Misconception #1: HAES® is just an excuse to overeat all the time.
Why it’s wrong: You might have missed it, but “health” happens to be the first word in Health at Every Size®. Is constantly overeating healthy? I think most of us can agree it is not. The opposite of restrictive eating is not overeating, it is freedom to eat, which is a very different thing than overeating. In fact, many studies on restrictive eating show a strong association with overeating, which means that you are more likely to frequently binge-eat while on a diet than you are not on a diet at all. HAES® emphasizes getting in tune with internal signals of hunger and fullness to help guide eating, and contrary to popular dieting belief, most people will not eat themselves to death if the reigns come off. From my own experience with HAES®, I overeat A LOT less than I ever did when I was dieting (and it is normal to overeat occasionally for many people). Overeating while on a diet was such a hallmark of my eating that I thought my appetite was broken. It was not – I was just really really really hungry. Once I began eating for my health and pleasure and not my weight, this “problem” miraculously disappeared. So HAES® is not an invitation to overeat more, it’s actually enabling us to do it less.
Misconception #2: HAES® is “letting yourself go” and not worrying about health.
Why it’s wrong: Once again, notice the word health in HAES®? The only thing you let go of with HAES® is trying to manipulate your body size – which is largely dictated by genes, not to mention a whole host of other things – into something that might not be natural, or even possible, for you. You can still work on improving your eating habits, increasing the amount of exercise you get and managing your stress – all things that will help improve your health – which is challenging enough without having to worry about shrinking yourself to someone else’s idea of a “healthy” size.
Misconception #3: HAES® doesn’t work because fat is just unhealthy.
Why it’s wrong: This has been shown time and time again to be just plain untrue. Numerous studies have shown that a thinner body is not required for good health…only good health habits. Specifically the work of Matheson et al, Bacon and Aphramor, and Mann and Tomiyama have shown that healthy habits such as eating more fruits and vegetables and getting regular exercise, not smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption have all improved health and that weight loss does not necessarily improve all parameters of health. Meanwhile, there are exactly zero studies to show that long-term (>5 years) significant weight loss is possible for more than a tiny fraction of people. So we don’t need to keep throwing the same worthless intervention (weight loss) at people to make them healthy; we just need to enable people to engage in healthy habits (if they choose, since health is not an obligation) to help them be healthier. Duh.
If you continue to feel skeptical about HAES® and still think weight loss is the one true way, ask yourself this: who makes money from HAES®? Is there a $60 billion industry that is fueled by self-acceptance and the adoption of healthy habits? No. You likely can achieve these things on your own and improve your health without spending an extra dime. The diet industry doesn’t care if we become healthier, it only cares that it can sell the dream of weight-loss over and over again, often to repeat customers. That is one of the best rationales for Health at Every Size®.