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Healthy At Any Size?

Can You Be Healthy At Any Size?

Linda Bacon, PhD says you can be. She’s the one who brought the concept of Health at Every Size (HAES) to the mainstream. I first read about it years ago, and as my work has progressed I have become more and more interested and dedicated to working with this concept.

The premise sounds, well, it sounds completely crazy if you’re coming from the world of mainstream dieting and calorie restriction. First of all, the research Dr. Bacon has done mostly suggests that many common beliefs about weight as it relates to health are wrong. For instance, she presents evidence in her new book Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight that being overweight or obese does not actually contribute to decreased longevity. She points to a large body of peer-reviewed research that people who fall into the category of “overweight” live longer than people of a “normal weight,” and that people who are mildly or moderately obese live as long as people in the “normal weight” category.

She also suggests that it’s not necessarily body fat that’s leading to disease. She gives three examples of other elements that may be responsible, one of which is fitness. She says “across every category of body composition, unfit individuals have a much higher death rate than those who are fit, regardless of what they weigh.” In other words, exercise and being fit (note: that does not mean you need to look like a fitness model!) are always good for you, and it doesn’t matter if you lose any weight as a result.

And get this: Dr. Bacon and her colleagues’ research show that “people can make significant health improvements when they stop dieting and learn to trust their bodies, and that this is more effective than dieting in promoting well-being.”

One such study compared obese women on a typical diet with another group who were following a HAES program. The HAES program supported women in accepting their bodies and listening to internal cues of hunger, fullness, and appetite, while the diet group, well, dieted. After two years, the HAES group had improved blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL, and depression, among other health benefits.

The diet group? They showed initial improvements in the same areas, but returned to their starting point within a year. In addition, the HAES group also noted improved self-esteem and feeling much better about themselves by the program’s end, while the diet group saw self-esteem plummeting. And one last interesting thing: In the HAES group, 92 percent of the participants stuck with the whole program, while only 41 percent of the dieters stuck with theirs.

So how can you get started on the HAES path today? There are five main tenets of HAES.

Step one is to accept your weight, which is not at all to say that you’re giving up or never going to be healthier. In fact, the opposite is very likely true (see above).

Step two is eating mindfully, which involves getting in touch with hunger and fullness signals and resolving emotional eating issues.

Step three is to get moving, but do it for the fun of it, not as punishment!

Step four is to use the mind-body connection for nutrition, which simply means to start tuning in to what foods make your body feel the best.

Step five is to build resilience and sleep well, which entails creating a healthy environment for yourself, as health has much more to do with just the number on the scale!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.