Updated: Oct 24, 2018
Health at every size is a concept that seems to be encouraging fat people to get naked and it’s making a lot of people angry.
Let’s take a look.
Health at every size, body positivity and the fat positive movement amongst others have been pretty popular in the media lately. Fat women especially are now all over our magazines and the message seems to be encouraging bad health.
What if I told you that being fat could potentially be healthy?
What would you say? No way, right? Fat, cellulite, muffin tops, Buddha bellies, wherever it is on your body and whatever name you call it, fat is unhealthy…..or so we’ve thought.
Health At Every Size (HAES) is a concept brought to prominence by Doctor Linda Bacon, and challenges the idea of dieting culture and the socially held notion that there is one set mould for all human bodies.
It says that we can all be healthy at our own natural size and encourages us to appreciate size diversity. It bears many of the same principles as Intuitive Eating which I mentioned in my previous post.
DOES THIS MAKE YOU ANGRY?
Before I go any further in explaining what HAES actually is, I realise that this concept may seem quite radical. It is very controversial at the moment and it flies in the face of conventional wisdom of what we define health to be and when I first heard it I said, ‘no fucking way’. Where on earth have they pulled this crap from? To what limit will people go to reinforce their own deluded fantasy that being fat can be anything but a fast track ticket to disease, ailments and death?
So I was sceptical to say the least and most of all I was just angry. Angry that anyone would try and manipulate health for their own personal agendas because they couldn’t find the discipline to control their weight. And so I ignored it.
At least I tried to. But it kept popping up in my circles and literature and social media, and it kept making me angry, until one day I heard something that didn’t sound as crazy and so I decided to give myself clarity on the issue once and for all and did some in depth research into it.
I made a complete U-turn in my opinions and my practice with my clients. Thank goodness. Because once I could see what Health at Every Size really was, I realised I’d been teaching disordered behaviours to clients who trusted in me.
I only tell you this story as a prelude to your own introduction of what Health at Every Size actually is because I think it’s too good for you to miss and I think many of the proponents of it don’t always do a great job at breaking it down into what it actually is.
For a start the name Health at Every Size is in my opinion a clumsy choice because it misleads people (like I once was) into thinking automatically that your size doesn’t matter with regards to your health. It is not saying that every fat person, nor skinny person, is automatically pardoned from all and every medical risk and that weight will have no bearing on your mortality or quality of life. It’s not saying that nutrition and exercise don’t count. It’s really not. But the name kind of implies a reckless abandon.
The reality is anything but.
WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF HEALTH?
Have you considered what health actually means?
Health for me can be divided into two camps:
Objective and Subjective.
Objective is a method of quantifying your health meaning it can be observed and measured by others and registers things like injuries, illnesses and diseases.
Subjective health on the other hand is your own personal interpretation of health and so it’s really in your hands. Do you feel happy, and fulfilled. Those are some of my own personal measures of heath and are factors that only you can determine.
So can you have fat on your body and be both objectively and subjectively healthy?
Well Health at Every Size says potentially, yes. And it begins with size diversity.
SIZE DIVERSITY- WE COME IN A RANGE OF WONDERFUL SHAPES AND SIZES
Size diversity simply means that humans come in various shapes and sizes. Different heights. Different weights, etc, and that expecting everyone to be skinny or even just similar is a ridiculous social construct that makes no sense and doesn’t follow the template of what humans actually look like.
I mean really consider how diverse the human race actually is. We are a cross pollinated species stretching to the far corners of this Earth, making a melting pot of ethnicities. We are each unique and yet we all seem to follow the same narrow pursuit of perceived beauty.
In fact we are trying to mimic models and celebrities who typically follow an extremely, extremely narrow criteria for measurements. These people sell themselves based on how attractive we find them and not necessarily on how healthy they actually are.
So if you don’t fit into that narrow category, then where do you fit?
THE SET POINT THEORY
Health at Every Size believes that everybody has their own unique weight. This weight is dictated by something called a Set Point Theory.
A Set Point is the theory of a biological process of self-weight regulation. That means that your body has it’s own natural intelligence which dictates your weight which fluctuates between a range unique to each person.
If you get too hungry your body will send out hunger signals to find food regardless of whether you believe you’re eating too much or not, and if food is not available your body will also try to conserve as much energy as possible by making you move more sluggishly in order to not waste precious calories and vice versa, if you’ve eaten too much for your body, your body will send signals to not eat for an extended length of time and compel you to move more, either through activity or unconscious activity like fidgeting to use up the excess energy.
Essentially, the idea of a Set Point is that you are really not in control of your body weight. Your body is trying to maintain homeostasis (a fancy word for balance) and has a very accurate number it must maintain to preserve this balance.
