What is HAES (Health at Every Size)

A trip to your GP can be a daunting experience for some individuals. A common, uncomfortable experience can be stepping on the scales. 

Am I heavier or lighter than last time? 

Will this arbitrary number give me the answer to whether I’m healthy or not or will it overtake my thoughts and make me want to change my body?

What will my doctor think about me?

HAES Health at Every Size

Unfortunately weight stigma is seen in the medical field. When patients are discriminated against based on their number on the scale, they can be denied basic healthcare and screening examinations due to assumptions of an unhealthy lifestyle and observed correlations.  But not causation. Because there is more to a person’s health than how much they weigh. 

Discrimination is usually targeted at people in larger bodies.  Because of this they are reluctant to seek help so by the time they present to a doctor, they are sicker.  People in smaller bodies can also be discriminated against and dismissed as being ‘healthy’ because in the eyes of health professionals who are untrained in eating disorders, disordered eating behaviours and weight loss are praised.  This is harmful for preventative healthcare, especially when people with an eating disorder are prone to weight-centric approaches to health.

An alternative approach and shift in paradigm from weight bias to weight inclusivity has been recently introduced in the form of “Health at Every Size” [HAES®], (pronounced “hays”). HAES®, defined and trademarked by the Association of Size Diversity and Health [ASDAH] is an inclusive movement, recognising that social characteristics such as our size, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, disability status and other attributes should not be gate-kept on our basic right to live well. 

In other words, everyone of any size is deserving of adopting health-promoting behaviours that are meaningful to them, rather than using weight, shape or size as being the ONLY indicator of health status. Themes of weight science, weight bias, weight stigma, weight and health, “healthism”, body liberation and social justice are frequently discussed within the realm of HAES.

Here are the 5 Health at Every Size® Principles

 

1. Weight inclusivity

Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealising or pathologising of specific weights.

2. Health enhancement

Support health policies that improve and equalise 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. Eating for wellbeing

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. Respectful care

Promote flexible, individualised 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.

HAES-informed practitioners do not employ routine weigh-ins to determine the health status of their patients or clients. Instead, they look at other biomarkers such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and bloodwork to assess physiological health. Social, economic, and environmental factors are also taken into consideration which may impact our ability to adopt health-promoting behaviours and in turn open the door of communicating holistic approaches to health.

Translation: Instead of assuming a person is lazy or uninformed about a balanced lifestyle, a HAES-aligned practitioner will ask about your work patterns, priorities and responsibilities, and seek understanding of any barriers that make adopting a healthier lifestyle a challenge. They may also ask whether you live near a grocery store as socio-economics plays an important role in determining access to healthier and diverse food options.

Overall, HAES-aligned practitioners often prescribe health advice that is sustainable and realistic for you, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, a.k.a weight loss. In the HAES model, weight loss is rarely ever prescribed as a treatment plan and your weight is never viewed as a problem to be solved.

Article written by Cindy Tran, lived experience blog writer and nutritionist from Perth, WA.

Where to find a HAES provider

If the HAES perspective appeals to you and want to work with an assigned provider to implement the HAES framework, check the provider list below:

https://www.haesaustralia.org.au/find-a-provider

To find out more about the HAES Paradigm, check out these links:

ASDAH: https://asdah.org/

HAES Health Sheets: https://haeshealthsheets.com/

Whitney Jawney’s Helpful Resources: https://www.whitneytawney.com/resources

References

Association of Size Diversity and Health. (n.d.). The Health at Every Size® (HAES®) Principles. https://asdah.org/health-at-every-size-haes-approach/

Eikenbery N. (n.d.). Health At Every Size (HAES). Mindful Food & Motion. https://www.mindfulfoodandmotion.com/health-at-every-size-haes

Mills, N. (2021, Feb 7). What is HAES? Feel Good Eating. https://feelgoodeating.com.au/what-is-haes/

Sole-Smith, V. (2022, Feb 5). What Is the Health at Every Size Movement? Good Housekeeping.https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/a36733484/what-is-health-at-every-size/