Tag Archives: orthorexia recovery

Are You Listening? How We Hear the Things that People Say About Our Bodies When We Have An Eating Disorder

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My partner and I are lying in bed. He’s got his arms around me and we are a tangle of limbs beneath the sheets. Then he speaks.
“You’re so soft,” he says.
He says this a lot. He also says things like “you’re so huggable” and “you’re so squeezable”.

I wonder what your reaction was reading those words. Imagine hearing them said to you. How would you feel? What would you hear? I know what my reaction would have been a few years ago. I know that I would have heard “you’re fat”.

The thing is, we listen to what people are saying and then we apply our own filters to the words; filters which have been created from a whole myriad of experiences. That is what our minds do, and when it is someone with an eating disorder, that filter is especially pervasive, vehement, and antagonistic in the most negative of ways when it comes to comments about our bodies. People’s words go through this filter and it gets translated, so that what we hear is not necessarily what was said.

In this instance, I did a little laugh as I realised that his words went through my “ED translator”, and then carried on through my “recovered translator”, meaning that it went through two stages: “you’re so soft” turned into “you’re fat” and then into “he means your skin is soft or maybe he does mean your body is soft and so what Sarah, a lot of it is, and that’s nice, and it is nice to hug soft things that’s fine stop acting like he told you that you look like a naked mole rat that went through a blender.”

Sometimes my partner even puts his hand on my stomach and gently squeezes the squishy bit. Yeah, you can see my face now:

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If it was me three years ago I would have had a meltdown and engaged in some drastic and incredibly harmful behaviours, and it would be something I would probably remember forever as a trigger point for self-loathing. However, I am not that person anymore and I am – thankfully – now not in that torturous place. Instead I asked (slightly incredulously):
“Are you squeezing my fat?!” to which he replied: “Yeah, sorry.” Again, three years ago I would have heard that answer as “yes you remind me of a beached whale and I am poking fun at your fatness and reminding you that you should probably do something about it because it is gross.”  But instead the translation that finally came out of my little two-staged system was “You have fat on your body and he squished it because he had his hand there and it is a part of you and it it something that squishes and that’s okay; he still finds you attractive and wants you to be naked 100% of the time.” Because I suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, and because I live in a society that highly values diet culture and thinness, my brain will always automatically put the words through a negative filter. But because I was able to fight tooth and nail for my life and succeed in claiming it back from my powerful and evil mental illness, and because I then went on to reject diet culture and embrace body positivity, I have a wonderful second filter in place that allows me to pause, rationalise, and try to really hear what people are saying when it comes to my body (and everything else).

The important thing in these situations is that the outcome is totally different depending on where your head is at and on your ability to hear what is really being said rather than putting it through your own personal filter. You want to be able to really hear what the speaker of the words means rather than ending up reflecting back your own insecurities as a response. If we hear things through a negative filter of our own, it can then lead to negative situations with that person or people, because we think that they are insulting or hurting us. It also leads to a spiral of negative thoughts and possibly subsequent harmful behaviours. It is important not to hear the words that people say as confirmation of our own insecurities. Your eating disorder is always looking out for ways in which to validate itself. Don’t let it cause distance and destruction towards others or yourself.

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If you are struggling with something someone is repeatedly saying, or even a one-off comment that affected you, then talk about it. Be calm; be open; be honest; and try not to use accusatory language. Instead use “I feel” or “my eating disorder hears it like x” as opposed to “you are doing x/you are making me feel x”. People’s defensive barriers go up when they feel that they are being attacked. Often what is being said is actually okay to say and is not intended harmfully, but it is the eating disorder that translates it into something else and then causes harm. Because of this it is more productive to talk about how the eating disorder is at fault rather than them, or you. Of course I am perfectly well aware that there are those who are disrespectful, insensitive, and malicious and do intend to cause damage or do not care enough not to, but I am for now talking about those who we assume are not saying the wrong thing per se, but are saying things that are triggers for the eating disorder, which then rears it’s ugly head and translates for us.

