Health At Every Size (HAES)

Women of many body types walking down the street

As a Registered Dietitian, I often hear “So, you help people lose weight?”. Then typically, I explain that I work with eating disorders and help clients find a healthy relationship with food, whether that client is overweight, underweight, or at a “normal” weight. This is usually followed by “Maybe I should see you then because I eat everything and I’m trying this “new diet” to lose weight. What do you think?”. To be respectful, and honestly not get angry or on a soapbox, I say what I say to all my clients, friends, and family which is “I actually do not believe in ”dieting”. 

My mantra is that “all food is good food in moderation”. Most people do not exactly like that answer as I’m not giving a quick weight-loss solution, rather I am teaching long-term success. Many people believe that being healthy means being skinny, and as a registered dietitian, especially one that works with eating disorders, that could not be further from the truth. Of course, I’m not going to tell a diabetic to eat all the carbohydrates they want or someone who just had a heart attack to eat fried food with a lot of salt, but that’s beside the point and a blog for another day. You are allowed to want to lose weight, be more physically active, and just a healthier, happier version of you, but making certain foods “the enemy” or cause of distress is not going to help you in your journey to a healthier lifestyle. That being said, there is health at every size! 

Our bodies are not all the same. We do not metabolize, store, or use energy exactly the same so we are not going to look the same. Accepting and understanding this is often a major learning curve I try and explain right off the bat to my clients, family, and friends (and anyone else wanting to listen).  For example, some people metabolize food more efficiently; therefore, can eat more than someone the same age, gender, race, height, and not lose weight, whereas someone else would gain weight. Does that mean they are healthier? The simple answer is no. You can be a “normal” weight and still have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, vitamin deficiency, and so on. So how do we measure someone’s overall health?

First, what does it mean to you to be “healthy”? This word is so often used incorrectly. It is usually associated with a perceived weight goal, body mass index, physical appearance, and even the size of jeans you wear. I believe in a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle which includes body, mind, and spirit. Diets only focus on the physical, outward body appearance. It’s the same as telling someone who is dehydrated, therefore has dry skin, that an expensive moisturizer will solve their problem. Health is from the inside out. People often physically and mentally do not feel well when dieting and restricting certain foods. Have you ever tried restricting carbohydrates to lose weight? If so, you may have lost weight quickly, (which studies have shown you eventually will gain back) typically due to water weight loss, but you also do not feel well. You may feel like your head is in a cloud, immense headaches, and/or lethargic. That’s because our bodies need carbohydrates to survive and function properly. Did you know your brain only uses carbohydrates for energy? That explains the headaches, mood swings, and loss of concentration. Remember mental health status also affects overall health, as not eating enough food can increase anxiety, depression, and stress. By eating all foods in moderation, including foods from all food groups, and appropriate portions, your body will find where it wants to be. People often use weight as an indicator of health, but it is only one indicator that is easily measurable, so we use it. Think about this, if we used weight and/or body mass index to determine the health status, many professional athletes would be considered overweight! For me, being healthy incorporates having a healthy body, mind, and spirit. This includes allowing yourself to enjoy all foods without feeling guilty, enjoying exercise and movement because it makes you feel good, and listening to your body when it is telling you that you are hungry or full. When you start practicing a holistic approach to health, your body and mind will follow!

Authored by Emily Baum, M.S., RDN, LD