Health At Every Size & Obesity: My Thoughts

2011 to 2014

Every few weeks, I will receive an email, comment, or if I’m lucky, a message from a blocked sender, that accuses LBEB of being a brand that promotes the acceptance of “Health At Every Size”, or HAES. HAES, as the name suggests, is a newer movement that aims to promote the idea that health and wellness can be achieved at any size, and the HAES movement is one that promotes acceptance of all body sizes, with the aim of discouraging discrimination, based on size. Here is what HAES is, in their own words:

Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health… Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat.

Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.

Now, before we get into what I think about the HAES movement and its relation to LBEB, I will first say that I love the idea of promoting happiness with your body, and happiness with your own body image. I also love the idea of discouraging discrimination when it comes to bodies.

However, having said that, I want to make it clear that LBEB does NOT promote the idea of Health At Every Size, simply because it is a lie. Now, this isn’t to say that I think being lean and ripped promotes happiness either. For proof of this, look at all your lifter friends who are married to other lifters, and tell me how many of them are divorced? How many of them are bitter, cynical folks who think that if you aren’t sleeping with a barbell under your pillow, you should probably just kill yourself?

Let me tell you right now that being a healthy weight will not automatically promote health and wellness. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people with body image issues as those who claim to “love their lean bodies.” I think obsessing over low body fat is just about as mentally healthy as thinking that being obese is healthy.

Getting back to HAES, I almost find it laughable that the movement claims that the war on obesity is lost, and instead, we should accept our bodies as they are, whatever they are, and just be happy with them. Losing weight, or just making huge lifestyle changes in general, are very difficult when you just start out. The idea of telling obese people to just “eat less and move more” is about as useful as my old math teachers telling me to “just focus on the problem” when I have had dyscalculia my whole life. If you have been obese your whole life, you probably can’t even picture yourself as being anything but obese, and the idea of completely changing who you are can be scary enough to keep you from ever trying.

 

This is where I will see a lot of alpha macho lifting sites start rolling out the Planet Fitness memes and talking about the strain on the health care system,tax dollars, etc. Basically, whatever excuse they can think of to discriminate against someone that doesn’t “just lose weight.” Tell me, how many times in your life has constantly being ridiculed made you a healthier person, both in body and mind? Sure, you may have made some changes because you were made fun of, but that doesn’t mean it made you healthier. In fact, you probably carry that resentment your whole life, constantly feeling like you need to prove yourself to someone.

As I said before, I do not think that the HAES movement is a good movement because it promotes the idea that we need to just accept our bodies, whatever they currently are. That is silly to me. One of the remarkable things about obesity is that for the most part, you don’t need surgeries, tests, medical procedures, etc, to make the changes. The changes can be made all by yourself, and it is a deadly condition that can be reversed completely by the individual. You cannot make a logically sound argument that being 35, 45 or even 50%+ body fat is healthy. It isn’t. The strain on the body from carrying all that extra weight is overwhelming, and it WILL negatively affect your future life.

Luckily, changes can be made to improve your health and wellness, both inside and out. I think it’s important to remember that we were all lowly gym plebs at one point in our lives, and to remember that constantly discouraging or discriminating against obese individuals will probably do nothing to make their lives better, and may even contribute to their own feelings of depression, if they are depressed. Not all obese individuals are walking around, constantly looking at lean folks and wishing they could be lean too. No, some are legitimately happy, and wish to stay that way. For those that DO wish to change though, we need to help them get there. If they fall down, help them up. If they stray from their training or eating plans, help them get back on track.

If you TRULY want less of a strain on the country’s health care problems, and you truly want them to lose weight, then act like it. Offer assistance instead of derision. Our community is a fringe community, and by you acting like an asshole to others who you deem beneath you, you are making sure that it stays a fringe community.

 

  • Magnolia73

    Thanks for addressing this. I will say there is some validity- people are out there trying to not be obese and working hard at creating healthy habits. I was quite obese and completed a marathon while following a “healthy” diet advocated by everyone’s favorite TV doctor. I lost no weight and probably wasted a bunch of muscle. At that point it was very easy to throw up my hands and say “well, I’m fat but healthy”. Today, I weigh 35lbs less because I got into weight lifting. I walked into a Crossfit Box run by a powerlifter and that was what my body needed to drop the fat off (the lifting, not the burpees). He could have been a complete jerk and made me feel unwelcome, but he was one of the most supportive people ever and encouraged me to lift very heavy things. I eat more calories then when I was running 25-30 miles a week and my body doesn’t hurt all the time. The other thing that didn’t hurt was that for once, I was good at something athletic. I am a really slow runner, not explosive, not agile, but I am good at being strong and going to a gym where I knew that there were going to be some workouts where I was one of the best felt great. Standing around deadlifting with a bunch of fit women and outlifting them by 50 or 60 lbs felt great (and yes, I do understand the concept of the advantage of extra weight being an advantage for lifting).
    I don’t want to make excuses for my old self, but IMO, at the time I was taking all the steps to be healthy and fit- they were just very wrong for my body. Anyhow, I think a lot of obese people would solve their problem if they chose weight training and a diet more closely aligned with lifting versus taking the more common path of cardio and a low fat/carby/low protein diet. But it is really hard to connect with the sport unless you luck out on it. (Any other CF gym in my town and I would have likely quit and been in the same boat).
    The problem is that the last thing you expect is that lifting and eating will help you get lean- especially among women. I laugh when people warn me about getting bulky from weights…. if by bulky you mean having waist that is now a good 12″ smaller then when I did a marathon? I guess it does make my shoulders and butt look bigger?
    Anyhow, if you see a fat person struggling with fitness or health, encourage them to try lifting. I think it is a shame that it is so overlooked as a solution to obesity for many people.

