Health at Every Size® principles help us advance social justice, create an inclusive and respectful community, and support people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves.
HAES includes the following basic components:
- Celebrates body diversity;
- Honors differences in size, age, race, ethnicity, gender, dis/ability, sexual orientation, religion, class, and other human attributes.
- Challenges scientific and cultural assumptions;
- Values body knowledge and lived experiences.
- Finding the joy in moving one’s body and being physically active;
- Eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, while respecting the social conditions that frame eating options.
Let’s face facts.
We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll.
Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination,
poor health, etc. Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat.
Health at Every Size is the new peace movement. It helps us recognize that health outcomes are primarily driven by social, economic, and environmental factors, requiring a social and political response. It also supports people of all sizes in adopting healthy behaviors. It is an inclusive movement, recognizing that our social characteristics, such as our size, race, national origin, sexuality, gender, disability status, and other attributes, are assets, and acknowledges and challenges the structural and systemic forces that impinge on living well.
*An edited excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD.
To Show Your Commitment To HAES
Society changes when enough people decide that something is seriously wrong and recognize that there is a viable alternative for change. As word spreads, this will show others our strength in numbers. We’ll hasten institutional change by demonstrating that there is a large audience for HAES-affirming practices.
From the Founder, Lindo Bacon, PhD:
I used to be a big believer in promoting the idea that good health is achieved by taking personal responsibility for habits like eating well and exercising regularly. That’s much of the premise of my first book, Health at Every Size, often said to be the “bible” of the movement it’s named for.
I appreciate that the book has been transformative for many. I’m proud to hear ongoing stories from readers who tell me the book saved their life or invigorated their professional practice, inspiring a much more rewarding path. Yet now I can also see the limits of the personal responsibility argument, how it leads readers astray, and how it reflected my unexamined privilege.
Valuable as it may be, it’s also important to acknowledge that the ability to make personal behavior changes is a class privilege. By not naming this in my first book, I entrenched the problem. When not properly contextualized, a self-help book like the one I wrote takes responsibility off our culture’s shoulders. The shame I carry now is that this individualized response to health and eating, which I promoted in my first book, is still strongly embedded in many people’s conception of the Health at Every Size® movement. The ethos in my second book, Body Respect, coauthored with Lucy Aphramor, is different. It grounds the Health at Every Size concept in a social justice/systems-oriented frame. These newer ideas are supported and actively endorsed by the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), the organization that has trademarked the HAES name, yet this approach does not have full traction in the HAES movement. I urge people who advocate for HAES to adopt this more updated understanding and to recognize the interplay between the personal and the political as we conceptualize healing. This requires a radical revisioning of health care and recognizing that it is not possible to define a health practice divorced of social context.
As Lucy Aphramor and I discuss in Body Respect, a focus on behavior change deflects attention from the more pernicious problem of systemic injustice, obscuring the reality that lifestyle factors account for less than a quarter of health outcomes. Additionally, it gives the false impression that lifestyle components, like eating and activity habits, are in fact individual “choices,” while ignoring the influence of social context and how it constrains or supports certain behaviors.
To be clear, behavior change is valuable, but it can’t remove the stressors you face. No matter how you change your eating or activity habits, the factors that make up your lifeworld—challenges like discrimination, stigma, job insecurity, poverty, and caregiver responsibilities—will remain unchanged. Naming inequity and systemically working toward a fairer world is important not just on a systemic level. On an individual level, naming and acknowledging the social roots of health inequities can help a person lighten up on the self-blame, realistically consider their life circumstances, and come up with solutions that best allow them to engage in self-care.
While health-promoting behaviors make sense for everyone, for individuals with hard lives, building a fairer society and helping them manage the challenges of poor treatment will matter far more to health outcomes than whether they eat their veggies. Focusing on systemic roots over individual-level paradigms helps not only marginalized people, but everyone, though the relative impact might be stronger for those who face more barriers.
[Next, “The Systemic Approach in Practice.”]
*An edited excerpt from Radical Belonging: How to Survive & Thrive in an Unjust World (While Transforming It For the Better), by Lindo Bacon, PhD.