Am I Healthy at Any Weight?

HAES graphic Someone accused me on Facebook recently of telling people that they were healthy at any size (she also told me that I was clearly unhealthy and unfit because of my obesity, despite never once having looked at my medical records. Perhaps she’s a psychic doctor?! No, just a run-of-the-mill internet troll). Aside from attributing to me words I have never uttered, it’s also a big misconstruing of the HAES® philosophy. But it’s something I hear enough that I think it warrants some clarification from time to time. If someone has not taken the time to look into the finer details of Health at Every Size® (which are encompassed in 5, easy-to-digest points, but hey, that could read like the ACA to some people), they might easily misunderstand what this philosophy is about. They might well think that what this movement says is that a person can be healthy at literally any weight, from 2 pounds to 1000 pounds.

So let me explain. That’s not at all what HAES® is about. But first let’s review the 5 tenets of HAES® as listed on the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s (ASDAH) website:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

You’ll probably notice right off that it doesn’t say, “And BTW, you’re totally healthy at ANY size.” Nope. Nowhere is that said. The essential philosophy of Health at EVERY Size® is that no matter what your weight is right now, you can begin (or continue) your journey to health. Maybe you aren’t healthy right now – you don’t need to let your weight stop you from trying to become healthier (and just a reminder that health is not entirely within our control, nor is it an obligation). Maybe as a result of changes, your weight will change, but that’s not the important part of this whole shebang.

So the question remains – do I think anyone is healthy at any weight? Given that I don’t have access to most people’s medical records, I can’t ever tell that. It’s entirely possible that a person may not be healthy at literally any weight. What we know so far about metabolism and internal weight regulation is that the body seems to know what weight it wants to be within a certain range (set point theory), and despite our best dieting efforts, doesn’t want to be too far away from that range for very long (thus the very predictable results of the recent research on The Biggest Loser contestants). There may be a range of weights that your body could be healthy at, but I truly wouldn’t know. Only your body knows that.

But this is putting far too much emphasis on the “weight” part – because weight is not what makes someone healthy or unhealthy. We cannot simply look at a person and determine if they are healthy based on their weight. Genetics, environment, and behaviors all play a part in health. You can definitely work on the behavior part. Depending on your situation, maybe you can change your environment (this assumes a certain amount of economic privilege, certainly). Genetics – good luck, that’s always a roll of the dice. so yes, we can definitely influence our health to some degree. What more and more is shown in the science, though, is that while you may be able to influence your weight short-term, in the long-term, your body almost always wins out on that decision. What’s that serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Yeah, that works pretty well here. Serenity now.

No, I can’t tell you if you will be healthy at any size. I defer to your body’s wisdom on determining those things for you. I only know that weight does not equal health. My suggestion is to stop worrying about weight and just work on the things you can and want to change. Maybe you want to eat more intuitively, or find exercise you actually like, or learn to cope with stress better, or get some much needed social or psychological support. The wonderful thing about HAES® is that it is all-inclusive – people of every size can work on those things to the best of their ability and according to their own desire.

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Shameless Plugs for Other People

This is something new I’m doing. From time to time I’m going to promote someone who’s work I love and think is important to the HAES® movement, because we just need more of that. This week I want to give a shout-out to Green Mountain at Fox Run for their wonderful new website! They have a great blog – check it out and share as you see fit!

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17 thoughts on “Am I Healthy at Any Weight?

  1. Nicole Geurin, MPH, RD May 9, 2016 / 9:36 am

    Great post. Here’s another relevant article I read this morning: Neuroscientist explains why diets don’t work. This is why I support a #HAES approach!

    • GlenysO May 10, 2016 / 7:25 pm

      Brilliant article! Finally NYT is actually looking at the science sensibly instead of still concluding “But still diet.”

  2. melissajanisin May 9, 2016 / 10:14 am

    Excellent post. I tried intuitive eating and gained 25 pounds…and probably 10 since then. Apparently my intuition tells me I am always hungry and should have multiple cookies. I stopped when I realized I wasn’t doing it “right,” but ever since, I’ve wanted to find a way to get back to it. I’ll keep following you 🙂

    • GlenysO May 10, 2016 / 5:33 pm

      I’ve written a few posts on IE…hopefully they’ll be helpful. Gaining weight after stopping food restriction is not uncommon. You may be hungry for quite a while as your body goes to a weight that is more natural for it. So weight gain is no indication you are doing it wrong, more likely that you may have suppressed your weight for a while. I’ll write more on this in the near future!

