Sunday, July 6, 2008

The "Health At Every Size" Paradigm

Many people think in extremes when thinking about weight issues. Either a person is fit and healthy and "normal-sized," or they are fat, unhealthy, sedentary and eating excessively.

However, there is a different approach in the fat-acceptance movement. This is the "Health At Every Size" paradigm (HAES). This approach rejects dieting to lose weight to fit into the narrow definitions of "normal" weight, but it doesn't mean "giving up on yourself" either. Instead, it is a weight-neutral approach to good health, focusing on behavior and self-concept instead of on the number on a scale.

The Health At Every Size paradigm emphasizes accepting and loving yourself as you are, learning to enjoy and practice physical activity regularly (but for the joy and health of moving, not as a means to weight loss), normalizing eating to eliminate restriction/over-indulging as a person moves toward a more physiological response to hunger, and focusing on overall health in mind and in body.

The Wikipedia entry summarizes it succinctly. The major components of HAES, as described by Jon Robison, are:

  • Self-Acceptance: Affirmation and reinforcement of human beauty and worth irrespective of differences in weight, physical size and shape.
  • Physical Activity: Support for increasing social, pleasure-based movement for enjoyment and enhanced quality of life.
  • Normalized Eating: Support for discarding externally-imposed rules and regimens for eating and attaining a more peaceful relationship with food by relearning to eat in response to physiological hunger and fullness cues.

The entry continues:

HAES advocates generally do not believe that the same narrow weight range (or BMI range) is maximally healthy for every individual. Rather, the HAES approach is that as individuals include physical activity in their lives, and eat in response to physical cues rather than emotional cues, they will settle towards their own, personal ideal weights. These weights, however, can be higher or lower than those described by standard medical guidelines.

The HAES size approach recognizes that people come in all shapes and sizes naturally, and that some people will never fit into the "normal" weight ranges as they are currently defined, despite leading perfectly healthy lives. Instead, the HAES approach redefines "ideal" or "normal" body weights. From
Instead of defining healthy weight with numbers, charts or BMI, it is defined in terms of the natural diversity of weight. Steven Hawks and Julie Gast, associate professors at Utah State University, define healthy weight as the natural weight the body adopts, given a healthy diet and meaningful levels of physical activity
The Health at Every Size movement embraces the following concepts:
  • Accept and respect your own and others’ unique traits and talents; celebrate diversity.
  • Healthy lifestyle is achievable for everyone, unlike so-called “ideal weight.”
  • Enjoy physical activity every day, your own way, as natural and beneficial.
  • Enjoy eating well; rediscover normal eating — tune in to hunger, appetite and fullness.
  • Enjoy full nutrition without dieting; honor balance and variety; all foods can fit.
  • Focus on wellness in body, mind and spirit, on overall health and well-being.

An excellent summary of the HAES paradigm is at Another summary of the HAES tenets is at They summarize it as:

  • Health enhancement—attention to emotional, physical and spiritual well-being without focus on weight loss or achieving a specific “ideal weight”
  • Size and self-acceptance—respect and appreciation for the wonderful diversity of body shapes and sizes (including one's own!), rather than the pursuit of an idealized weight or shape
  • The pleasure of eating well—eating based on internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, rather than on external food plans or diets
  • The joy of movement—encouraging all physical activities for the associated pleasure and health benefits, rather than following a specific routine of regimented exercise for the primary purpose of weight loss
  • An end to weight bias—recognition that body shape, size and/or weight are not evidence of any particular way of eating, level of physical activity, personality, psychological issue or moral character; confirmation that there is beauty and worth in EVERYbody

More on Health At Every Size (HAES) in future posts..........


Anonymous said...

I really like this. Because the fact is, there are plenty of skinny people who don't eat enough vegetables too. Who eat mostly junk food. There are people who exercise all the time and are still overweight. There are people who are starving themselves and still can't lose weight. I actually lost about 35 pounds on a diet after my first child was born, and yet my stomach did not los a single inch. Not one. How frustrating! There's a lot more to weight, weight distribution, and health, than a lot of people think.

Melissa Showen said...

OH, there absolutely is so much more to it than so many people want to think. I get so tired of the "if you would just diet and move more" line. When are people going to add 2 and 2 and get 4? If it really WERE That easy, wouldn't we all be skinny??

Kmom, thanks for this site. I've spent the last few days going through the links in the sidebar and have been absolutely loving them.

Keep up the good work Mama! -Melissa

Well-Rounded Mama said...

Melissa, good to see you here!! I'm glad you are liking the links on the side. More to come!! Keep checking back.