No one goes into health care to become a weight expert, but as health professionals we often find ourselves fielding questions about weight and its impact on health. For many years, I either gave a half response or simply avoided answering the question altogether. As I started learning more about weight-inclusive approaches to health, such as Health at Every Size® (HAES®). I realized that I was doing my clients a real disservice.
What we know for certain is that there is little evidence to suggest that weight loss alone will lead to lasting health benefits.  Therefore, it is essential for health professionals to support our patients and clients in shifting their focus from weight loss to health promotion. The HAES approach provides us with an opportunity to support our patients and clients in engaging in healthy behaviors whether or not weight loss is a side effect.  Thus, changing the way you talk about weight may be one of the most important things you can do for your patients' and clients' health.
If you’re a health professional who’s wondering how to help your patients and clients adopt a weight-inclusive approach to health, wonder no more! I've put together this handy guide to give you five tips on how you can encourage your patients and clients to focus on their health rather than their weight.
1. Make It Clear You Focus on Health Gain Not Weight Loss
When it comes to seeking care, many patients and clients want to know how they can lose weight. However, as a health professional who follows a weight-inclusive approach to health, it is essential that you make it crystal clear that you focus on health gain, not weight loss. There aren’t many things that I think are “absolutes,” but this is one that you don’t want to straddle the fence on as you’ll either confuse them - or yourself.
This isn’t to say that your patients and clients won’t have weight loss goals. It’s a good chance that they will even if they don’t outright say they do. What you have the opportunity to do is support them in the process of adopting a more weight-inclusive approach. In this way, you can make the case for them to become more accepting of the diversity of their body and reject the myth that their weight is a proxy for their weight.
2. Share Ways to Track Progress Behind the Scale
For many of our patients and clients, a sense of dread washes over them whenever they step foot on a scale. In their minds, they may believe that whatever number shows is going to dictate how well they've been eating or exercising. But there are other, more effective ways that we can help our patients and clients track their process that doesn’t require them ever stepping foot on a scale.
For instance, you can encourage them to track a habit, like the number of times they bring their own lunch to work each week. Or, maybe they want to set a goal to run their first 5k and you help keep them accountable for completing their runs each week. Whatever they choose to do the key thing is ensuring that they see that their health is changing and improving over time. By doing so they’ll learn to trust that they can enhance their health without having to rely on a number on the scale.
3. Give Them Tips to Talk About Weight Inclusivity
If your clients are like most people, you’re probably not the only health professional they are working with. They might have a healthcare team of doctors, dietitians or trainers they are working with that might not know anything about weight inclusivity. If that’s the case, they may receive pushback when they start discussing the amazing work that they're doing with you by adopting a weight-inclusive approach. Or, they might feel quite uncomfortable discussing weight inclusivity altogether.
This provides you with a great opportunity to provide them will some resources to talk about weight inclusivity in a more comfortable way. One of the places I recommend is the Association for Size Diversity and Health which has some great resources and curriculum on HAES. The other place I highly recommend is HAES Community by Dr. Lindo Bacon which provides resources and a directory of HAES professionals who understand the importance of providing quality care that is respectful of each person irrespective of their size. Although this is far from an exhaustive list, it’ll give your patients and clients the resources they need to help start the conversation with the other health professionals they're working with.
4. Offer Ways to Eat Healthy Without Food Restriction
It’s important to help our patients and clients understand that healthy eating doesn't have to be all or nothing. They don’t need to deprive themselves of their favorite foods in order to make healthier choices. In fact, excessive dietary restrictions can actually lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.  This is why it’s important to ensure your patients and clients have at least a basic understanding of nutrition.
This might mean having some conversations with them around the different lean protein sources that they can consume for breakfast. Or, providing them with examples of culturally diverse dishes that they can enjoy for dinner. The most important thing here is to help your patients and clients understand that eating for their health and wellbeing doesn’t require them to put any restrictions on their food choices.
5. Encourage Them to Find Time for Enjoyable Movement
Even thinking about exercise might leave some of our patients and clients feeling overwhelmed. Whether they’re leading extremely busy lives or they simply don’t like working out, they might find themselves really struggling to get moving. But once they do, we know they will start feeling better after getting some exercise—even if it was just a short walk. This is why the key to getting them to move their bodies is encouraging them to engage in a form of movement that they enjoy.
Even though you’ll likely get asked, “what is the best exercise or movement,” the answer you can give to them is “the movement that you’re going to do.” Regardless of whether it is basketball, weightlifting, or bowling when we’re engaging in a life-enhancing movement that we truly enjoy it just makes us feel good. Plus, your patients and clients are more likely to maintain a new exercise regime when they’re engaging in a movement that is enhancing their health not just reducing their weight. 
I hope that you’ve found these tips helpful. And if you have any more questions about how to encourage your patients and clients to focus on their health rather than their weight, don't hesitate to reach out. I'm here for ya!
- Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
- Robison J. (2005). Health at every size: Toward a new paradigm of weight and health. Medscape General Medicine, 7(3). https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/506299
- Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015). Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the “obesity problem.” Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(12), 678– 695. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12223
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