September 21, 2012 • In web :: Features
Health at Every Size
I am what nutritionist Michelle Allison, known professionally as The Fat Nutritionist, calls a “dieting casualty.” From the time I was 16 and joined Weight Watchers for the first time to the day I decided to give up dieting forever when I was 23, I lived in a cycle of weight losses and gains, diet after diet, exercise for penance and “cheat days” for pleasure. I never thought I was thin enough, even when friends started to insist I was really very thin and should probably stop striving to be even thinner. I pursued thinness at all costs, trusting that temporary side-effects like dizziness, nausea, constant preoccupation with food and inability to focus were necessary to achieving my goals. After all, these effects were temporary, but being thin would make me healthier and happier - right?
It may not be quite that simple. There is an increasingly accepted philosophy and movement called Health At Every Size (HAES), that disagrees with the popular notion that being thin is always healthier than being fat.
Body size doesn’t tell the whole story about someone’s health; markers such as blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar vary over populations regardless of weight. People who are thin also develop conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, even though popular media and health promotion associates these diseases with obesity. Weight is greatly affected by genetic factors and is not easily altered either up or down by altering food or exercise.
The idea that you can learn about a person’s health by looking at them is also fraught with ableism. How do we measure and value health? Is someone less healthy if they have a visible disability? If they have an invisible disability? When a conventional definition of “healthy” is the ideal, people with disabilities and chronic illness might never meet these ideals. And for people who don’t conform to this ideal, there’s a really dangerous, slippery-slope kind of moralizing going on. There is a strong sense of individual responsibility in the way we are taught about health, and it puts pressure on people to conform to societally-approved, superficial markers: thin, able-bodied, fit and neurotypical people are considered healthiest, and people who aren’t healthy are considered somehow less-than.
From the Health at Every Size website:
Health at Every Size is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:
- Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
- Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
- Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.
Let’s break down each of these tenets of Health at Every Size and explore them a little further.