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Health at every size (HAES): The mantra you need to adopt

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

Summertime is upon us. This beautiful season manifests as warmth and longer days, outdoor gatherings and vacations, beach visits and sun kissed skin. But these very blessings can bring with them a disempowering, subversive undertone. If you feel scared to wear a bathing suit, to create enduring memories because of perceived saggy arms or a wobbly bottom, or are even slightly uncomfortable in your wonderful skin, you’re not alone. Society is hell bent on making you feel less than; in keeping you small. Why do you think the accepted female ideal is diminutive, the male ideal is muscle bound, and no-one else is represented? Body image issues are propagated to maintain your attention and sap your power. Sadly common, summer raises insecurities to the surface. But, there is an incredible, evidence-based approach that speaks truth and offers a different path: Health At Every Size, or HAES. As an article published in the American Journal of Public Health said: A… HAES… approach has been proposed to address weight bias and stigma in individuals living with obesity, and more recently articulated as a promising public health approach beyond the prevailing focus on weight status as a health outcome. Shortly, we’ll explore how Health At Every Size can help you overcome feelings of inadequacy to live a satisfying life in a body you adore. But first, we need to unpick a well propagated lie…

The truth about Body Mass Index (BMI) If you’ve been told, maybe even believe, that BMI is the key to a healthy body and life, you’ve been duped. This 1830s equation was developed by Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, a Belgian astronomer, mathematician, and sociologist (not a health expert): weight in pounds divided by height in inches squared, multiplied by 703. This single formula is used by many to designate underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese or morbidly obese. Some health professionals apply it with errant gusto, happy to label people and prescribe advice accordingly. But, what if it’s wrong? BMI lumps young and old, men and women, sedentary and athletic people into a single class. This has a number of flaws. A 1972 study concluded that, “Body mass index seems preferable over other indices of relative weight.” But, and it’s a big but, the research was solely conducted on ‘healthy’ men. I’m sure you’ve noticed; the bodies of men and women are rather different. In the past, overweight was defined for men as BMI ≥27.8 kg/m2, and for women as BMI ≥27.3. There was a noticeable difference. But, this doesn’t touch on other important points… I believe it is an oddity to expect the human body, with its vast variance, to fall into such neat BMI distinctions. Plus… Fat distribution matters; BMI does not consider this. A professional body builder has significant muscle bulk; BMI does not consider this. Nor that, according to an article published in the journal, Science, “Some studies have suggested that obesity as defined by body mass index [BMI] improves survival under certain conditions.” Anything deemed to fall outside the ‘healthy weight’ label is often wielded as a weapon to bully and belittle; to create body image issues and disempower. I talk more about BMI is my book, Engage Your Core and Other Lessons for a Healthy, Happy and Well Lived Life. Needless to say, I feel this crude measure should be set aside. This is where Health At Every Size comes in. Health At Every Size HAES intuitively makes a great deal of sense. It has two key elements; addressing the bias and stigma people judged obese face, and focusing on real health rather than weight as the defining factor. This wonderful alternative proposes that we seek body acceptance, incorporate intuitive eating, and enjoy active embodiment. In short, that we love ourselves as we are, trust our bodies to tell us what we need and when, and adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes enjoyable movement.

When we think healthy thoughts, when we move regularly, and when we eat well 80% of the time, we find a sustainable lifestyle that loves us back. And realistically, eating food for fuel-only doesn’t work. Many families (mine included) celebrate with food. Food is meant to be enjoyed, especially with family and friends. It shouldn’t fall into bad or good categories. This switch in approach creates a loving relationship with our human frames. It also allows the space and detachment to seek to discover the root of our behaviors; those that drive less healthful choices in the first place. But does it work? Research has shown that HAES: — reduces psychological distress — increases heart and lung fitness — raised metabolic fitness (blood pressure and lipids) — improves eating behavior — elevates self-esteem — lowers depression — enhances body image — decreases susceptibility to hunger It also empowers people to maintain positive health-giving changes over the longer term, one of the big struggles with a diet-based approach. Amazing! So, how can you incorporate this approach into your lifestyle and give up dieting for good? How to begin your Health At Every Size journey? As your journey continues, your thoughts and actions will change. So will your body. This is natural and why this approach works so well: your decisions will come from joyful self-love rather than loathing and deprivation, falling off the wagon and guilt. Here are my top seven steps… 1. Love and appreciate your body exactly as it is now. As you learn to adore yourself, you become empowered and inspired to implement healthy changes, if you wish. 2. Cultivate self-trust. You are innately wired for your best self. But media and outside pressures can strip your ability to hear your inner dialogue and make appropriate decisions. By developing confidence in your internal signals you will, over time, know exactly what you need and when. 3. Engage in exercise you enjoy. Walking, waltzing, kayaking, pole dancing, rock climbing, martial arts… Find something that delights your soul! 4. Develop a relationship with the signals of satiation… Are you hungry? Eat. Are you full? Stop. 5. Consider lifestyle as the way you support your health and happiness. Incorporate steps that heal, rather than harm. 6. Practice daily affirmations. 7. Remember: no matter what society preaches, you deserve your unfettered love. Practice and protect it with zeal. At first, the practice of Health At Every Size might feel confusing, even confronting. Unlearning what society has forced upon you over years takes time. Grant yourself the grace to move forward at your own pace. As you do, your outlook and behavior will change. Not due to force, nor loathing, nor expectation. But because you love and embrace the beautiful body and soul that you are. You will become healthier and happier, with ease.

Disclaimer: This Website offers advice designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice, treatment, or diagnosis of a healthcare professional. We recommend consulting with a registered health professional before implementing any advice.

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