Diet, exercise, weight loss, health, nutrition: all are words that are prominent in today’s culture. Society has become transfixed on ways to increase health. Whether it be through a certain meal plan, exercise regimen or a loss of “x” amount of weight, media promote various recommendations to increase health. Currently, doctors, media and health courses focus on BMI and weight as an indicator of health. Concerns about people who are regarded as “overweight” and “obese” are still being addressed by a diverse range of interventions to reduce BMI, and it is encouraged that weight loss is a way to increase individual and population health. However, while traditional weight loss approaches involve calorie restriction and increased energy expenditure, new research is beginning to show these approaches towards health improvement are inconsistent. In fact, weight is not linked to or a determinant of health; on the contrary, research is beginning to show that some overweight individuals are actually healthier than their “normal” weight counterparts. Traditional health improvement tactics that typically involve recommendation of weight loss are not in line with stated goals of improving health. Given these inconsistencies, an alternative and weight-neutral approach to improve health and well-being is emerging — a concept introduced as “Health at Every Size.”
Health at Every Size (HAES) was coined by Linda Bacon, Ph.D, a health professor and researcher holding graduate degrees in physiology, psychology and exercise metabolism, with a specialty in nutrition. HAES strives to promote health behaviors such as body acceptance, intuitive eating and active embodiment for people of all sizes without using weight as a mediator of health. It disputes the claim that dieting and weight loss behaviors are the solution for the “problem” of obesity and contends that this approach has become more harmful than effective. The weight-focused paradigm has been shown to be not only ineffective, as 95 percent of diets do not work for weight loss long-term, but also damaging. This approach contributes to food and body preoccupation, cycles of weight loss and regain which have a worse effect on health than maintaining a higher weight, and reduced self-esteem, eating disorders and other health detriments. Health at Every Size calls for a paradigm shift that moves the focus from weight management to improved health behaviors for people of all sizes without weight as a mediator. This weight-neutral approach to health emphasizes that in “learning to value their bodies as they are right now… people strengthen their ability to take care of themselves and sustain improvements in health behavior.” This is in direct contrast to most approaches, which use shame, guilt or discontentment to force change. HAES focuses on self-love, as research has shown that what motivates people to change behaviors, thus improving health, are not approaches infused with shame but rather approaches encouraging self-acceptance and health behaviors as a form of self-care. Even more so, evidence has shown that HAES is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in physiological measures, health behaviors and psychosocial outcomes. No studies have found adverse changes in any variables with a HAES approach.