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Everything You Need to Know About Health at Every Size (HAES) in Eating Disorder Recovery

Curly haired overweight young woman in glasses

Our healthcare system and society as a whole have continuously made harmful assumptions about people’s health based solely on their body shape and size – otherwise known as weight stigma.

Health at Every Size (HAES) is an alternative approach to our current healthcare system that rejects the belief that health and weight are inherently connected. It acknowledges that “healthy” looks different for each individual and recognizes the harmful narrative of the thin ideal that both diet culture and our health system continuously perpetuate. HAES proposes a weight-inclusive healthcare model that shifts the focus away from weight and onto more holistic gauges of health.

Let’s dive deeper into the principles of Health at Every Size, how it challenges traditional weight-centered healthcare assumptions, and the importance of inclusive eating disorder care for all body shapes and sizes.

What is Health at Every Size?

The Health at Every Size (HAES) approach emphasizes that people of all shapes and sizes can pursue health and well-being without focusing on weight as a primary indicator of health. HAES challenges the traditional paradigm that equates thinness with health, promoting the idea that weight is never the sole determinant of an individual’s well-being.

The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) has adopted the HAES approach by affirming a more holistic view of well-being that cannot be characterized by weight alone. ASDAH defines Health at Every Size according to these 5 principles:

  • Weight inclusivity: Encouraging individuals to appreciate and respect their bodies, regardless of their size or shape.
  • Health enhancement: Prioritizing health and well-being over weight loss and recognizing that individuals can pursue and achieve optimal health in a variety of body shapes/sizes.
  • Eating for well-being: Emphasizing flexible, individualized eating that focuses on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than engaging in any eating plan centered on weight control.
  • Respectful care: Encouraging healthcare providers to offer compassionate and unbiased care to individuals of all sizes without making assumptions about health based solely on weight.
  • Life-enhancing movement: Promoting physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in, rather than focusing on exercise routines centered solely around weight control.

Importantly, the HAES movement and its principles are a framework, meaning it’s continuously evolving over time as an alternative to the traditional weight-centered approach to healthcare. Ultimately, the Health at Every Size principles aim to promote health equity, improve access to quality healthcare, and end weight discrimination.

How HAES Challenges Traditional Weight-Centered Health Assumptions

The Health at Every Size approach challenges traditional societal and scientific assumptions about weight-related health concerns. Instead of focusing on weight as the sole determinant of health, HAES emphasizes the importance of each individual’s unique lived experience, ultimately positioning them as experts on their own bodies.

Not only does HAES promote the idea that traditional weight-centered approaches are relatively ineffective, but it also emphasizes that rigid calorie restriction and strict dieting can cause significant distress to one’s well-being.

Within the HAES movement, a major focus is emphasizing that quality healthcare should be accessible to everyone regardless of body size. Unfortunately, a weight bias exists in our healthcare system, making it challenging for people with larger bodies to receive the quality care they deserve.

The Weight Stigma

Specifically, within the past century, obesity has been a major focus in healthcare, causing many healthcare providers to adopt more weight-focused treatments. Although these weight-focused methods have been widely debated, the weight stigma has maintained its pervasiveness within our healthcare industry.

Weight stigma refers to negative attitudes, beliefs, and discriminatory behaviors directed toward individuals based on their body weight or size. This stigma stems from the societal thin ideal that equates thinness with health. Unfortunately, more than 40% of adults in the U.S. with a wide range of body shapes and sizes report experiencing some type of weight stigma at least once in their lives.

Moreover, this weight stigma and bias have prevalent consequences when it comes to receiving quality healthcare. A weight-stigmatizing doctor may neglect patients’ concerns by attributing their health issues to their body size. Not only may this cause patients to avoid seeking further healthcare, but it also may lead to low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, depression, and even the development of an eating disorder.

Health at Every Size in Eating Disorder Recovery

For people living in larger bodies, a major barrier when seeking treatment is dealing with fatphobic treatment providers, programs, and environments. Health at Every Size plays a critical role in supporting individuals seeking recovery from all types of eating disorders by prioritizing overall well-being over weight-centric paradigms. 

Traditional weight-focused eating disorder treatment approaches can exacerbate the challenges faced by those in recovery, as they often perpetuate harmful stigmas and unrealistic body standards. HAES, on the other hand, encourages the acceptance of all body types and focuses on more holistic measures of health. 

By steering away from weight-centered goals, HAES helps dismantle the harmful mindset that associates self-worth with body size. This is particularly important in eating disorder recovery where distorted body image and extreme dietary restrictions are common.

Moreover, HAES challenges societal norms that contribute to the stigma surrounding diverse body sizes, reducing the pressure and shame often experienced by those in recovery. In essence, HAES not only aligns with the core tenets of eating disorder recovery – such as self-compassion and body acceptance – but also offers a more sustainable and inclusive path towards lasting health and well-being.

Inclusive Eating Disorder Treatment For All Bodies

We understand just how challenging it can be to receive access to quality eating disorder treatment when living in a larger body.

Here at VERY, we provide weight-inclusive treatment for individuals struggling with all types of eating disorders – regardless of their body size or shape. Our compassionate treatment team recognizes that weight is not a direct indicator of physical or mental health and that eating disorders widely vary from person to person.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t wait to get help. Schedule a free consultation to see how VERY can support your recovery journey.

Plus, to further support you and your recovery, our RecoVERY Community, offers weight-inclusive recovery insights and more information about eating disorder treatment from a HAES perspective. 

Start your 30-day free trial to learn more about how the RecoVERY Community can help you reimagine your relationship with food and work toward lasting recovery.