      • melissajanisin May 15, 2016 / 8:19 am

        For me I think it was still hard to stop myself from eating even when I wasnt hungry. And the advice I got insisted I had to eat EXACTLY what I wanted, whenever I was hungry. With two little kids, I couldnt just run out to Mad Mex when I felt like it…but please do write more about it, I’ll be followin good closely 🙂

        • GlenysO May 15, 2016 / 12:33 pm

          You may find my next blog post very helpful then!

  3. Ashley Smith May 9, 2016 / 11:24 am

    Thanks for clarifying this issue! I am new to intuitive eating and health at every size and am grateful for you making this more clear! 🙂

  4. weightlosscoffeeblog May 11, 2016 / 1:41 pm

    Thank you!! Everyone is different and you can’t judge a book by the cover.

  5. fatgirlrunning2016 May 15, 2016 / 7:30 pm

    I love this, thank you for writing. I have always been fat (I am not ashamed f the word). I am also a very healthy person according to my medical records. People, complete strangers even, are constantly telling me how I need to take care of my health because I am, in their opinion, so unhealthy. The only time in my life that people treated me like a perfectly healthy person I was actually anorexic. Almost 2 years ago I finally gave up dieting because I would lose a pound or two and then gain 5 or more. I have not changed weight or measurements in 2 years.
    I love this approach to health.

  6. Annette Adams May 16, 2016 / 10:31 am

    I am a career changer – moving from law to dietetics. I just gave my boss my resignation notice as I begin my internship next month. He was so kind as to tell me I am too fat to be a dietitian. 🙁 He equated it to going to a dentist with messed up teeth or a dermatologist with acne. Nice guy, huh?

    • GlenysO May 16, 2016 / 2:43 pm

      Ugh, I’m SO sorry that happened to you. Good riddance to him. We need dietitians of ALL sizes in the profession!! So glad to have you join us!

  7. YoYo May 31, 2016 / 12:07 am

    I am sold on the new understanding that health and weight are not necessarily correlated. I understand that healthy behaviours are far more important than a number or size…BUT (and it’s a big one 😉 ) I just don’t like the way I look at my heavier weight. I don’t like the clothes I find to wear, or the way my body feels when I move. I can’t seem to move away from caring so very much about my weight as an appearance thing. I find many, many other fat women very attractive and well-dressed! I just don’t like it on me. How do I manage this and not get trapped into dieting and stress around my size? I also find I can’t have this conversation anywhere as other fat people accuse me of shaming and colluding with the very images we are all trying -incluidng me- to rise above!

    • GlenysO May 31, 2016 / 2:53 pm

      I totally understand where you’re coming from. I had the same problem. Learning to no longer diet and to eat normally is one task. It doesn’t ensure automatic body love, so that ends up being the *other* task that needs to be accomplished. One thing that did was to set myself to the task of learning to feel, if not body love, maybe body neutrality. We are so bombarded with these ideas – and that’s all they are – about what is attractive and what is not, that it can take years of deprogramming to feel simply okay about our bodies. Here are some posts I’ve written on the topic:

      And the latest episode of our podcast also covers body image:

      I also recommend the book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker (aka The Militant Baker)

      I found spending a lot of time on fat fashion blogs very useful as well in order to normalize fat bodies to myself; I list my favorites under my Blogs I Love page.

      Basically, learning to accept and like your body does not happen automatically in a society that tells you to hate your body, especially if it’s fat. You have to set yourself to a curriculum of learning body acceptance. Even then you might still have those bad body days (and I think even thin people have those). But lots of purposeful work will make those days not so horrible, and the other days much better. Best of luck!

      • YoYo May 31, 2016 / 8:30 pm

        Thank you so much for this helpful reply! I yoyo (hence my username) between a size 18 and a 22 so it really isn’t easy to come to terms with this body of mine. But I am sick of fighting it! I will look into the homework you have set me 😀

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