It is not an easy thing to change the patterns within our brains, but it is possible. It takes time, and patience, and perseverance. It takes determination. It takes persistence. It means having to challenge negative thoughts every damn minute of every damn day. It means working towards liking and respecting yourself as a person. It means taking steps towards accepting your body as it is at its individual natural and healthy weight. It means screaming “NO” to the eating disorder and fighting for your health and happiness. It means recognising that the people who love you are not out to hurt you. It means remembering that you might at this point in your life feel hatred towards your body and self-loathing towards who you are, but that that is not how other people feel about you. It means recovery, and it means going on a journey to the place you want to be; to the life you want to live; to being the person that has been suppressed by the eating disorder. It means taking the path that leads to being free.

Recovery Does Not Mean Compromise

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Recovery from an eating disorder is a fantastic thing. A long, arduous, torturous, fantastic thing. It is painful and it is terrifying and it is tedious, but it is the most rewarding thing anyone with an eating disorder will ever do, because it gives you your life back. It gives you back your freedom, and it gives you back your health. However, all too frequently I am seeing what looks like compromise in those who claim to be recovered from an eating disorder.

I want to state right now that the recovery journey in itself does often entail some compromise as we navigate our way from disordered to healthy. It does frequently mean swapping things in and out, finding that with challenging one behaviour another pops up more strongly, transferring fixations and focus from one thing to the next, and other such struggles as we learn how to overcome our sickness. That is perfectly okay. That is part of the journey. It is part of managing the initial trauma of recovery. But there comes a certain point where you have to challenge how you are recovering, and you have to move on from compromising with your eating disorder. There comes a certain point where you have to be aware of all those things listed above, and start to do something about it, because although at the start recovery may include it, recovery cannot be about compromise. Recovery has to be about getting rid of the disordered habits, not switching them up for more socially acceptable ones and calling it healthy.

I get it: it is easy to fool the world and it is easy to fool yourself that eating “clean”/detoxing/eating only “healthy” foods/being vegan/going Paleo/etc and going hard at the gym/training for marathons/attending multiple aerobics classes/etc is living a recovered life, but those sneaking eating disorder lies and manipulations only prevent you from living the life that you deserve to live: one free from the shackles of your eating disorder. We as a society can praise the woman who “recovered” from anorexia nervosa and became a bodybuilder all we like, but it doesn’t change the fact that she still has an eating disorder. We can applaud that man who went from having bulimia nervosa to being a fitness instructor whose muscles ripple and glisten in the sunlight, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he has just switched up one eating disorder for another. We can use the woman who “beat” her eating disorder and now stocks her kitchen with protein shakes, quinoa, and lentils, and exercises an hour every day as inspiration, but that doesn’t change the fact that her life is still dominated by rules and routines and fear.

Recovery means breaking free of that suffocating cage. It means tearing down the walls that keep you from dedicating your time and energy to your passions, hobbies, interests, and relationships. It means not worrying about your calorie or macro intake. It means engaging in physical activity that you actually enjoy when you want, not in a fixed, rigid routine. It means resting whenever, but especially when you are sick, tired, or having any intrusive eating disorder thoughts, however small (because being recovered does not mean being cured). It means throwing off the shackles of guilt and anxiety by challenging and overcoming every negative, controlling eating disordered thought and behaviour. You know what they are. Push away the convincing eating disorder voice, and listen to your gut. Do you feel free? Think about the life that you want to lead. Is this it?

It’s Summer Soon and Surprisingly, Fat People Get Hot Too

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Art by Jovanna Radic Eriksson

The summer is fast approaching and that means that the weather is cranking up and sweat patches are about to become a lot more common. It also is the season of self-consciousness as those with bodies that do not fit societal ideals feel unable to wear less clothes and therefore sweat in silence as their smaller counterparts breathe a little easier in mini shorts and tank tops.

There are many reasons someone who has more fat on their body than is deemed socially acceptable (or is only deemed acceptable when wearing less revealing clothes) will feel uncomfortable wearing less clothes. It could be the cellulite on their legs; the way their thighs rub together; the way parts of their body jiggle; the belly folds when they sit down; the softness around the tops of their arms; the back fat creasing around their bra strap; the curves of their hips…and the judgement they might receive for having a body that does those normal, natural, absolutely okay things.

