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January 4, 2018

Health at Every Size & Beyond the Diet

Man standing with his arms crossed

It is impossible to interact with the world today without being constantly inundated with messages about body size, weight, and appearance.

Advertisements, headlines, and peers convincing people that they are not enough and that they must change themselves, by any means necessary.

People are shamed into participating in unhealthy and ineffective fad diets, cleanses, and workout plans in order to be considered worthy by society’s standards.

What appears to be harmless eating and exercise adjustments become disorders that ruin lives and tear apart families.

Yet, with all of this, the only diet results that have proven to be consistent and long-standing are dissatisfaction and depression.

In 1992, the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) “released a consensus statement that dieting is an ineffective method to produce sustained weight loss [1].”

Beyond this statement, one 2007 study found that 2/3 of dieters they studied regained more weight than they had initially lost [1].

Studies also indicate that dieting actually increases production of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger [1].

Study after study proving that, for all of the emotional and physical harm they cause, diets are ineffective and counterintuitive.

Health at Every Size Diet

It is clear another approach to body image, size, and weight is necessary, and this appears to have been found in the Health at Every Size movement (HAES).

HAES is a weight-neutral movement that does not view weight as an adequate indicator of health or weight loss as an appropriate end-goal to achieve health.

Instead, it promotes individuals learn to sense and honor their hunger and satiety cues, engage in physical activity that brings them joy, and resist restricting and compensatory eating and exercising behaviors.

Further, those that support HAES advocate against fat stigma and for ethical treatment of people regardless of body size and shape.

A significant component of HAES is Intuitive Eating, which promotes that individuals become attuned to their body’s hunger and satiety cues, eating what they want when hungry and stopping when they are full.

Both Intuitive Eating and HAES “operate on the assumption that it is external cues, such as being coaxed to eat to excess in familial or social settings or engaging in weight-loss dieting, that leads to chronic eating problems and contributes to diet-related ill health [1].”

Woman in glasses believing in Health at Every Size

Those that criticize a HAES approach purport that size and weight acceptance will lead to increased consumption and excessive weight gain.

Despite these fears, no studies examining HAES have found this to be true.

In 6 random control trials, HAES interventions were found to have no negative impacts, such as weight gain. In fact, using a HAES approach resulted in maintained, or improved, behavioral, psychological, clinical and physiological outcomes [1].

Another study compared HAES to a traditional weight-loss program and concluded that a HAES approach is more sustainable and results in positive behavior change and improved health [2].

These studies invalidate any concerns that weight and size acceptance result in decreased health and increased consumption and weight gain.

Research also shows that using a weight-neutral approach to eating improves body-esteem and anti-fat attitudes. A 2015 study found that a HAES course given to college students improved intuitive eating and had “positive effects on eating and dieting attitudes, body esteem, and fat bias [3].”

HAES is still a relatively new approach. Therefore, many are quick to dismiss it or speak against it. Yet, the facts speak for themselves:

A weight-neutral approach to food results in increased physical and psychological health improved self-worth and promotes a society where people are not viewed as less worthy or assumed to be unhealthy purely because of their body size, weight, and shape.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] Bombak, A. (2014). Obesity, health at every size, and public health policy. American Journal of Public Health. 104:2, 60-67.
[2] McCormack, L. (2016). The impact of health at every size versus a weight loss intervention on diet. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 48:7.
[3] Humphrey, L. (2015). Health at every size college course reduces dieting behaviors and improves intuitive eating, body esteem, and anti-fat attitudes. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 47:4, 354-360.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on January 25, 2018.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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