Health At Every Size® – Part 2: The Research
So you know what Health At Every Size (HAES®) is after reading Part 1: An Introduction but you want some solid evidence now. Here you will find the science behind the movement and the research to support this approach to wellness.
Bodies of research show correlations between obesity and many serious illnesses, but it is important to distinguish the difference between correlation and causation. These studies are not showing that obesity causes certain illness and diseases, they are showing that there is a relation between the two.
The problem with making associations between weight and health, is that there are often other factors that could contribute to the disease with weight being only one factor. Many of these studies typically don’t control for activity level, nutrition intake, perceived body image, weight history, and/or socioeconomic status.
There is a growing number of studies that show when engaging in more healthful behaviours such as cutting out alcohol, eating more vegetables and moving in ways that bring you joy, there is an improvement in various health markers such as quality of life, mental health, energy, blood pressure, lipid profile and other blood profile markers with no weight change.
In addition to this, there is the issue of weight bias/stigma. Research has found that people who experience weight discrimination are less likely to make changes to improve their health. When people feel discriminated against, they will often avoid seeking treatment, delay preventative care, and have a decreased level of motivation to improve health. This affects their health status, their relationship with professionals, and results in advanced, poorly controlled chronic disease and low quality of life.
When people feel supported, secure and comfortable in their skin, they are more likely to make healthy lifestyle behaviour changes and put their health first, regardless of the number on the scale.
The HAES movement is an alternative to the weight-centered approach to treating clients and patients of all sizes. It is also a movement working to promote size acceptance, to end weight discrimination and stigma, and to lessen the cultural obsession with weight loss and thinness.
The Drawbacks of Dieting
Weight can be regained
The framework and development of HAES is based on the scientific understanding and research behind weight. The common restrict binge cycle we see with a diet mentality often results in more weight gain.
Set Point: We are hardwired to maintain an ideal weight; this is called our set point weight. Similar to the thermostat of your house, it is set to a comfortable temperature and the further you go from the set point the stronger the pull to get it back. When you intentionally try to lose weight your body views that as a threat and in an attempt to avoid weight loss it directs various body mechanisms to control fat stores. The more “jiggling” with the thermostat (dieting), the more the mechanism breaks down and leads to an increased set point.
The result: weight is regained plus more to protect against future diets.
Other harmful side effects
Research has shown that dieting has many harmful side effects such as:
- weight cycling,
- increased anxiety about weight
- eating disorder behaviours
- weight gain
- increased risk for osteoporosis,
- stigmatization and discrimination against those in larger bodies
People who repeatedly lose weight and regain weight (yo-yo dieting or weight cycling) have an increased risk of disease. For example, women with larger bodies who had dieted had high blood pressure, while women with larger bodies who had never dieted had normal blood pressure. In other words, it seems it may be the dieting and associated weight cycling that puts an individual at a higher risk of health issues, like hypertension, rather than the static body size alone.
Key Take Away:
The HAES approach is about taking the focus off weight and putting the focus on health. It’s about balanced eating, life-enhancing physical activity, and respect for the diversity of body shapes and sizes.
The Health at Every Size movement is a continuously evolving evidenced based movement to support the well-being of individuals.
Disclaimer: A balanced diet is not a replacement for a trained therapist. If you are unable to cope with your symptoms, please seek help with a mental health professional. You can find more information on the Student Wellness Services website here.
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Written by Christine Gemmell HBSc, DDEPT(c), Reviewed by Jessica Bertrand, MAN, RD
Christine is with Queen’s Hospitality for 6 weeks as a dietetic intern. She completed her Honors Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition at Brescia University College, and is currently completing her one year intensive practical training program to become a registered dietitian. Christine has a strong passion for sports nutrition and believes in the power of a positive relationship with food. Her dream is to work as an RD to educate, provide tools and help people live the lifestyle that best suites them.