This is a perfect time to point out that everyone of any weight, shape, or size, is allowed to feel physically and mentally comfortable in their bodies and in whatever clothing they choose to wear this summer (and any other season). Everyone deserves to feel safe from humiliation and judgement, and everyone deserves respect and consideration, regardless of what their body looks like. If you feel uncomfortable looking at someone else’s body, then you may want to have a good hard think about what makes you feel a certain aspect of someone’s natural body is unacceptable and why it is affecting you personally. If you are someone who makes comments about or towards other people in regards to their weight, shape, or size, you might want to take a moment to reflect on why you think that someone else’s physical appearance is any of your business and why you are treating that person with less respect just because of how their body looks.

If you are someone who does not fit society’s idea of the “perfect” body, and are struggling to know what to do this summer in regards to clothing, then I urge you strongly to…do whatever the fuck you want. If that means that you want to rock a short little number or feel more comfortable covering your curves in a floaty summer dress, then you do what feels good for you. If you want to strut your stuff in a crop top and leggings, or if you prefer to don a baggy t-shirt and harem pants, then you dress yourself in what feels right. If you want to strip down but aren’t at the stage where you feel confident doing so, then it is perfectly okay to cover yourself up, but please start/continue to work towards accepting and loving your (beautiful) body, because you deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin. Whether you want to get your body out or keep the layers on, you deserve to feel good about yourself.

Top tip: if you’re getting your legs out this summer and have issues with chub rub (those gorgeous thighs loving each other so much that it gives you friction burns), then pop some baby oil on your inner thighs before you stride down the street.

Enjoy your summer. It’s going to be beautiful, and you are too.

 

5 Ways to Manage Exercise In Remission From An Eating Disorder

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So you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, or disordered eating, or compulsive exercise, and you’ve used and abused exercise as a form of punishment/weight-loss/distraction/control/etc – whatever reason you’ve used it for, it’s come from your eating disorder or disordered thoughts, and it’s well and truly messed up your relationship with exercise. To be fair, with the society that we live in, you don’t even need an eating disorder to have the idea of exercise completely screwed around with and made into something that is a torment. Thanks, society! But whatever has caused your negative relationship with exercise to develop, and whatever you are recovering from, you’re now wondering…am I ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with exercise again? How will I keep fit and healthy once I am recovered if exercise has such negative connotations for me?

Moving your body in life is part of general well-being, both mentally and physically, but it’s a totally different experience to forcing yourself to the gym five times a week because you want to lose 10lbs or get a six pack. It’s not the same as stressing over being at peak fitness, or worrying that if you don’t do x amount of exercise, you won’t be the healthiest that you could be. It’s about exercise being an enjoyable addition to your life; something that isn’t rigid or absolute, but something to engage in as and when it fits around the rest of your life. Here are 5 things to think about when trying to establish a positive relationship with moving your body:

1. Go Cold Turkey

If you want to change your relationship with exercise so that it is a healthy one, you first have to break your addiction to it. That means stopping exercise entirely. It means totally breaking all your compulsive habits; it means managing the anxiety that goes with that, and it means overcoming that anxiety, in order to be able to develop a totally new relationship with moving your body. You can’t just flow from a disastrous and destructive relationship into a positive and beneficial one without stopping the former, unhealthy relationship, and leaving it behind you before starting to form a new relationship in a totally different way.

