fa and haes

Intellectually, I’m down with both. Played out in real life, it’s a bit of a different story. I should probably define HAES. “Healthy At Every Size” is a phrase coined by Dr. Linda Bacon, a researcher and nutritionist out of UC Davis (I think? Maybe someone else came up with it before and her book brought it to the mainstream, I don’t know). She wrote “Healthy at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight.” Some of the main HAES points can be found here in the HAES manifesto; it focuses on debunking the myriad myths out there (fat people die sooner than non-fat people, being fat makes you more susceptible to various health problems, etc). I haven’t read the book (it’s on the way to my apartment right now, yay!), but from what I can gather, HAES is a philosophy/way of life (cringe, i don’t like that. makes it sounds new age-y and self help-y, but there you go. Dr. Bacon may not define it as such.) that encourages us to listen more to our bodies, to honor them, and to focus on eating things that we love (not to label foods as “good” or “bad”) and finding joy in movement. Bottom line is, according to HAES, most health indicators can be changed through changing health behaviors, regardless of whether weight is lost. Not too shabby, right?

However, as i’ve said earlier, eating has become something of a political statement for me. but it’s getting bigger than that. It’s almost like NOT working out has also become a political statement; being fat in and of itself is a political statement. Losing weight is not a goal of HAES, being healthy is (and keep in mind that fat doesn’t equal unhealthy). However, I feel such a charge around even the word “healthy,” for it has been used to mask fat-hating and fat-bashing in my life. “I’m just concerned about your health.” “It doesn’t matter that she works out, she can’t be healthy and weigh that much.” “Fat people are X times more likely to get diabetes, die of a heart attack, [insert other medical issues here.]”

Sometimes I feel that if I embrace HAES wholeheartedly, I will somehow become a traitor to my activist self. I guess that presupposes that living a HAES lifestyle will cause me to lose weight? And that I can’t both love myself now and work on FA and lose weight? It’s definitely a matter of taking the word “healthy” back. Yes, I can be fat and healthy. And in fact, I’ve been fat and healthy my entire life. It’s more than that. I don’t FEEL healthy right now, and THAT scares the shit out of me because I’ve always been healthy. Well, feeling healthy and being healthy can be two different things, however. And I am technically healthy (insofar as regular health indicators are concerned, blood pressure, glucose level, etc). It just doesn’t feel like it. I feel slower and have less energy. And some would say that carrying extra weight is the cause. I’m not sure I agree. Or maybe I don’t want to agree? I know what I don’t want – I don’t want my weight to be the readily-available scapegoat for anything that’s wrong. Can’t sleep well? Lose weight. Knee hurts? Lose weight, fatty! Lack of sleep could be due to stress. Or loud neighbors. My knee was hurting when i first moved, and I didn’t go to the doctor because I was fairly certain I would be told to be less of a fattie and then magically my knee would get better. Want to know what i did instead? Got a memory foam pad for my bed and the knee pain went away! It’s true, I didn’t actually go to the doctor and hear her tell me that my weight is the reason my knee was hurting, so it’s a little unfair to assume that would be the case. But only a little unfair. (i’m brewing a post on being fat and going to the doctor, stay tuned)

Separating FA and HAES is important as well. I can remain true to my FA self and demand that I be treated with the respect and dignity that everyone deserves, regardless of their body size, AND I can work on being healthier. It also feels like it could be triggering around my food issues. Is the word “healthy” just replacing “good” foods? If I eat something “unhealthy” is that a failure. This smacks of diet talk to me, and diets do not work. I’ve gained and lost I don’t even know how many pounds in my life (hundreds?), and I refuse to go back to that “good” v “bad” food place (more on food policing later, but fabulous blog posts on that topic found here and here).


12 responses to “fa and haes

  1. I feel a lot of the same things. I want to keep reminding people that there is actually no moral obligation to be healthy. Because if there was, where would that leave people who cannot be healthy by circumstances out of their control? If cancer patients are unhealthy, should the “but you’re UNHEALTHY!!” set moralise to them? What about people with disabilities? Can the moralisers beat them over the head with the healthy stick? And so on. And by who’s measure of “healthy” do we make the yardstick? I mean, I’m a glowing picture of strength and vitality at my death fatty size, yet my thin friend is in pain, always sick and has almost no energy. Is she healthy but I am not.

    That said, I know my body, I know when it feels right and when it doesn’t. I know how to make it feel good, I know what behaviours make it feel crappy. I know when something is wrong with it. If I don’t feel good, and I want to feel good, then I know what I need to do to make myself feel good.

    HAES is an awesome thing, but I think it gets used to push us into the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy.

    Thanks for the link love by the way!

    • oh, totally. the good/bad fatty dichotomy is alive and well. did you read Tasha Fierce’s piece about this? She posted it to her own website then it got cross-posted on Jezebel, where it created a bit of a shitstorm. Super interesting and a constant reminder that even those among us who would identify as feminists/FA allies/etc can become uncomfortable when it is demanded that ALL fat people be treated with respect, including those who never want to lose a pound, choose to eat what society has labeled “bad foods,” sit on their asses, etc.

