Imagine being able to make choices and focus on living a life you value without your body shape, size, or appearance getting in the way. Have you ever wondered how removing shame and stigma as barriers to actually doing healthy behaviors can impact a person’s health?
Think about it. The responsibility of needing to change your body, feeling bad about your body, or feeling ashamed of your body, impacts your wellbeing, your willingness to go to the doctor, and your mental state in the moment. Now imagine a lifetime of chronic exposure to either the stigma of living life in a larger body, or the stress of trying to avoid living in a larger body due to cultural pressure and prejudice.
Weight is a challenging topic for our society. And although body weight is not the gold standard for measuring health, and in fact tells us very little about the health of a person in general, everyday individuals are exposed to messages about how they should look and why it’s important to look that way. Shifting from a weight-based health paradigm into Health at Every Size (HAES) paradigm is important for us all, but particularly important for health and wellness professionals who are in the line of work of helping people.
Weight-based approaches don’t work
In recent years many professionals have come to the realization that Body Mass Index (BMI) isn’t a good indicator of health. Simply losing weight doesn’t make one healthy, people can be healthy or unhealthy at all weights. Judith Matz, a licensed clinical social worker, uses the HAES approach in her professional work despite her non-nutrition focus. In her article In Consultation Matz points out one of the keys to why weight-based approaches should be replaced by HAES.
“Adults with greater body satisfaction across the weight spectrum report more positive health behaviors and have better health status regardless of BMI. Because the terms overweight (over what weight?) and obesity (which implies sickness) contribute to weight stigma.”
The weight-based approach doesn’t take into account how mental health can affect one’s physical health. HAES approaches health from an accepting and holistic view, understanding that there are many factors – most of which aren’t individual behaviors – that determine health outcomes. Professionals need to consider each individual, treat the patient not the statistic. Many studies support the evidence base for HAES.
The HAES approach
Health at every size doesn’t imply health based on size; HAES perspective considers an individual’s diet, physical activity, and feelings/attitudes towards health. HAES looks to provide individuals and professionals with awareness about how prejudice affects a person’s health. HAES follows a set of principles that work to support acceptance, health, respect, and well-being through policy and individual decision making.
HAES in our society
Friends, family, and even health professionals may be pushing societal norms without being conscious of it. Although many health professionals work to be accepting and place importance on health, society has imbedded certain ideals into their minds. Recognizing your own attitude towards weight is important to giving your patients/clients the best possible care that you can.
EDRDpro (Eating Disorder Registered Dietitians and Professionals) offers an annual online symposium for eating disorder and non-diet, weight inclusive training for professionals. This coming March, Join the 2019 symposium and elevate your skills!