The Health at Every Size (HAES) approach is an evidence-based strategy that focuses on promoting health for people of all sizes. Unfortunately, misconceptions about HAES have resulted in health professionals dismissing the immense benefits that come with adopting a weight-inclusive approach in their clinics and practices.
According to self-reports, 31 percent of nurses report preferring to not provide care for fat patients, and 24 percent report being repulsed by fat patients.  I'm not sharing these stats to shame, but to emphasize the weight bias that some patients experience in clinics and practices.
As health professionals, we must acknowledge that weight bias contributes to negative health outcomes for our patients and clients. That's why in this article, I share five benefits that come with adopting the health at every size approach in your clinic or practice.
What is a Health at Every Size Approach?
We’ve all heard that dieting doesn't work, but what should we do instead? The HAES approach is a solution to help your patients and clients escape the yo-yo dieting rollercoaster. Through HAES we can help our patients and clients accept that they can achieve health no matter their weight. In order to do that, we must overcome the misconceptions around HAES that are prevalent within our healthcare system.
Despite what you may have heard, HAES approaches are not about living in denial or ignoring health problems. As someone living with rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren's syndrome the last thing I would ever do is recommend for anyone to do something that would compromise their health. Instead, HAES approaches are about finding ways that you can improve your health not just reduce your waistline.
Even though HAES approaches have often been blamed for contributing to the “obesity” epidemic, the research simply does not support this claim. What the research has shown is that HAES approaches demonstrate better adherence to practices that promote physical health and psychological wellbeing than dieting-based interventions.  While there are numerous health benefits of a HAES approach, I’m going to focus on the five most beneficial to your patients and clients.
1. Reduces Weight Stigma
Prioritizing weight Inclusivity is about accepting and respecting the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes. Research has shown that weight stigma can negatively impact the quality of care that health professionals are able to deliver to their patients and clients.  A 2020 study in Clinical Obesity, found that anti-fat bias had contributed to a grotesque misdiagnosis of a patient that was thought to have “monstrous obesity” when a comprehensive examination found the patient has a 46 kg tumor.  Unfortunately, the patient's tumor went unnoticed, because the physician falsely assumed their weight was the cause of their health condition and not the other way around.
Although this is an extreme example of the health impacts of anti-fat bias we cannot ignore the importance of reducing weight stigma in healthcare. When we are focusing on the well-being rather than the weight of our patients and clients we’re able to take the appropriate actions to identify risk factors and provide quality care to everyone irrespective of their body size.
2. Improves Quality of Life
Advocating for health enhancement focuses on supporting health policies that are aimed at providing access to information and services that are aimed at improving well-being. Due to our society’s obsession with thinness, many public health initiatives focus on “curing” obesity which causes those with higher body weights to experience mounting pressure to achieve or maintain thin bodies.  Further, higher bodyweight people who experience weight stigma are more likely to avoid preventative care which can negatively impact their health and quality of life. 
Research has shown that HAES can improve the quality of life for people across the weight spectrum. Rather than focus on life after weight loss, HAES helps our patients and clients focus on getting healthy enough to enjoy life today. Thus, HAES is an approach to health that recognizes that each person is capable of improving their quality of life, regardless of their size.
3. Leads to Better Health Outcomes
Prioritizing respectful Care which acknowledges our biases, and works to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. There is a common misconception that a person's health is inextricably linked to their body size and weight. Research has shown that patients who were put on a HAES program demonstrate better adherence to practices that promote physical health and psychological wellbeing than those on traditional diet-based interventions.  This may come as a surprise considering the pervasive misconception that diet-based interventions lead to better health.
When our patients and clients are free from weight stigma, studies have shown that unhealthy dieting practices, sedentary behavior, and eating disturbances are reduced.  Therefore, it’s essential for health professionals to challenge their own biases around weight so they can provide their patients and clients with the tools they need to improve their health.
4. Make More Informed Health Decisions
Ensuring that we eat for well-being helps promote eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than weight control. As health professional's it’s our goal to help our patients and clients live healthier lives. However, the current model for providing care doesn't always support this goal. The focus on weight loss can lead to the ineffective and sometimes harmful treatment of patients and clients who are of higher bodyweights. Since those exposed to weight stigma are more likely to avoid preventative care, adopting a HAES approach has clear health benefits for our patients and clients.
A HAES approach could be used in clinics and practices to provide patients and clients with the tools that they need to make more informed healthcare decisions. From nutrition to sleep, there are small habit changes that people can make that will have a profound impact on their health. Instead of focusing heavily on weight, prioritizing health-promoting behaviors is a great way for people to start making more informed decisions that will transform their health from the inside out.
5. Improves Satisfaction and Self-Esteem
Through life-enhancing movement, people of all sizes, abilities, and interests are able to engage in physical activities of their choice that they truly enjoy. Rather than restriction, HAES is about giving yourself permission to make the choices you want, even if they don't lead where society says we should go. It's about honoring how our bodies work by listening to hunger cues and taking care of ourselves with movement and rest.
Through a HAES approach, you can support your patients and clients in living in a way that is unique to them. Whether it’s feeling more satisfied after each meal or being able to assert themselves in healthcare settings, a HAES approach can do wonders in strengthening the well-being of your patients and clients.
So, There You Have It!
A HAES approach is key to improving the health and wellbeing of your patients and clients. From reducing weight stigma to making more informed health decisions, there are many benefits that come from adopting a HAES approach.
Now that you know the five benefits, which one resonates with you the most? Let me know below!
- Bacon, L., O’Reilly, C., & Aphramor, L. (2016). Four: Reflections on Thin Privilege and Responsibility. Counterpoints, 467, 41–50. http://www.jstor.org/stable/45157128
- Tylka, T.L., Annunziato, R.A., Burgard, D., Daníelsdóttir, S., Shuman, E., Davis, C., & Calogero, R.M. (2014). The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: Evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss. Journal of Obesity, 2014, 1-18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/983495
- Palmese, F., Reggidori, N., Pappas, G. & Gramenzi, A. (2020) More than a “monstrous obesity”! Time to overcome the “anti-fat” bias. Clinical Obesity, 11(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cob.12413
- Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015) Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the “obesity problem”. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 9, 678– 695. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12223
MINDFUL MEAL PLANNING GUIDE
Download this practical guide to help your patients and clients adopt a Health At Every Size® approach so that they can start planning their meals, set up their pantry the right way, and cook delicious tasting meals without stress!
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