From her book Body Respect, Linda Bacon said, “scientists estimate that the average person has a setpoint range of abut 10 to 20 pounds and the only way to zero in on your setpoint is by trying a radical new diet summed up in three words: Just eat normally!”
IF THERE’S A SET POINT THEN WHY DOESN’T MINE WORK?
If you’re watching this then you’re probably calling BS, because otherwise why isn’t yours working? Well dieting is attributed to the main cause of disrupting Set Points. If you keep tampering with such a finely tuned system then there will be consequences.
Let me explain one scenario. You see, you go on a diet, which means restriction. Restriction of a food type or restriction of quantity or whatever. Well, I’m sure you know what comes after restriction? The binges. The uncontrollable desire to eat whatever you were denying yourself on the diet. All wrapped up in shame and guilt no less. Your hunger is ravenous. Your appetite is reacting to a period of starvation and weight gain often follows with the commitment to start your diet again on Monday.
Your body in it’s infinite wisdom, after perceiving the trauma of you starving then decides to hold onto any excess weight to protect you against the next famine.
That is adaptation.
Your body doesn’t know the difference between a real period of starvation and the next celeb juice diet. It is experienced in making sure you survive. And so set points change. They go up. And again they are disrupted with yet another perceived period of starvation, and so react accordingly. Your set point keeps going up and you keep wondering why you keep overeating and gaining weight when you’re trying to be healthy by dieting.
WE NEED TO STAND UP AGAINST DISCRIMINATION
You may be still be screaming an unshakable no to this fat acceptance movement. After all doctors say fat is unhealthy. You are adamant and for you this is an open and shut case.
Well now, before you puff your chest out and give all of your reasons why fat is unhealthy, I will put forward one argument that I hope will appeal to your best side.
It is this. That bigotry and discrimination is not ok.
Do you agree?
I hope you said a firm yes because bigotry is not ok but in today’s culture talking about fat people in a discriminating way is still acceptable. To their faces and often not so subtly behind their backs. In fact, I believe it remains an acceptable form of discrimination to look down on fat people because you probably still believe that being fat is a choice. A lack of willpower. Please check out my piece on the dangers of dieting to learn a bit more about how researchers are in agreement that diets do not work and cause more harm than good.
Our understanding of weight control in popular culture is severely behind what the actual science is saying and regardless of whether you agree with my appeal or not, I will ask you again if you believe bigotry is ever ok?
You are entitled to freedom of speech which is a wonderful right so if you think that attacking another human being is justified then I’m not your daddy here to school you, but if you are opposed to bigotry then take a step back and try to be objective to the trends of history.
1st- History shows us that we marginalise a group based on what seems like a rational argument at the time. One example is science once said black people are savages and less intelligent.
2nd- We then persecute those people who are now identified as less worthy of human value and try to weed them out of existence or keep them oppressed. For example women not being able to vote.
3rd- The oppressed or endangered group then rise up and rebel against their oppressors. For example gay rights activists demanding through protests and more their rightful place in society.
4th- The persecutors are eventually overthrown. It is hardly a revolution and more of a painful crawl but non the less they prosper and the new teachings of the formerly oppressed encourage people to learn from this lesson that discrimination is never ok. Then along comes something different that challenges a commonly held belief and discrimination is given a special green flag. An exception is made and bigoted behaviour is accepted because on this occasion science says it really is a problem or religion makes a loophole and says “judge not lest ye be judged” doesn’t apply to this special category of people, amen.
Now is a time to look inwards and reflect.
To look upon your humanity and be compassionate with yourself and consider that you too might be making a mistake and persecuting your brothers and sisters based on misinformation and regardless of the information discriminating anyway.
It’s ok. We are only human. We are fallible and sometimes we find ourselves on the wrong side of history. Our capacity to change based on new information is our strength as a species. Let’s not waste time and make that change now.
SKINNY CAN BE A FASHION
Something else to consider; that body sizes can be like fashion styles. Different cultures have different tastes and tastes can also change over years. Plump, fat, thick, men and women have been in the past and still are in many cultures considered more beautiful than skinny.
That’s just a fact.
What is considered fat and ugly in one culture can be the sexiest and most desired in another.
Take a look at male standards of beauty. Sean Connery as James Bond around the 60s represented at one time the ideal man for many but you couldn’t imagine him going to the gym. He didn’t need it. He was too manly and rugged for that. Perhaps he would have done a combative sport like boxing. He had a relatively trim build but without any remarkable muscle visible. And now look at the modern James Bond, last played by Daniel Craig who is considerably bigger and looks like he would bite your head off if you closed the gym on Christmas Day.
