Healthy Obesity: Fact or Fiction?


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The concept of HAES

Promoting weight loss through exercise, dietary restriction, and behavior modification often tests our patience to the end. Moreover, it often results in cycles of weight loss and gain, with the potential for serious physical and psychological health risks, and contributes to body hatred, dangerous eating disorders, and exercise addiction. Yet, we believe that if we continue to use the same approaches, we will somehow obtain different results. To put an end to our woes, there seems to be a not-so-new movement, known as “Health at Every Size (HAES)”, taking the world by storm with assurances to help overcome these obstacles. Their view is based on the fact that the vast majority of people who lose weight eventually gain it back, resulting in crazy dieting, which carries its own health risks. HAES says “It’s okay to be obese if you’re taking care of yourself and your health.”

Healthy Obesity: Fact or Fiction?

What is HAES?

HAES is an approach to dietary behavior change that offers an alternative to traditional, restrictive diet programs and purports that health risks associated with overweight and obesity have been exaggerated in research and in the press. It is a new, exciting, much effective and an alternative approach to the current problem. The basic conceptual framework of this approach includes acceptance of the:

  • Natural diversity in body shape and size
  • Ineffectiveness and dangers of dieting for weight loss
  • Importance of relaxed eating in response to internal body cues
  • Critical contribution of social, emotional, and spiritual as well as physical factors to health and happiness.


Health at Every Size first appeared in the 1960s, advocating that the changing culture toward aesthetics and beauty standards have negative repercussions on fat people. They believed that because the slim and fit body type had become the acceptable standard of attractiveness, fat people were taking great pains to lose weight; and that this was not, in fact, always healthy for the individual.

The HAES philosophy promotes the concept that an appropriate, healthy weight for an individual cannot be determined by the numbers on a scale, by a height/weight chart, or by calculating body mass index or body fat percentages. Rather, HAES defines a “healthy weight” as the weight at which a person settles as they move towards a more fulfilling and meaningful lifestyle. This includes, but is not limited to, eating according to internally directed signals of hunger, appetite, and satiety and participating in reasonable and sustainable levels of physical activity.

HAES practitioners are supposed to be weight neutral, which means that no value is attached to changes in weight. The HAES paradigm supports people in listening to and trusting their bodies, and giving up weight cycling (the repetitive cycle of gaining and losing weight through other weight loss methods) and its inherent negative health outcomes.

HAES recognises the ineffectiveness and damage caused by weight focused approaches, and instead focuses on behavior change as a more meaningful and helpful gauge of progress. When people shift from being weight focused to practicing HAES skills, sometimes they lose weight, sometimes they gain weight, and most of the time they become weight stable.

Although HAES may not always help make people thinner, embracing this new approach can help people of all sizes to be healthier. By not promoting weight loss as a primary goal, we can prevent future generations of children, women, and men from developing eating problems, loathing their bodies, engaging in risky weight-loss strategies, and dying to be thin.

There’s, however, not much research to back the movement’s claims, and experts say the approach requires extensive counseling—something few people are willing to endure or pay for. But without it, the HAES message easily can be misinterpreted simply as “eat whatever you want.” Without professional guidance, it may result in even more weight gain.

Healthy Obesity: Fact or Fiction?

The HAES Approach*

“Health at Every Size” (HAES) acknowledges that well-being and healthy habits are more important than any number on the scale.

What should one do?

  1. Accept your size. Love and appreciate the body you have. Self-acceptance empowers you to move on and make positive changes
  2. Trust yourself. We all have internal systems designed to keep us healthy — and at a healthy weight. Support your body in naturally finding its appropriate weight by honoring its signals of hunger, fullness, and appetite
  3. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Develop and nurture connections with others and look for purpose and meaning in your life. Fulfilling your social, emotional, and spiritual needs restores food to its rightful place as a source of nourishment and pleasure
  • Find the joy in moving your body and becoming more physically vital in your everyday life
  • Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and seek out pleasur­able and satisfying foods
  • Tailor your tastes so that you enjoy more nutritious foods, staying mindful that there is plenty of room for less nutritious choices in the context of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle
  1. Embrace size diversity. Humans come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Open to the beauty found across the spectrum and support others in recognizing their unique attractiveness

* Without professional guidance, it may result in even more weight gain.

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