2. Traffic Light Your Exercise

The first thing I did when I really got to grips with the reality of my situation with exercise was to traffic light each individual type of exercise. I was in recovery and I was failing in my attempts to cold turkey exercise. I would stop and start, stop and start, and each time I started, I without fail fell back into the addiction. And so eventually I decided that if I was ever going to be able to move my body in a healthy way without the compulsive element creeping back in, I’d have to first recognise that going back to it wasn’t working and that I’d have to cease it entirely for a while, and secondly, that going back to the same type of exercise was setting me up to fail. I decided that I needed to categorise each type of exercise in an honest way in an attempt to recognise exactly when things were headed in the wrong direction. For example, badminton I green-lighted: it’s a sport that I did not play at all when sick and a sociable sport that I enjoy playing. I know that my risk of abusing this is almost nil as I play it for fun with my friends. Walking and swimming I orange-lighted: both had been abused during the time that I was ill with my eating disorder, but are also activities that I take pleasure in. These are activities to keep an eye on; to assess myself now and again to make sure that they are being used in a positive and healthy way. Aerobics I red-lighted. Aerobics is a form of activity that I do not enjoy and used purely as a way of losing weight. I know that if I find myself doing aerobics, then something is very wrong, and I need to address it ASAP. Traffic-lighting your exercise only works if you are completely and utterly honest with yourself, and then continue being honest with yourself when you have your traffic light system. There are no excuses for those red-lighted activities. Those orange-lighted ones are going to be the trickiest to keep an eye on, because it will be more difficult to distinguish when it’s being used in a positive or negative way, and again, that requires 100% honesty from you, to you.

3. Move Your Body in an Enjoyable Way

Find recreational activity that you actually like doing that involves moving your body. This could be taking your kids swimming, walking your dog, riding your horse, or playing footie with the guys. It could mean taking photographs on a country walk, taking a sunset stroll to the pub with a mate, playing rounders with a bunch of friends, or taking part in the annual cheese-rolling contest (no, seriously, we have that here). Find something that is actually about enjoying yourself, rather than about exercise. Find something that is another hobby. This is not about exercise – that is secondary. This is not about changing your body – that is no longer the aim. This is about moving your body and enjoying it whilst you do it. There are no reasons for doing this any more other than pleasure and recreation: this is not about guilt, or burning calories, or altering your appearance. This has to be just another thing in your life that you enjoy doing, that coincidentally involves moving.

4. Don’t Have Set Routines or Rules

Do not get caught in the trap of setting routines for yourself that you find yourself unable to break. You don’t have to play tennis every Thursday. You don’t have to walk to town every time you need to go to the shops. You don’t have to swim 25 lengths every single time you get in the pool. Switch it up. Fit these hobbies around the rest of your schedule rather than fitting the rest of your schedule around moving your body. Try not to make it a priority – because it’s not. There are more important things than physical activity. Do it as and when. Do it because you have a spare couple of hours and you need some fresh air, or to let off some steam. When it comes to making something a set routine, you know as well as I do that they can quickly become compulsive time slots where you feel that you have to do that certain activity, for that certain amount of time. Check in with yourself about how you feel before doing an activity and go with how you feel, not how long you feel you should be moving for. If you feel tired, skip it for today. If you’re sick, skip it for today. And if you are feeling that there is a certain amount of time that you should be exercising for, then you’re probably not ready yet to reintroduce movement back into your life, and should go back to resting, and working on your relationship with healthy movement. When it comes to rules, I’m talking about that little voice that says: “I can eat x if I do a pilates class” or “I can have a nap later if I have an hours walk” or “I can rest all day tomorrow if I do a run today”. No, no, no no no no. If that is what is going through your head, then you need to check out number 1 again and cold turkey your exercise. You need to separate everything from movement food; weight; rest; everything – nothing should be linked with exercise other than the fun of it. If you are setting rules for yourself, you need to continue working through your issues with exercise and how you use it.

5. Assess Yourself…Then Assess Yourself Again

This is so, so, so important to do, and again, requires being transparent with yourself – always. It means checking in with yourself over and over and over again to see how you are feeling about the movement that you are engaging in, and your reasons for taking part in the activity in your life. The more stable your remission, the less you may find that you need to check in with yourself, but this takes time, work and patience, and however firmly you are in remission, you still need to take the time to reflect on the movement in your life and how that is going for you. If you are feeling uncertain about any type of activity that you are doing, then you need to cease it. Challenge yourself now and again to test yourself: can you go a week or two being sedentary? Doing this is one of the easiest ways to see what anxieties arise for you when you take time out and rest up (or even think about doing it), and is one of the easiest ways to identify problem activity. It means acknowledging and working through whatever anxieties you feel if you should feel them.