  • Penny Fleming

    THIS IS A GREAT ARTICLE!!! I am 44 years old and have loved lifting for most of my adult life….BUT…..society has painted this black wall for females that if you lift, and lift heavy, it’s going to bulk you up. I wish more females wouldn’t listen to that BS and get their a$$es in the gym and start lifting!!! I would, in the past, work in so much cardio, b/c that is what I was being told would work. NOPE! It would always lead to me quitting, and gaining back more weight. I’m on day 60 of my new and improved ‘recycled’ lifestyle, and determined to just lift heavy sh**!!!! As I said, I’m 44 years old, and am doing more with my body than I ever thought possible. I’ve only lost 18 pounds in this time frame, but lifting sculpts your body in a way that all the cardio in the world ever could. I’m know I’m not at society’s “healthy weight”…… but I sure feel better just taking small steps. (and I’m looking better as well)….. healthy isn’t always skinny, healthy isn’t always big….. LBEB has NEVER promoted feeding your face as any kind of lifestyle…. and anyone who would sit down and do as much research on the importance of lifting and eating for lifting would realize that. GREAT STUFF!

  • Crystal Mackey Free

    I think that HAES is a very misunderstood movement. HAES does do some real and tangible good, body acceptance and love is the first step for a lot of obese people- I know it was for me. I spent years hating my body. Feeling like I was worthless and gross did not make me want to try to get in shape, I was unmotivated. It wasn’t until I realized that I was lovable and that my body was not my enemy that I took steps to make real sustainable change. I went from a dress size 12/14 to a size 4/6 in four years. The changes were not drastic at first (cutting soda, smaller portions, walking and running) but they gradually added up. My point is, although I wasn’t obese and healthy, I began living a healthy lifestyle while obese. Healthy things happened while I was obese: better cholesterol, improved blood pressure etc. HAES promotes the idea that you can live a healthy lifestyle at any size. It takes the focus off the outside and puts it on ACTUALLY DOING things that are healthy. It makes healthy living for everyone, which is exactly what you are promoting at LBEB.

    • Crystal Mackey Free

      PS: I love your site!

  • Kristen Crain

    You have some of it right, but you’re missing some important things research has offered recently.

    -1 in 5 clinically obese people (that’s nearly a quarter) are in perfect metabolic health, which suggests that body fat is not necessarily a health risk.

    -98% of significant weight loss is regained within 5 years. This suggests weight loss efforts are really a waste of time.

    -Yo-yo dieting leads to more risk for cardiac events than just obesity. This grouped with both of the above suggests we should be focusing our health efforts on physical activity and nutrition rather than weight loss, which can be damaging.

    Health at every size is not about saying you can eat nothing but junk food and walk a few miles a day and be healthy. Rather, it’s about saying that no one can judge a person’s abilities or metabolic health by how heavy they appear to be. It’s about you as a person not having any clue how I as a person struggle with issues surrounding weight and body image, so we need to drop the harmful prejudices.

    Also, it does the opposite of the claim you made about it discouraging people from setting goals for their bodies. It frees people (somewhat) from focusing on body fat percentage and encourages people to pursue fitness without obsessing over calorie expenditure. And that is a damn good thing.

    • Wow, a whopping 20% are healthy?? My point is moot! Can’t keep the weight off? Just give up! Yes you would seem like you love the HAES movement.

  • jenna234

    This is a really interesting article. I got linked here through an HAES site (I didn’t read the tag line because I’m currently brain dead, so I have no idea why they linked here). That being said, I enjoyed your perspective even if it isn’t one I share. I like to think that if most people can lose weight through healthy habits it’ll be something that they do, especially if they’re part of a community where they’re encouraged to have healthy habits. I’m involved in HAES because my weight gain was the result of catastrophic health issues and my body is still convinced that I’m going to need that fat someday, no matter how healthy I get. Having a community that gets excited about exercise and other healthy behaviors where my status as a fat lady isn’t a barrier for entry is awesome! I especially love getting tips on exercise equipment, new types of exercise for my fitness level, and places where I can buy athletic clothes that fit. I wouldn’t mind losing weight some day, but if that day never comes I’m going to enjoy living my life as actively as possible. That will even include green smoothies, although at this point it feels like those will kill me.

  • Buffet

    Can anyone please explain to me why fat people want to be fat?