After I tell people that I support Health At Every Size (R) and after I explain what Health At Every Size is, people often share with me their fear that if they ever stopped strictly policing their body size, their food intake and their calories burned, they will grow “big as a house” and they will “never stop eating”. Now this fear is natural. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we are just one chocolate chip cookie away from total body apocalypse and that only constant, fierce and consistent vigilance will keep us from serious medical harm. There’s a $60 billion dollar diet industry as well as an unbelievably huge system of bariatric surgery and drugs and research grants and public health initiatives to support the notion that if we take our eyes off the thin body prize for even a moment, all hell will break loose.
Except, in my experience, it kind of doesn’t.
Some recent research coming out of Australia, seems to support the notion that Health At Every Size and Size Acceptance does NOT generally lead to giving up on health altogether. “The Role of the Fatosphere in Fat Adults’ Responses to Obesity Stigma: A Model of Empowerment Without a Focus on Weight Loss” details interviews with 44 bloggers in the “Fatosphere”. The subjects of these interviews often talked about moving from a reactive response to stigma (attempting weight loss to conform to societal norms) towards a proactive approach to stigma (recognizing stigma, reframing fat, and focus on self-acceptance). These bloggers described significant improvements in well being as a result of being associated with the size acceptance community and taking a direct approach to dealing with shame and stigma.
Granted, we’re only talking about 44 bloggers here. This is hardly a representative sample of fat people all over the world. But it does seem to map to my experience. For a short time after I declared all foods legal and nothing off limits I ate a LOT of cookies and chips and pizza. But after not very long, the bloom was off the rose. I found I really didn’t want another candy bar. I wanted broccoli. I wanted chicken. I wanted whole wheat bread and peanut butter. I wanted real food. Once the “forbidden” label was removed from foods, I found I could often take them or leave them. I could eat one cookie. I could eat 3 potato chips. Because you know what? I knew I could have them again whenever I wanted them.
Once I removed the notion of punishment from my physical activities and started focusing on finding exercise that was fun, I started enjoying my workouts a whole lot more. Rather than dragging myself up onto the treadmill and burning an arbitrary number of calories, I called the dog and we went outside for walkies. I got my heart pumping. I bumped up my Vitamin D levels. And I HAD FUN. When I accepted that I no longer had to do exercise that I hated, I found myself free to focus on fitness that I loved. I learned to look forward to workouts again.
Clearly I’m citing anecdotal evidence here. But there is plenty of other research by amazing people like Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor that explains what happens when people lose their obsession with weight loss and start focusing on the Health At Every Size approach to wellness. What happens is that folks get happier and generally healthier all without the nasty side effects of disordered eating, weight cycling and depression so common to the traditional diet-based approach.
So after I tell people about Health At Every Size and after people tell me that they can’t support HAES because they would lose all control and would wind up desperately unhappy and unhealthy, I still have an ace up my sleeve.
I share the overwhelming evidence that the HAES (R) approach typically leaves people at a weight that is natural for them with a body that is healthier and with a mind that is happier than ever before.
Seems like a safe bet to me.
The Fat Chick
This matches my experience. The more I ‘let go’ of dieting nonsense and embrace the real care for my body, the happier and healthier I am. My last physical (earlier this week) bore this out: my weight is stable, my blood pressure and cholesterol are right where they should be, and all is well. There’s a family history of diabetes and it may get me someday, but apparently not just yet. And all this while eating intuitively and exercising for fun! Who knew?