      • I did indeed, and I saw the ensuing shitstorm. Tasha did an amazing job.

        I see it both ways too – if you talk about feeling good and/or engaging in any activity, down come the “OMG you’re turning us into bad fatties!” brigade. It really frustrates me that it has to be binary in so many people’s minds. That by celebrating something, you’re denigrating the opposite/alternative.

        The topic of “health” isn’t fraught with these things for non-fats, it has to be blown open for discussion and diversity for fats too.

  2. FYI, the concept of Health At Every Size existed before Dr Bacon’s work. What Dr Bacon did was actually study HAES vs the common diet/exercise advice, by having one group work on self-acceptance, increasing activity levels, and eating intuitively/for health vs the group that practiced a standard reduced-calorie weight loss diet frequently used in studies on weight loss. She notes in the book that one of her research partners, Dr Stern, believed strongly in weight loss and ran the diet group while Dr Bacon ran the HAES group — so both groups were lead by a proponent of the group’s goals. This article summarizes the results.

  3. Pingback: Fat Acceptance and Health « Fat Heffalump

  4. This post so clearly articulated a lot of the struggles I face with HAES. There is a terrible good fatty/bad fatty paradigm going on, it seems as ridiculous as, for example, being racist towards one particular race of people, while being tolerant of another race. It’s eschewing one form of discrimination for another. Fat is nothing to do with health, how many times do we have to chant this to get people to listen and understand?

    It annoys the hell out of me to see shows like The Biggest Loser (not to mention all kinds of other media channels such as advertising and magazines) focus so much on weight loss, when really, it’s just health indicators and lifestyle choices that need to be addressed.

    “There is no moral obligation to be healthy” – hmm… I agree and disagree. The way I see it, making the most of your health is desirable. Note that I didn’t say “being healthy is desirable” because that’s quite alienating towards people who happen to be born with congenital health conditions and things of that nature (as an astute commenter pointed out). But I think it’s a basic and essential element of self respect that people go out and live their lives to the full and it’s difficult to do that if health concerns clouds are hanging over your head. “Live your life so as to maximise happiness” is my catch-cry.

    I hear stories of people who, for example, want to go to the beach but feel too fat to do so. Or want to get married but again, want to wait until they have lost weight. I think it’s very depressing that people are putting off their lives in this fashion. We should seize every moment we have on this beautiful planet, and not be held back from doing the things we want to do.

    I think self-respect has a whole lot to do with doing things that just make you feel good. Eating certain foods might make you feel good in the short term, but might have nasty consequences for the longer term. For example, I stopped drinking soft drinks a long time ago, not because of any “omg soft drinks are so unhealthy!” panic, but because I realised that carbonated beverages ended up giving me a whole lot of gas and just general abdominal discomfort. Same with dairy foods – I used to love indulging in cheese, yoghurt and ice cream, but my lactose intolerance meant that I paid the price later. In the same fashion, I’ve tried to avoid eating salty foods because it makes me really thirsty, which in turn makes me drink a lot of water, which then makes me go to the toilet a lot, which just gets plain inconvenient sometimes!

    Personally, I do not think it is “healthy” to avoid “unhealthy” foods as if they are the plague. If you are at a party and everyone is eating cake, and you feel like eating cake too, by all means eat it. The consumption of raw and unprocessed fruits and vegetables is beneficial to humans. But it is not “healthy” to obsess over said raw and unprocessed fruits and vegetables. It is not “healthy” (from a mental health perspective) to obsess over every morsel of food that enters one’s mouth. Just do things that make you feel good. For example, eating when you are not hungry? I used to do that, then I realised that the feeling of being overstuffed is actually pretty uncomfortable, so I stopped.

    Health is just about figuring out what works for your own unique body, in terms of what you put into it, and what you do with it. I love my creature comforts so I try to live my life in a way that maximises happiness and comfort. I don’t equate health with ‘being thin’ or ‘eating a macrobiotic diet’ or ‘avoiding meat’, etc. I equate being healthy with being able to live your life the way you want to, without being held back from doing the things you want to do. I equate being healthy with feeling good in your mind and in your body.

    Thank you for this post. It is very encouraging to see more and more people working towards the one thing I would like to see in this world above all else – the end of discrimination and a basic understanding and respect of the human rights and dignity of others.

    • ““There is no moral obligation to be healthy” – hmm… I agree and disagree. The way I see it, making the most of your health is desirable.”

      Thank you for such a wonderful comment! I would actually disagree with your statement above, b/c I think that making the most of one’s health is certainly desirable for some, but not for others. And I’m not interested in making blanket statements about what is and is not desirable (I’m not sure you were even doing that, by the way, but just wanted to state it for the record).

