Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating

What Is Health at Every Size?

November 14, 2023

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Contents
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Key Points

  • Health at Every Size emphasizes intuitive eating and gratifying movement for health, rather than weight loss.
  • HAES is weight neutral and believes care should come from a weight-neutral approach. 
  • Weight stigma has a real, negative impact on health outcomes. 




Have you ever made assumptions about someone’s health based on their size? Maybe you’ve experienced this bias yourself. People have long faced biases and presumptions about their health status based on their size, both socially and medically.

Health at Every Size (HAES) rejects the idea that health correlates with weight by instead acknowledging that “healthy” looks and means something different for each individual. The movement recognizes the harm of thin-centric ideals and doesn’t shy away from the complicated nature of intentional weight loss.

What is Health at Every Size (HAES)?

Health at Every Size® originates from author Lindo Bacon, who wrote, “HAES acknowledges that well-being and healthy habits are more important than any number on the scale.” The phrase has since been adopted and trademarked by the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), which defines the movement as such:

The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) affirms a holistic definition of health, which cannot be characterized as the absence of physical or mental illness, limitation, or disease. Rather, health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual. Health should be conceived as a resource or capacity available to all regardless of health condition or ability level, and not as an outcome or objective of living. Pursuing health is neither a moral imperative nor an individual obligation, and health status should never be used to judge, oppress, or determine the value of an individual.

Put simply, the HAES principles are meant to “promote health equity, support ending weight discrimination, and improve access to quality healthcare regardless of size.”

HAES also emphasizes that healthcare should be accessible and safe for all people regardless of size. Weight bias is pervasive in healthcare and has a very real impact, including an increased likelihood for disordered eating. Obesity has been a major focus in healthcare and the greater culture of the 21st century, and the methods of treatment for it are hotly debated. HAES challenges the assumption that weight-focused treatment for obesity is the most effective approach, or that obesity is solely the individual’s responsibility.

What does Health at Every Size Stand for?

The Health at Every Size principle center around intuitive eating, body acceptance, and physical activity for health rather than body manipulation. These principles emphasize cultivating a personal definition of health, rather than relying on societal norms and stigmas to determine how compliant and therefore “healthy” a person is.

The HAES principles are:

Weight Inclusivity

Accept and respect diverse body sizes and reject the idealization or pathology of specific weights or shapes.

Health Enhancement

Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, and other needs.

Eating for Well-Being

Promote eating based on individual hunger, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than externally reinforced regimen focused on weight loss. Intuitive eating is thought to help prevent negative body image and disordered eating.

Respectful Care

Acknowledge and evolve the biases we all hold in weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Take the whole person into context for treatment, including the impact of socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other factors.

Life-Enhancing Movement

Support physical activities that allow people to engage in movement they enjoy, regardless of size or ability, beyond the limiting lens of weight loss.

What are common myths about Health at Every Size?

Health at Every Size focuses on freedom and individuality in health, rather than constricting it to a narrow set of ideals. With this open approach, it’s important to know what HAES is and is not about.

Myth #1: HAES means everyone is healthy regardless of their weight

Health looks different on everyone. Only you and your doctor really know your health status. HAES proclaims that everyone is deserving of quality care that doesn’t place weight at the center of treatment.

Myth #2: HAES promotes “unhealthy” body sizes and/or habits

HAES acknowledges that there is no singular to be healthy. The movement prioritizes on healthy habits and behaviors, rather than weight loss. This means focusing on nourishing, satisfying foods, rather than dieting.

Myth #3: HAES is anti-weight loss

Health conditions can be treated in myriad ways, and weight loss may be one of them. HAES is not anti-weight loss, but weight neutral.

What is weight stigma?

Weight stigma is discriminating against or stereotyping a person based on their weight. This stigma comes from thin-centric ideals and the pervasive belief that thinness equates with health. 42% of U.S. adults say they’ve faced some form of weight stigma, which can lead to depression, low self-esteem, and the development of eating disorders.

Weight bias has real consequences in the world of healthcare. If you’re fearful of a weight-stigmatizing doctor, you may avoid healthcare altogether, decreasing your overall quality of life. It can also lead to providers ignoring patients’ concerns and causing further suffering. The consequential shame of this medical neglect can have a dramatic psychological effect. Weight stigma is also believed to be a psychosocial contributor to obesogenic behaviors, meaning the stigma itself can contribute to the onset of obesity.

Research has shown that patients who have supportive doctors, rather than judgmental or stigmatizing providers, are more likely to comply with their recommendations. This indicates that a weight-neutral healthcare approach, as well as the overall ethos of HAES, can help mitigate the harmful effects of weight stigma.

Fay can connect you with a HAES dietitian who will provide personalized, weight-neutral guidance tailored to you.




The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.


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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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