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What You Need To Know About “Health At Every Size”

Photo: daveynin/Flickr.

If you’ve spent any time online recently, you’ve probably come across the phrase “health at every size.”What does that mean? Let’s unpack the movement and what it means for your health.

While there has been a recent resurgence of the HAES movement, it actually began in the late 1960’s with a Saturday Evening Post article called “More People Should Be Fat!” by Lew Louderback. In it, Louderback argued that aggressive dieting for the sake of appearances caused both physical and emotional trauma, resulting in an inherently unhealthy lifestyle and attitude. Further, dieting achieved only temporary effects on weight without changing health in any substantive way. When he stopped dieting, Louderback confessed, he felt better and started choosing healthier foods because he actually wanted them, not because he was being forced to eat them.

Louderback influenced a long list of anti-diet, health-related books throughout the ’70’s and ’80’s. Many of these books relied on the idea of “set weight points.” This idea suggests that our genes express body mass in a certain pre-determined way, including weight, and that unless influenced by diet, our bodies naturally gravitate toward a range of weight without rising or falling too much. Like HAES, set point theory is highly controversial. But the theory itself has been around for so long that it’s become a part of fitness culture.

Recently, the HAES movement has re-identified itself online as a new peace movement, focused on “accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes,” and “eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure an honours internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.” This movement has manifested in several Tumblr-and Pinterest-based communities, with posts like “Food is not the enemy; self-hate is,” or “Your body is wonderful — any other message is a lie,” appearing regularly.

In a culture dominated by a single intertwined definition of beauty and health, messages like those are pretty revolutionary. And revolutionary is good — sometimes we need to be kicked out of “common sense” patterns of thinking, especially if those patterns include self-loathing and other negativity. But does accepting yourself for who you are mean you have to become part of a movement? Not unless it works for you.

The most important movement you can join is your own.There are multiple paths to health, and multiple kinds of health: physical, mental, sexual, just to name a few. You have to find the right balance and the right road for you as an individual. If that means accepting your body at its current size, go for it! If that means setting a goal and working toward it, then we wish you all the luck in the world – and we can help, of course. Achieving total health starts with making small changes that have nothing to do with weight and everything to do with making choices backed up by years of evidence: getting more sleep, drinking more water, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of colours, meditating…there are all kinds of ways to improve your everyday life that have nothing to do with the number on the scale.