to evaluate patients’ “health.”

Why Diets Are a Failure

“…The scale is to the dieter what the roulette wheel is to a chronic gambler. Get away from that mentality. Get away from the obsession with body image,” a doctor from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston said. ⁵

Dieting is a gamble. In fact, some forms of gambling have a better success rate than diets.⁶ However, you wouldn’t advise someone to gamble as a reliable way to make money.

In the late 1950s, Albert Stunkard, MD, wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of long-term weight loss. What he discovered may not have been shocking to him, but still surprises many people — including doctors — today: Over 95% of diets fail.

Stunkard’s study included 100 patients and set out to see if they were able to maintain weight loss. After two years, 98% of the people had regained weight. ⁷ ⁸

Since Stundard’s study over 60 years ago, other research has confirmed that weight loss is not maintainable long-term.

Other research in 1992 found that within five years, 90% to 95% of people regain lost weight. ⁹

Furthermore, a 2015 meta-analysis confirmed that after five years, around 95% to 98% of people regain lost weight. ¹º ¹¹ One meta-analysis evaluating 29 long-term weight loss studies found that “more than half of the lost weight was regained within two years, and by five years, more than 80% of lost weight was regained.” ¹²

So — why is this? It’s not a lack of willpower or determination; it’s the diets themselves.

Where Our Bodies Want To Be

Our bodies have a natural “set point” that can range a few sizes of where our bodies naturally want to be. When we try to drop below this point, our bodies will fight back in an effort to protect us — which is why many people cannot maintain weight loss despite trying to restrict their eating habits. ¹³

Around 70% of this set point is determined by genetics alone, research shows. ¹⁴

Diets may not only fail in keeping our bodies at a lower weight — they often actually cause our weight to go up, too, research shows. ¹⁵ There’s absolutely nothing wrong with our weight increasing — but landing in a cycle of trying to lessen the number on the scale and watching it go up can create an endless, frustrating cycle of dieting.

The meta-analysis on weight loss found: “As people progressively lose more and more weight, they fight an increasing battle against the biological responses that oppose further weight loss.” ¹⁶

These biological responses include:

  • As people lose increasing amounts of weight, their appetite may increase.
  • Over a prolonged period, weight loss — and maintenance of weight loss — becomes increasingly difficult as our metabolism decreases. Our bodies don’t want to keep losing weight as we’re in a state of starvation, which makes total sense!
  • This means even if you eat the same amount as you previously were when losing weight, your body won’t want to continue losing weight, and the numbers can even go back up.

This leads many people to fall into a cycle of weight loss and regain, frustration, and feeling like they’re doing something wrong.

While many doctors and other professionals view being in a heavier body as a “problem” and dieting and losing weight as a “solution,” it fails to examine the real truth: People do not fail diets. Diets themselves are failures.

Diet success almost never happens.

Diet culture, fatphobia, and a society that idolizes specific, generally thinner body types feed into the narrative that diets and weight loss are the end-all-be-all — even after time and time again, people struggle to lose weight and maintain a lower body weight.

However, it’s important to remember: People do not fail diets. Diets fail us.

So — how do we fix this problem? The solution lies not in finding the “one diet” that will work — it comes with embracing that our bodies are different and treating them with the love and respect they deserve.

When we eat in line with our hunger cues and intuitively care for our bodies, our bodies will naturally adjust in their desired set points — which can vary from person to person, as we’re all unique individuals of different shapes and sizes.

What Is the Health at Every Size Movement?

Health at Every Size — or “HAES” for short — acknowledges that people have bodies of all different sizes. And regardless of body size, all people deserve care.

Instead of focusing on a number and weight, the HAES model focuses on gently caring for ourselves and our bodies. HAES is anti-diet-culture and embraces a lifestyle that works for each of us individually.

But what is Health at Every Size?

The Association for Size Diversity and Health is currently working to update the HAES principles, but the five foundation blocks include: ¹⁷

  1. Weight inclusivity: Rejecting the idealization of specific body types and embracing diversity.
  2. Health Enhancement: Improving practices, policies, and access to all different kinds of resources and activities that truly improve people’s well-being.
  3. Eating for well-being: Embracing intuitive eating approaches and flexibility.
  4. Respectful care: Working to improve care and access to care for diverse groups of people while ending weight discrimination and supporting existing inequities.
  5. Life-enhancing movement: Instead of using movement to change body shape, size, or weight, supporting movement that people can joyfully engage in.

Stepping into the HAES movement allows us to embrace our bodies, treat them with respect, and fuel and move them in a way that feels good!

Starting Your HAES Journey

Starting a HAES journey and breaking away from diet culture can be scary. After all, the diet industry (and society in general) often make us feel wrong for wanting to break away from it.

But you don’t have to do it alone.

Choosing to embrace HAES — whether it’s to embrace HAES as part of your eating disorder treatment or generally find freedom — can help you live a life full of joy.

At Life Cycle Nutrition, our team of Dietitian Nutritionists fully embrace a HAES model to help you feel comfortable embracing a life of food freedom in your body, just as you deserve. We’ll provide HAES resources and education so you can confidently make choices that empower you to feel your best and be in tune with your body’s natural cues.

Schedule an appointment to get started on your food freedom journey today.

Citations

    1. Devlin, Keith. 2009. “Top 10 Reasons Why The BMI Is Bogus.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439.Stunkard, Albert J. and M McLAREN-HUME. “The results of treatment for obesity: a review of the literature and report of a series.” A.M.A. archives of internal medicine 103 1 (1959): 79-85.
    2. Harrison, Christy. 2021. In Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating, 35. New York, New York: Little, Brown Spark.
    3. Bacon, Linda, and Lucy Aphramor. 2011. “Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift.” Nutrition Journal 10, no. 9 (January). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9.
    4. Harrison, Anti-Diet, 43-44.
    5. Harrison, Anti-Diet, 42.
    6. Borgata Online. 2023. “What Percentage of Gamblers Win at Casinos?” Borgata Online. https://casino.borgataonline.com/en/blog/what-percentage-of-gamblers-win-at-casinos/.
    7. Strunkard, Albert J. 1959. “The results of treatment for obesity: a review of the literature and report of a series.” AMA Archives of Internal Medicine 103 (January): 79-85. 10.1001/archinte.1959.00270010085011.
    8. Harrison, Anti-Diet, 85-87.
    9. Brody, Jane E. 1992. “Panel Criticizes Weight-Loss programs.” The New York Times, April 2, 1992. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/02/us/panel-criticizes-weight-loss-programs.html.
    10. Fildes, Alison, et al. 2015. “Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records.” American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 9 (September): 54-59. 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302773.
    11. Harrison, Anti-Diet, 89.
    12. Hall, Kevin D., and Scott Kahan. 2019. “Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity.” Medical Clinics of North America 102, no. 1 (January): 183-197. 10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012.
    13. Harrison, Anti-Diet, 93-96.
  • Logel, Christine, Danu A. Stinson, and Paula M. Brochu. 2015. “Weight Loss Is Not the Answer: A Well-being Solution to the “Obesity Problem.”” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 9, no. 12 (December): 678-695. 10.1111/spc3.12223.
  1. Mann, Traci, et al. 2007. “Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer.” American Psychologist 62, no. 3 (April): 220-233. 10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220.
  2. Hall and Kahan, “Maintenance of lost weight,” 2017.
  3. Association for Size Diversity and Health. 2020. “Health at Every Size® (HAES®) Principles.” ASDAH. https://asdah.org/health-at-every-size-haes-approach/.

 

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