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Really, this all comes down to getting to a place where you love yourself as you are and don’t see exercise as a way to change your body. It comes down to not feeling the need to compromise your health and happiness. It comes down to always being honest with yourself so that you stay within the boundaries of what is healthy for YOU. It means coming at recreational physical activity with a totally different mindset. It means finding what is right and healthy and positive for YOU, and going with that. It means being able to not exercise at all, in order to then exercise in a positive way. It means taking time out whenever you want/need to. It means not having any anxiety around moving your body. It means loving yourself, and loving your body, and it means being free.

How To Cope At Christmas: A Rough Guide For Those With Eating Disorders

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We are just two days away from Christmas, and people are stocking up on food, wine, and last minute presents. This time of year is always filled with trepidation for those of you with eating disorders. It’s a holiday focused around alcohol, food, and family, and at least two of the former bring on that familiar rising panic for lots of people suffering or recovering from eating disorders, whereas for the rest of us, it’s generally just the one (family; I’m talking about family).

If you are someone with an eating disorder, and you are approaching Christmas Day with dread, you are not alone, and you can get through it. It is probably going to be a tough day, but there are steps you can take to make the most of it. Here are my suggestions on how to get through the day:

Focus on Family

Food is a big part of Christmas for most people, but you don’t have to let that be your main focus. Prioritise your family and/or friends and/or partner and enjoy their company. Catch up on the gossip, take part in the board games, and sing along to the carols with grandma. Spend time doing what is enjoyable for you. If your family can make this easier for you, let them know how. Maybe it means trying to keep the topic of conversation away from food. Maybe it means keeping food in the dining room and having the lounge as a food-free zone. Maybe it means going out for a walk with your siblings to get a bit of fresh air and space. Whatever you do, try to keep the focus on the company of those you love, and enjoying the time spent with them.

Set Boundaries with Loved Ones

This is a day that everyone should be able to enjoy to their very best, so do take the time to talk to the people that you will be spending your time with and set your boundaries for the day. This could mean asking them to refrain from talking about New Year’s diets, making food-moralising remarks, or reminding them not to comment on any of your eating habits. Do not be afraid to voice your needs. It is important to make clear what you need from them in order for you to enjoy the day.

Challenge Yourself…But Not Too Much

A huge part of the anxiety of the day is that there will be a lot of delicious food around that you will want to eat but also will not want to eat, and that’s the fight between you and your eating disorder. For a lot of people, this battle is going to go on all day, and that can make the day extremely stressful and anxiety-provoking (see Focus on Family for ways to minimise this). This is also a great time to challenge yourself, but a time to not push it too far: you don’t want to make the day even more stressful by pushing yourself to the limit. One way to go about using this day as a manageable challenge is to make rough plan of what you might eat that day. This will give you a guideline that might help you feel a little more contained, but could involve trying something new or facing a fear food. Try not to restrict yourself as much a you can, but it’s okay if you need to feel safe for a day that is so difficult already.

Take Care of Yourself 

You may be around people this Christmas that will not respect your boundaries or may be insensitive or ignorant to your recovery. They may talk about the triggering topics which I mentioned in the “Set Boundaries With Loved Ones” section above, such as complaining that they have put on weight/are going to put on weight, lamenting that they have eaten “too much”, are being “naughty” or “bad” because they are “indulging”, or moaning that they need to go on a diet because of that. Please ignore them. They are battling their own insecurities and are looking for reassurance that what they are doing is okay and that other people feel the same and that they are not alone. This is really, really sad, and something that no one should have to feel. Enjoying the Christmas food is part of the festivity, and no one should have to feel guilty for it. Know that other people’s worries are not a reflection on you, and you should keep in mind that it is not something positive that they are experiencing, but guilt, anxiety, and insecurity. So instead of letting their negativity impact on you, empathise with them, as guilt, anxiety, and insecurity are emotions that you are likely experiencing also (albeit on a much grander scale to those who do not have eating disorders). Keep moving forwards towards your goals. Keep moving forward on your journey towards health and happiness. Keep in mind your motivations, and remember that the way you respond to others affects you primarily.

