This post was written and submitted by Hannah Frazee. Hannah is a junior at the University of Iowa who is rooted in the Health at Every Size paradigm and is especially interested in studying how systemic oppression impacts health outcomes. You can connect with her on Instagram at @haesrd2be
Health at Every Size (HAES) practitioners often speak about slowed metabolism and weight gain to explain to clients what dieting does to the body over time. However, as providers, we need to be extremely careful and examine our motives when talking about weight cycling. Are we using this information to inform those with disordered eating and eating disorders of the very real harms that can be done to the body and hormones when people diet, or are we inadvertently allowing weight bias to come into the room?
Weight science is essential and almost always referenced when talking about HAES, but the deeper question is why does it matter that one of the possible physical effects of yo-yo dieting is an increase in weight? When providers explain weight cycling in these terms, we run the risk of placing higher value on smaller bodies and perpetuating the idea that there needs to be an explanation for why a person lives a larger body.
In reality, it does not matter how our clients arrived at the weight they are today. Moving toward body acceptance and Intuitive Eating means healing internalized fatphobia and the fear of weight gain, rather than trying to justify why the body is at a certain weight. All people, no matter what size or shape, deserve healthy relationships with food, body, and self.
So often, clients who are beginning the recovery journey make comments about how dieting has “ruined their set-point” when their body is larger than they would like. This is where HAES professionals have the opportunity to dig deeper into weight stigma and bias, by asking the client deeper questions. Why does it matter that a body is larger? What would it mean to the client if they did not weight cycle, but were just born in a larger body?
My guess is that the answers to these questions will help to reveal the fatphobia still present within the client’s mind. Approaching conversations in this way allows the provider to untangle the true thoughts and feelings associated with higher weights for our clients. Ultimately, this supports them in identifying the pieces of their eating disorder that are still alive and active in their lives.
Asking questions about body size in a compassionate, non-judgemental way supports client discovery and self-growth. Let’s carefully consider how we speak about weight cycling, keeping a sharp eye out for how weight stigma might have entered the conversation. Each and every body is valid; no justification needed. This is one way we can move toward making the body positivity space safer and more welcoming for all.