Nearly three-quarters of American adults are overweight or obese. Health professionals are taught that being overweight is associated with increased risk of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Perhaps this is why people who have an overweight or obese Body Mass Index (BMI) receive guidance focused on losing weight. The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement pushes back on a weight-focused approach and aims to define health in a more inclusive way. It is gaining traction with nutrition professionals, especially online, so we thought we would share a brief overview.
The Health at Every Size Approach
The HAES approach promotes acceptance and appreciation of one’s body, even if you are overweight. It encourages overweight people to focus on healthful behaviors instead of trying to lose weight using traditional, restrictive diet programs. Such programs lack evidence for sustained weight loss and carry their own health risks.
The goal is to be as healthy as you can at whatever weight you are, both physically and emotionally. To achieve this, you focus on behaviors like eating a healthful diet (but not restricting intake), physical activity, getting the proper amount of sleep, stress management, finding the joy in life. Food intake follows intuitive eating strategies: you follow hunger cues and eat mindfully.
What’s the goal of HAES?
Overall, HAES aims to fight weight stigma, respect size diversity, and improve care to overweight people. HAES recognizes there are inequities in the U.S. health care system that impact people’s health and the care they receive. It considers social determinants of health, including education and income levels, neighborhood environment, discrimination, and access to health care and healthy food. HAES calls for the adoption of health policies and practices that support health and well-being without requiring a change in body size or shape. It also advocates for the right to enjoyable physical activity for people of all sizes, abilities, and interests.
HAES is a registered trademark of the Associations for Size Diversity and Health. The HAES approach is endorsed by The Academy for Eating Disorders; Binge Eating Disorders Association; Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action; International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals; and the National Eating Disorder Association.
How HAES Addresses Weight
An important distinction that HAES advocates make is they are not claiming that everyone is healthy no matter their size. They contend that there are many ways to measure health and suggest body weight and BMI be used more as a marker of size, rather than a proxy for health. They point out that these measures do not consider body composition, so they do not distinguish between body fat and lean mass. Also, that the conventional criteria for healthy body weight is primarily on White body types, which may not be appropriate for people of all races and ethnicities.
Criticism of HAES
The HAES movement has received criticism for its approach to weight given the significant health, economic, and societal consequences of obesity. HAES advocates say they are not anti-weight loss or trying to promote obesity. Instead of prescribing weight loss as an intervention, they prefer to help overweight people adopt healthful behaviors that improve symptoms and quality of life. They recognize that people differ widely in terms of body size, shape, and appearance. They celebrate that to reduce weight stigma and bias as well as disordered eating and exercise behaviors.
Guiding Stars and HAES
Guiding Stars does not take an official stance on how any individual should manage their own weight journey. If you are following an HAES approach, however, we can help! Our approach to nutrition has always been to paint a positive, easy path towards better nutrition for everyone. Improving the quality of your nutrition is consistent with the goal of building healthful habits, regardless of your weight focus. Guiding Stars makes it effortlessly easy to pick the most nutritious options among the foods you’re shopping for. Just look for one, two, or three Guiding Stars to point the way to foods with good, better, and best nutrition.