Leave the room for a bit if you need to. Take yourself off for a relaxing bath or a nap or to read a book. Go for a stroll. Have a quiet word with that relative who keeps calling the chocolate yule log “bad”. Just take care of yourself and do what you need to do, for you, to have the best day that you can. Do not be afraid to speak up. You need this. You deserve this.

If you are someone who has an un-supportive, highly triggering family, do know that it is okay to decide not to see them at all. If you want to spend Christmas with yourself, your partner, your partner’s family, your friends, or your pets, do it. Do what is best for you. Do what you need to do to continue moving forwards. Do what you need and you deserve to continue working towards health and happiness. Make positive choices, and don’t feel guilty about them. This is what you need. This is what you deserve.

Move On

Christmas is unfortunately never going to be an easy time for those with eating disorders, and it often means that those people go into it with anxiety, and leave it with guilt. It is okay to experience those feelings: you are not alone and those feelings are not your fault. However, you have to keep remembering that these negative emotions are caused by your eating disorder and the control that it has over your life. Keep fighting the war against it, and don’t respond to those negative feelings. You are going to be okay and you can get through this. Christmas will be over in a blink of an eye, and then it is time to put it behind you and move on from that day. Don’t carry the stress from it with you. Let the day go. Remember that it is absolutely, 110%, super okay to eat more than usual, go outside your meal plan, eat “normally”, or respond to extreme hunger (this applies for always, of course). It is okay to put on weight. It is okay to enjoy yourself. The guilt of going against those eating disorder rules can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that this is part of recovery. Going against your eating disorder and doing what you deserve is part of fighting the battle inside your head. Eating whatever you want, whenever you want, is the goal, and so if you were able to do that for a day, or two, or more, or even if you were able to eat a little more than normal, you are making small steps towards achieving that outcome. That is a wonderful thing.

If the anxiety is becoming overwhelming, check out my article on anxiety management here.

An Open Letter to the Girl I Saw at the Pool

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Dear girl that I saw at the pool,

I went to the pool a few weeks ago to mindlessly bang out some lengths and think about nothing as the water swirled around me. I got into a cubicle and changed into my swimming costume, and then emerged; towel slung around my hips, with my belongings gathered in my arms. As I stepped out from the cubicle, I saw you looking into the huge mirror at the end of the aisle with sad eyes.

“I hate how i look,” you said. The woman next to you – presumably your mother – said “don’t look then.”
I sighed.
You still looked sad.
“You’re doing something about it though,” the woman said.

I wanted to say something, but I hadn’t worked up the courage or formed the appropriate response in my head quick enough. I watched you walk past to the pool, and I went and found a locker. Then I got in the pool and swam. I decided that I would say something if I saw you after. However, you were long gone before I got the chance to say what I wanted you to hear.

I wanted to say that you deserve to love yourself whatever your body looks like; whatever your journey is. I wanted to tell you that you don’t need to not look into the mirror: you need your reflection not to define your worth. I wanted to tell you that you are inherently beautiful and that you worth is not determined by your weight. I wanted to tell you that I don’t know your story, but that you don’t have to lose weight to be happy.

I wanted to tell you not to use self-hatred as a motivation for weight loss. I wanted to tell you that I’ve been there and I’ve done that and it didn’t make me any happier. I wanted to tell you that it’s your choice what you do with your body but that weight loss is not necessary for self-love. I wanted to tell you that I wish your mum (if that was your mum) could say these things to you instead of telling you to hide from your own reflection. I wanted to tell you that you are worthy and you are beautiful and you are loved.

And to everyone ever – the same message applies. Your weight, shape, or size does not negative your self worth. It does not negate your strength. It does not negate your beauty. Never let anyone tell you otherwise, and know that you do not need to change your body in order to be happy.