      And this is fabulous! – “Live your life so as to maximise happiness”

    • Being healthy is desirable to *you* Katrina (and to me, for that matter, I feel best when I feel strong and energetic). It may not be desirable to the next person. Which is perfectly acceptable. If someone wishes to live a sedentry life eating nothing but fast food, it is their body, and therefore their choice, not anyone else’s. That doesn’t make them any less of a valid human being who deserves to live their life with respect and without discrimination, stigmatisation and censure.

      Besides health is not measured the same across all people. Your measure of health is not necessarily the same as the next person. Perhaps you believe health is eating whole foods and exercising 3 times per week. But to the next person, it might be eating two sit down meals per day and spending Sunday at the beach with their kids. Or simply being strong and energetic. One person may feel being “healthy” is being able to touch their toes and run a mile in less than 5 minutes. The next may feel it is being a vegetarian with low cholesterol but engaging in no physical activity.

      One cannot place their measure of health on the head of another. Health is as personal as our fingerprint and nobody else has any say in what we do with it.

      • Sleepydumpling, I completely agree that “health is not measured the same across all people” and “One cannot place their measure of health on the head of another. Health is as personal as our fingerprint” (and I love the analogy you make to fingerprints).

        You’ll see that I did say “Health is just about figuring out what works for your own unique body, in terms of what you put into it, and what you do with it.” So I understand, both from my own experiences, and on a conceptual level, that different things have different effects on the health of different people, and also that different definitions apply to the word “health” in the first place.

        However, I’m not sure about the example you made in the first part of your comment. I used to believe with all my heart that “people should be free to live their lives and make their choices in whatever way they like, as long as they cause no harm to others”… but I think that it’s just as important to cause no harm to yourself than it is to avoid causing harm to others.

        I am not in any way passing judgement on people who self-harm or engage in harmful behaviours like substance addiction, because such things are often caused by underlying mental illnesses or structural and environmental factors (e.g. disadvantaged upbringing, poverty), that society, the government, and our medical profession, need to work harder to address. The example of someone living a sedentary lifestyle and eating junk food (I’m assuming you mean everyday/on a regular basis, since everyone has days when they are sedentary and eat junk food!) seems a little bit like self-harmful behaviour.

        This is a grey area that continues to confuse me. There are some behaviours which we can instantly see as self-harmful, but then there are others that are in an in-between zone… are they self-harmful, or just lifestyle choices?

        My answer to this, at this point in my body acceptance journey, is this: being sedentary and eating nothing but junk food is not in itself self-harmful behaviour. If living this lifestyle makes someone happy and doesn’t hold them back or prevent them from doing all the things they want to with their life, then it’s not self-harmful. But it IS self-harmful if the lifestyle interferes with their desires in other areas.

        My partner has a housemate who is “morbidly obese” (whatever those clinical terms are supposed to mean) and who’s losing weight on Weight Watchers. When I told her about the Health At Every Size movement, she told me that, while her everyday health may not be affected by her weight, her lifestyle is. For example, she has always wanted to travel the world, but finds it currently to difficult to navigate the process at her current size. Now, this could turn into an argument on whether airlines should accommodate larger people (which I believe they should) but if the airlines refuse to do so in the near future, then what other option is there left? Don’t travel?

        I think that nobody and nothing should hold you back from achieving what you want to achieve. If your dream is to live a sedentary and fast-food-filled lifestyle and you’ve found a way to avoid, or you’ve come to terms with, the health effects that typically arise with the consumption of lots of fats, salt and sugar, then pursue this dream. However, this woman’s dream was to travel, and she found that her size prevented her from this. In this respect, she was not embodying Health At Every Size, because her mental health suffered as a result of not being able to pursue the dream she wanted.

        Again I come back to the topic of just being happy, and in the end, perhaps the elusive concept of “happiness” is just the best descriptor of achieving a balance between physical and mental health.

  5. I disagree Katrina. Because like a measure of health, what you consider “harm” and what another does differ. I don’t drink alcohol, because I felt it was doing me harm, but I cannot place that measure on someone else.

    So long as someone is mentally competent and and adult, the only person who gets to choose that is themselves. It’s tough to accept that, but when you’re talking about other people’s lives, understanding why they do what they do IS tough. It’s not something that can be chosen from the outside in.

    Nobody is under any obligation to live a “Health at Every Size” lifestyle either.

    And I’m not talking about any individual case mentioned, I’m talking about a human being’s right to choose what their measure of health, happiness and success is. Again, you cannot measure anyone against the yardstick that you measure yourself.

    Yes, if someone is unhappy, and they want to make changes for THEMSELVES, then HAES is an option, and that certainly helped me to do so. However, it’s not the ONLY way to go about that. And focusing on one’s health isn’t the only way to change one’s life to make it better. It is as individual as our fingerprints.

    We have to let go of moralising health, success, happiness and any other arbitrary systems of measurement.

  6. Pingback: it’s about to get heavy | the taking up of space

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