I’m not saying weight and body shape preference is always this culturally influenced fashion. It is also genetically predetermined, and influenced by wider social constructs such as wealth. I just want to perhaps share more debate based on my learning of HAES for the concept that health is not necessarily a fixed state and that the way you view your own body- the way you view other’s bodies- and the way others potentially view you, could all change in a few generations.
With more size diversity in our popular culture and media, I believe we can begin to establish a true variety of beauty instead of the limited skinny that we are all pressured to achieve. A few more role models of every race, gender, age, and whatever underrepresented demographic you’d like to insert, so we can have figures to identify with and not think we are all alone.
LIKE MICHAEL JACKSON SAID... "YOU ARE NOT ALONE"!
That’s the great crime of our modern day perspective. We all think something is wrong with us. Nearly every new client when they come to see me thinks that they are doing this alone but I reassure them and I want to reassure you that you are not. You are the majority. We come in so many different wonderful shapes and sizes and we each have a gift.
If we can live confidently in our own skins, then we honour our own right to enjoy or lives fully and we also give permission to others to do the same. Hell, you’d be surprised how many ‘perfectly’ sized people out there who are miserable, restricting their food so they can keep their weight down and are in even more pain than you. They could really use a role model to inspire them to start living in their own skin.
FAT PEOPLE CAN STILL BE UNHEALTHY… LIKE ANYONE ELSE
Next, let me reiterate my sentiments on how body size can of course be an indicator of poor health. I’m not disputing that there are many, many people who are suffering adverse health that is correlated to their levels of body fat. However, correlation does not equal causation. I think we need to allow for a grey area of yes, body fat potentially being a contributor but also what are the other variables including things like genetic susceptibility to illness and diseases.
Here is where Health at Every Size is challenging the status quo; could you point out someone who is unhealthy based on their weight? You might think it easy and many times you may be right. Lots of people in our current climate are making poor food choices and doing little to no exercise. Obesity rates are rising and weight is so often an external alarm bell of poor lifestyle habits and the other health factors, as there are many, not just limited to food and exercise, that people are neglecting.
Excess fat, is, it seems to me, a by-product of poor health choices, but not proven to be the cause of poor health by any stretch. The fat may or may not have negative ramifications, and in some instances some even suggesting beneficial, or protective effects of more body fat.
Excess fat by the way seems difficult, to me at least, to quantify because how can you tell what is excess and what is just your base level dictated by your genetic make-up? (The BMI does not seem a valid response as it is famed for misleading measures of health.)
So yes, excess fat can be correlated without a doubt to poor health for many, but calling it the causation of all the proposed health problems, is dangerous. There are plenty of people who are in fat bodies and have a balanced nutrition and get plenty of exercise and are healthy.
Again, there is obviously a limit after which the fat becomes detrimental. In some people, even just their mobility as a human being and their capacity to walk and breath can cause them great struggle, but can you be sure that you’re qualified to know that limit when it stops being what their set point dictates and what is a result of poor health?
A healthy fat person and an unhealthy fat person could in one scenario look like the exact same people. How could you reasonable distinguish between them?
How about an extremely skinny person? Are they healthier than a fat person? Maybe. Maybe not. Can you begin to look at their health first and put aside their visual appearance?
Not to mention that even if it is an unhealthy fat, dieting is still a dangerous practice so how can you ethically encourage someone to do something that will have negative ramifications on their health?
So we need to fight not only fat phobic culture but the entire mentality of judging someone’s value as a person based on their size, or judging any aspect of someone for that matter, as it is damaging our world. Health must be prioritised.
IN DEFENCE OF DOCTORS
I don’t blame doctors and anyone else for that matter for discriminating. That is the norm of our culture and we are only just beginning to see things in a different light. It will take time.
What I love about Health at Every Size is that it is teaches health is holistic by nature. It believes health is a multi-faceted state of being that is constantly in flux and constantly giving feedback. HAES attempts to redistribute the power and imbue the people with more faith in their own sensations of wellbeing. It doesn’t say you won’t need help in learning how to best honour your own levels. It doesn’t say that doctors, and all manner of health and medical professionals aren’t qualified to help you. It's not dismissing the entire framework of health industries, but it is challenging the health industry’s definitions of health, and their methods of employing it, and it helps you to become a more informed citizen so you can start to have more perspective on what you want health to mean to you.
There are far more principles I’ve not touched on but if you’re interested in more then keep checking out my posts or check out the book ‘Body Respect’ by Linda Bacon explaining in way more detail.
Thank you for taking the time to watch this piece. I realise this subject polarises a lot of people’s opinions. I’d love to hear yours. Does it make you angry? Leave your comments on how it makes you feel and why. Also, if you enjoy my stuff then come and check me out on Facebook and Instagram.