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Health At Every Size and Big Is Beautiful/Fat Acceptance: What These Movements Stand For and Why They Are Important

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Health at Every Size and the Fat Acceptance Movement started as small, barely recognised movements. Due to the hard work of those involved and the (very) gradual shift in views around weight, shape, and size, these movements are now beginning to get the acknowledgement and publicity that they deserve. The more exposure these movements get, the more people will start to be enlightened to the real facts, figures, and evidence around size, health, and weight set point theory. Hopefully with time weight-based myths, discrimination, and stigma will be something that we as a society look back on and cringe with shock and humiliation that we got something so wrong and treated millions of people so badly. However, we still have a really long way to go until then.

You might be new to these movements, or you might not be, but either way, you may be unsure about what they stand for and why these things are so important. So let’s have a look at each movement and discuss a little bit about them.haes-4

Health At Every Size (or HAES) was first developed by American psychotherapist and nutritionist Linda Bacon, who wrote the book Health at Every Size (first published in 2008), and the sequel, Body Respect. Health At Every Size is a movement that is promoted by those who believe that health and fitness can be achieved regardless of weight, shape, and size, and that weight-loss is not a requirement for those deemed “overweight” or “obese” by BMI in order to live a healthy and happy life. HAES encourages people to accept their weight as it is, and promotes mental and physical well-being without weight loss as a goal. HAES cites studies that have shown that weight loss often leads to worse health regardless of the starting weight, and presents evidence that suggests that obesity is not the cause of health issues or premature mortality. It provides strong arguments for the idea that correlation does not equal causation, and picks apart flaws in studies that apparently connect obesity to poor health. HAES supports self love, self care, and body positivity, as well as healthy physical lifestyle choices such as being active and eating a balanced diet. HAES promotes this in a way that is conductive to mental health: it urges people to engage in activity that is enjoyable first and foremost, and not gruelling and repetitive work-out routines, and it supports the idea that food is not just for survival but also for pleasure. It maintains that weight loss should never be a goal, and that weight loss is frequently damaging, and encourages people to follow intuitive and instinctive eating and activity. It also supports weight set point theory.

The Health At Every Size® Principles are:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize 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. Respectful Care: 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. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized 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.

Health At Every Size is a movement that I strongly agree with. Its main principles on exercise, food, weight, and body positivity are ones that I advocate with every fibre of my being. It’s incredibly important because we live in a culture obsessed with dieting and weight loss; a culture preoccupied with attaining the “perfect body – a body that is not achievable for the majority of people without sacrificing their mental and/or physical health. Even if you are someone who naturally has society’s idea of the “perfect” body, the dieting and weight loss industry will find ways to make you feel inadequate and flaw-ridden in a bid for you to buy their products to “fix” yourself with. The diet and weight loss industry controls much of our research into food and weight, and sweeps any evidence that contradicts their interests under the rug and publicises in a selective and biased way research that has questionable study methods or sample sizes, contentious results, and tenuous correlations. So do I have any criticism of the HAES movement?

Firstly, I think that although HAES is absolutely correct in that we should intuitively eat and listen to hunger and fullness cues, it underestimates how difficult that can be to relearn, especially if you are someone who has suffered with an eating disorder or severe dieting. In our society, feelings of guilt, self-loathing, shame, anxiety, and, on the other hand, superiority and control, have become inextricably linked with food and weight, and so it can be incredibly difficult (and perhaps even impossible) to entirely disentangle our emotions from our biological signals. That’s not to say that it cannot be done, but we need to address the context in which we live in our bodies  before we can start to challenge and relearn the way that we feed and view our bodies. Being presented with the principles of the Health At Every Size movement can feel like ordering flat-pack furniture and taking it home, only to open it up, lay out the pieces of the floor, and realise that the instructions aren’t there. You’re left with all the parts, but with no idea how to assemble it. And in reality that’s not exactly a flaw of the HAES movement itself, as HAES aims to educate and promote a mentally and physically healthy and positive way of living, but it is an area it sometimes fails to recognise and address.

