And what Diet Culture has taught us about health
Health at Every Size® (or also referred to as HAES) is an inclusive approach which promotes health behaviors without discriminating or shaming individuals on their weight status. HAES also delves a little deeper than just weight as it helps us to recognize that health is impacted by social, economic, environmental factors – meaning it aims to support body diversity whilst challenging the structural and systemic systems which impact individuals’ ability to access or achieve health outcomes.
The HAES approach has five principles – taken from HAES Australia.
- Weight Inclusivity: Accepting and respecting diversity of body shapes and sizes and rejecting the idealization of specific weights.
- Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services.
- Respectful Care: Acknowledging our internalized biases and continue to work on ending weight discrimination, stigma and bias. Provide information and services which understand that socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, age and other identities impact weight stigma. Therefore, support environments which aim to dismantle these inequalities.
- Eating for Wellbeing: Promote flexible, individualized eating which are based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, enjoyment and pleasure. Rather than regulating eating via external means to control weight E.g., Dieting.
- Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities which allow people of all sizes, abilities and interests to engage in enjoyable movement in which they choose.
The HAES framework is based on scientific research, which shows us that intentional weight loss with diets do not work – It also acknowledges that wellbeing and healthy habits are more important than a number on the scale.
By focusing on health behaviors this can help reduce the burden for individuals to seek weight loss for health. In fact, a study completed in 2021 showed that certain health behaviors (regular exercise, diet rich in vegetables and fruit, moderate alcohol intake and avoiding or quitting smoking) were associated with a lower risk of mortality regardless of their weight (Matheson et al., 2012).
The research continues to show us that a weight-inclusive, non-diet approach to health behaviors and attitudes are associated with improvements in disordered eating patterns, self-esteem, physical and mental health (Ulian et al., 2018).
So, what has diet culture taught us about health and our bodies?
Diet culture has taught us and continues to tell us that smaller bodies are ‘healthy’ and larger bodies are ‘unhealthy’ however we know this is not true, and frankly is very harmful messaging. The diet industry has continued to sell us the perfect body shape which in turn ends up harming many individuals’ relationship with their body and food!
One of diet cultures most common messaging is to blame the individual for its weight loss pursuit or health pursuit ‘failures’. Preaching that If your body is larger than the societal ‘ideal’, than it is your responsibility to try and make yourself smaller to fit. This messaging really promotes the cycle of dieting which is more detrimental to our physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Your body is not the problem, and it does not need to be fixed or smaller to live your life!
This can be a really hard rhetoric to challenge and shift as diet culture is everywhere and is buried deep into how society functions. But know you are worth more than your body shape or size and together we can continue to challenge diet culture and promote self-compassion, empathy and kindness towards ourselves.
YouTube: Ted Talk – Why it’s okay to be Fat by Golda Poretsky https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73SXX0w4eY8
Health at Every Size – Lindo Bacon
If not Dieting that what – Rick Kausman
Anti-Diet – Christy Harrison
Intuitive Eating –
Food Psych – Christy Harrison
The Mindful Dietitian – Fiona Sutherland
- Matheson, E. M., King, D. E., & Everett, C. J. (2012). Healthy lifestyle habits and mortality in overweight and obese individuals. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine : JABFM, 25(1), 9–15. https://doi.org/10.3122/jabfm.2012.01.110164
- Ulian, M.D., Aburad, L., da Silva Oliveira, M.S., Poppe, A.C.M., Sabatini, F., Perez, I., Gualano, B., Benatti, F.B., Pinto, A.J., Roble, O.J., Vessoni, A., de Morais Sato, P., Unsain, R.F., and Baeza Scagliusi, F. (2018) Effects of health at every size® interventions on health-related outcomes of people with overweight and obesity: a systematic review. Obesity Reviews, 19: 1659– 1666. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12749.