Health at Every Size (HAES) by Linda Bacon is one of my most referred books to clients who are struggling with food, weight and body image concerns. Check out the HAES Manifesto in its entirety below:
We’re losing the war on obesity. Fighting fat has not made the fat go away. However, extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, weight cycling, weight discrimination, poor health. . . . Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. It’s time to withdraw the troops. There is a compassionate alternative to the war—Health at Every Size—which has proven to be much more successful at health improvement—and without the unwanted side effects. (1, 2) The scientific research consistently shows that common assumptions underlying the war on obesity just don’t stand up to the evidence.
False! Almost all epidemiologic studies indicate people in the overweight or moderately obese categories live at least as long— or longer—than people in the normal weight category. The most comprehensive review of the research pooled data from 26 studies and found overweight to be associated with greater longevity than normal weight. (3) Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys I, II, and III, which followed the largest nationally representative cohort of U.S. adults, also determined that the “ideal” weight for longevity was in the “overweight” category. (4. 274)
False! Epidemiological studies rarely acknowledge factors like fitness, activity, nutrient intake, weight cycling, or socioeconomic status when considering connections between weight and disease. Yet all play a role. When studies do control for these factors, increased risk of disease disappears or is significantly reduced. (5) What’s likely going on here is that these other factors increase disease risk at the same time they increase the risk of weight gain.
False! The vast majority of people who try to lose weight regain it, regardless of whether they maintain their diet or exercise program.(6, 7)This occurs in all studies, no matter how many calories or what proportions of fat, protein or carbohydrates are used in the diet, or what types of exercise programs are pursued. Many studies also show that dieting is a strong predictor of future weight gain. (8-14)
False! No one has ever shown that losing weight prolongs life. Some studies actually indicate that intentional weight loss increases the risk of dying early from certain diseases. (15-20)
False! Most health indicators can be improved through changing health behaviors, regardless of whether weight is lost. (5) For example, lifestyle changes can reduce blood pressure, largely or completely independent of changes in body weight. (1, 21, 22) The same can be said for blood lipids. (1, 23, 24) Improvements in insulin sensitivity and blood lipids as a result of aerobic exercise training have been documented even in persons who actually gained body fat while participating in the intervention. (24, 25)
False! While it’s true that we’re moderately fatter than we used to be, life expectancy has increased dramatically during the same time period in which our weight rose (from 70.8 years in 1970 to 77.8 years in 2005).26 That’s right, government statistics predict that the average kid can now expect to live almost eight years longer than his or her parents! Not only are we living longer than ever before, but we’re healthier than ever and chronic disease is appearing much later in life. (26) Death rates attributed to heart disease have steadily declined throughout the entire spike in obesity. (27 ) Both the World Health Organization and the Social Security Administration project life expectancy to continue to rise in coming decades. (28, 29) We are simply not seeing the catastrophic consequences predicted to result from the “obesity epidemic.”
Why do these faulty assumptions continue to proliferate and why isn’t the reality more widely known? There can only be one explanation when science so blatantly contradicts popular thought: economics. There is a huge industry that benefits from widening the boundaries of what is considered a problematic weight, including weight loss centers, supplement makers, drug companies, physicians, and purveyors of diet books, foods and programs. Even scientists benefit by getting research grants and serving as consultants, or by running weight loss centers at universities. Convincing us of a crisis can also aid government agencies in obtaining congressional funding. And expert panels that create public policy and determine research funding are populated by individuals with financial conflicts of interests.
That said, I do not believe that those engaging in this damaging paradigm are part of a widespread conspiracy. We are all raised with the assumption that fat is bad and permanent weight loss can be achieved through dietary change and exercise. These assumptions are so strongly a part of our cultural landscape that they are regarded as self-evident, and few even consider questioning them. As a result, many well-intentioned, caring people unknowingly collude and transmit this cultural bias. Also, there is little reward for questioning these assumptions, other than peace of mind. Indeed, for a professional to challenge these ideas is tantamount to career suicide; this is in stark contrast to the large financial/status incentive for supporting the old paradigm.
Refuse to fight in an unjust war. Join the new peace movement:
“Health at Every Size” (HAES). HAES acknowledges that well-being and healthy habits are more important than any number on the scale. Participating is simple:
Excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight © 2010 by Linda Bacon.
May be freely distributed, provided that it remains in its entirety and this copyright message appears. More info at www.HAESbook.com.
Sydney soul-centred psychotherapist, therapeutic counsellor, eating psychology and transformational life-coach, Jodie Gale, is a leading specialist in women’s emotional, psychological and spiritual health and wellbeing. She has a wealth of personal and professional experience and knowledge in the field of addiction and eating disorders. Jodie is the Disordered Eating Consultant for Nungkari Treatment Centre, former Assistant Clinical Director at a Sydney Eating Disorder Outpatient Treatment Centre, an approved service provider for South Pacific Private Addiction and Mood Disorder Treatment Centre and works in private practice, treating eating disorders as well as other women’s issues in Manly and Allambie Heights on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia.
Jodie is passionate about putting the soul back into therapy and helping women to find value, meaning and purpose out of their suffering.