Secondly, I’m not really a fan of the name. Heath At Every Size is misleading. Although I absolutely 110% agree that the what we view as “healthy” should be a much much much broader range of weights, it is undeniable that there are certain weights at which you just cannot be healthy at. You cannot be a healthy adult at 50lbs, just like you cannot be a healthy adult at 500lbs, and so the name of the movement leaves it open to criticism from the onset. Prader-Willi syndrome, hypothyroidism, cancer, depression, anxiety, or eating disorders are a few examples which can cause a person’s weight to plummet or skyrocket, and there are weights that are too low or too high for anyone to be healthy at. So for me, I believe in Health At (Pretty Much) Every Size, and whilst Health At Every Size is much more catchy, it’s technically incorrect, allowing those against the movement an easy starting point on which to discredit it.

Last but not least, HAES aims to provide people with the information to start working towards accepting their bodies whatever their weight, shape, and size in order to improve both physical and mental health. However, it also has to be addressed that we live in a society where fat people are constantly subjected to prejudice, body-shaming, weight stigma, and discrimination. Fat people who agree with HAES may still struggle to accept their body size in a culture so cruel to them, and their inability to find peace with their bodies may well become yet another source of shame. Again, this isn’t a flaw in the principles of HAES, but a topic that may need more recognition.

So what is the difference between Health At Every Size and the Fat Acceptance Movement? Let’s take a look at the latter:
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The Fat Acceptance movement (also known as the size acceptance, fat liberation, fat activism, fativism, or fat power movement) is a social movement seeking to change anti-fat bias in social attitudes. Those involved seek to change attitudes towards fat people in areas of life including the aesthetic, legal, and medical approaches to people whose bodies are fatter than the social norm. The Fat Acceptance movement focuses more on the way fat people are perceived and judged due to their weight, shape, or size, and although it does address physical health and the research to back up the same principles as the Health At Every Size movement, it is more focused around changing the way fat people are treated and discriminated against. Fat people are often dehumanised and shown far less respect than those that are at a socially “acceptable” weight. One of the main examples is medical care. Fat people’s medical issues are often inaccurately dismissed as being caused by their weight, are shown less respect, and are often shamed for their body size.

The Big Is Beautiful movement is a smaller movement that comes under the Fat Acceptance movement, and focuses more on aesthetics. Its message is that people whose bodies are bigger than what is considered socially “acceptable” are beautiful too, and that you don’t have to be a certain weight, shape, or size to be attractive. Its aim is to help people find beauty in their bodies regardless of any contributing factors that make them look a certain way: health is besides the point.

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Both movements are focused around respect, and also talk about health as irrelevant. The ideas is that even if you believe that someone IS unhealthy due to their weight, its not your business what lifestyle choices they make, and they should be treated with respect regardless of those choices. For example, we all know people who smoke or binge drink, but we do not treat them as less human on an everyday basis because those choices lead to poor health. We do not assume their personality, or directly link their personal lifestyle choices with their moral character. This is why these movements are so important: they address the way society perceives and treats people who are fat.

My only criticism of these two movements (Fat Acceptance and Big Is Beautiful) is that there are some people involved in this movement who look down on those who diet as betrayers of the movement, when they should be seen as victims of a diet and weight loss obsessed society. As I stated above with HAES, it can be forgotten how powerful and pervasive “thin ideals” are, and all of us are affected by it in some way, even if we do constantly work to disentangle ourselves from it and rise above it. We should all be working together to support one another and help to lift each other up not put anyone down. We should aim to educate, not shun; support, not vilify.

Health At Every Size, the Fat Acceptance movement, and Big Is Beautiful, are all extremely important in terms of physical health, mental health, feminism, and education around food, weight, and health, amongst other things. They are powerful and uplifting; inspiring and motivational; enlightening and passionate. They can give us the information and confidence to live in a better way; a way that makes the aspirations of health and happiness more achievable.

To find out more about weight set point theory, and to read discussions around and evidence to support Health At Every Size, you can visit the resources section on this website. There is a drop-down menu that displays many sub-sections, including one for each of these topics.

And as a last little titbit of information, check the photo out below:

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