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As I started writing this blog, it was extremely difficult to get all my thoughts down on paper.
Partially because I have an emotional investment and it took me a bit to sift through my own thoughts and emotions surrounding this topic. I think there’s so much I want to cover and it’s so difficult to do that in just one blog!
I’ve been wanting to write this for quite some time to “bust myths” surrounding the Health At Every Size (HAES) paradigm and anti-diet framework.
If you’ve searched around our site at all, you’ll see Bobbi and I are 110% aligned with the principles underlying Health at Every Size and anti-diet. I originally wanted to write 2 blogs. One about myths of anti-dieting and one about the myths of health at every size. Although they are different philosophies, they’re also deeply intertwined, so being HAES aligned also means being anti-diet aligned (or some like to use non-diet) and vice versa.
I began this blog wanting to write about solely “myths surrounding Health at Every Size”; however, I found myself often mentioning anti-diet. So, hey, maybe it just made sense to combine them!
I think Health At Every Size can be a difficult paradigm to accept, especially living in our fat-phobic society.
But, Health At Every Size has the same goal as any other approach: wanting to support our clients in living happy and healthy lives. The difference? HAES doesn’t believe that this can (or should) be achieved by focusing on weight and body size. HAES (and anti-diet) wants to remove this focus.
It’s also important to note, Health At Every Size providers generally accept health is not a moral obligation. What does a HAES provider focus on then? Literally everything else across the health spectrum (sleep, food, movement, emotional health…etc).
Sidenote: there are also huge discrepancies in health across lower and higher socioeconomic statuses. I do not touch on this issue in this blog, although I am continually learning more about this. Genetics also play a role. So “health” is based on so much more than food and exercise.
So, what are some Health At Every Size/anti-diet myths I frequently hear?
1. HAES/anti-diet practitioners judge people if they want to lose weight
This one is probably my least favourite out of all of the “myths.” It truly hurts my heart to think people believe anti-diet dietitians are also judgmental, especially toward our clients. Even though I do not promote weight loss or weight management practices, I have so much compassion for those who want to lose weight or who are pursuing weight loss.
Our culture is extremely fatphobic. It makes complete sense why someone in a larger body would want to lose weight. Perhaps they’re tired of hearing comments from a doctor or family members or even strangers. Perhaps they want to feel more comfortable in clothes or to be able to shop in mainstream stores. Or perhaps they are tired of feeling like their bodies are being judged. I can also understand why someone in a smaller body would want to lose or maintain weight. They are also part of our fat-phobic culture and worry about the shame that is associated with weight change.
So, despite the fact that I do not promote weight loss. I still want to hear each of my clients’ stories. They know themselves and their bodies best. I don’t know what it’s like to be them and to experience life in their bodies. So by being curious and asking questions, I can be a better member of their team. It’s my job to support them in truly believing their bodies are not wrong (despite society’s messages). And that if health is something they are truly searching for, they can get there without changing the shape and size of their bodies.
2. The anti-diet approach is black and white
I recently posted on Instagram about this myth. Here’s what I said:
“In fact it’s actually quite the opposite. I’ve been hearing this recently. This whole idea that HAES/anti-diet is a dichotomous way of thinking. And quite honestly I couldn’t disagree more. How can an approach that is based on treating all bodies with respect and supporting the individual to trust their bodies be “black and white”? While yes, anti diet does reject diet culture and its messages. It also understands how/why the promise of weight loss is so intoxicating. And it does not reject anyone who wants to diet or wants to lose weight. In this approach, (aka basically intuitive eating) one learns how to re listen to their bodies natural signals (when it comes to hunger/fullness, movement/rest, sleep/being alert, cravings….etc) And there are absolutely no rules. And absolutely no judgement. When you’re listening to your body’s signals. You can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Sometimes that includes eating more than you’re hungry for and sometimes less. Sometimes that means eating a “comfortable” amount. All types of foods are on the table (see what I did there )”
3. But what if someone “needs to lose weight” to be healthy?
I mean, after all, weight loss is the best way to be healthy? Well, in HAES, no one “needs to lose weight” in order to be healthy. Firstly, it’s extremely important to remember there are zero studies that show us weight loss is sustainable. People gain weight back. So even IF weight loss made people healthier, it’s not going to last.
And secondly, one could argue recommending weight loss is unethical.
Studies show a correlation between body size and certain diseases. But, correlation does not mean causation.
We also know that weight stigma and weight cycling have a huge negative impact and a strong positive relationship to diseases that are often blamed on body size. Aka the more cycling/stigma, the more of an increase in disease/disease risk. So how do we know the weight stigma/cycling isn’t actually to blame?
There are far more harmful effects from dieting. So not only are people gaining weight back*, but they are also at a higher risk of disease, emotional distress, eating disorders, malnutrition…etc.
*NOTE: Weight gain in itself is not a bad thing. It’s not anyone’s “fault” if they gained the weight back after dieting. The diet was set up to fail from the very beginning. I like to point out weight gain after dieting because the very “problem” the diet promised to “solve” isn’t actually being solved by the diet!!
Instead of focusing on decreasing weight, ask yourself how you can shift the focus to improving your relationship with food and body.
This means nourishing the body, eating when hungry, enjoying foods, eating a variety of foods including the foods you crave, moving the body for fun, getting enough sleep, being compassionate toward yourself and others, respecting boundaries… What else would you add to this list?
4. Anti-diet and HAES can only be applied in cases of disordered eating, not MNT (medical nutrition therapy).
“Anti-diet does not mean anti-MNT.” -Christy Harrison, MPH, RDN, CDN.
What does anti-diet dietitian really mean? I love Christy’s blog “Why I’m an Anti-diet Dietitian and What that REALLY Means.” She gives a beautiful definition of “anti-diet,” what a “diet” actually is, and clears up some misconceptions of “anti-diet.”
There are plenty of anti-diet dietitians out there who do beautiful MNT work and still do NOT prescribe diets. Take diabetes for example. How can someone eat to manage blood sugars? (without focusing on weight). Well… 1) eating regularly throughout the day, 2) having a balance of protein, carbs and fats at meals and snacks, 3) drinking water, 4) engaging in joyful movement, 5) getting sleep, 6) self-care, 7) taking medications appropriately.
There’s plenty more someone can do. And NONE of these involve focusing on the number on the scale.
We need to stop equating intentional food restriction with health and wellness.
For so long, our medical community’s default answer to many illnesses is “lose weight.” (Please see myth #3 as to why weight loss isn’t the answer). But it’s just not “working.” We need to start shifting the paradigm.
It’s 100% possible to nourish yourself, even with a disease, without focusing on the scale.
In fact, I feel that in letting go of the scale, you can find a freer and peaceful sense of nourishment.
What are other HAES/anti-diet myths you’ve heard? Comment below or submit them to Libero’s Ask an Expert Column!
Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD is an eating disorder dietitian in private practice in College Park and Columbia, MD. Alex specializes in treating individuals struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. She practices from an intuitive eating model and enjoys working with individuals to improve body image. She is a passionate Health at Every Size © advocate and anti-diet dietitian. Alex provides eating disorder nutrition counselling in College Park and Columbia, MD. Alex's College Park office is within walking distance from the University of Maryland.
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