HAES-Informed Therapy: What It Is and How It Can Help You

Tired of diet talk? Unfortunately, it probably isn’t going anywhere. We live in a society that thrives on making people feel bad about themselves.

Research shows that nearly half of American teenagers are actively trying to lose weight. Another study found that the average adult tries a staggering 126 diets during a lifetime.

These numbers paint such a bleak story about eating disorders, poor body image, and low self-esteem. It’s no secret that we live in a society that emphasizes unrealistic appearance standards. But that doesn’t mean you need to conform to these toxic messages. And if you choose to stand up against this narrative, you can harness a greater sense of happiness and self-worth.

Weight loss isn’t the answer to happiness, and it doesn’t necessarily correlate with optimal health. HAES-informed therapy or coaching can help you feel more balanced and confident- here’s what you need to know.

What Does It Mean to Break Up With Diet Culture?

Diet culture affects nearly every part of modern society. It not only influences how people eat, but it impacts relationships, parenting, leisure time, healthcare, and life satisfaction.

Some common examples of diet culture include:

  • associating weight loss as being “good”
  • feeling shameful or guilty when eating
  • labeling foods as either good or bad
  • engaging in fatphobic behaviors or conversation
  • attempting to suppress or control your appetite
  • measuring worth based on body size or weight
  • assuming weight management will bring happiness, love, or confidence

Sadly, diet culture is the mainstream societal norm. Most people have disordered relationships with food and with themselves. In addition, healthcare providers reinforce this culture by jumping to prescribe weight loss for most health issues.

Breaking up with this toxic culture means recognizing all the triggers that cause you to want to lose weight. It also means finding healthier role models, building a balanced relationship with food, and finding happiness regardless of how you look.

 

What Exactly Is The HAES Movement?

You don’t have to be thin to be healthy, and being thin doesn’t automatically mean you are healthy. These are some of the guiding principles behind the rising HAES movement.

Health at every size (HAES) refers to the inherent respect and acceptance for all body shapes and sizes. The HAES principles recognize the devastating effects of weight stigma in society, and this movement strives to end this form of discrimination in all forms.

HAES also has strong roots in public health and social justice. At its core, we must be weight-inclusive. Everyone should have access to high-quality healthcare treatment. This is a basic human need, but many people face enormous backlash when seeking medical services.

Anti-fat bias is a pervasive issue in public health, and this specific type of discrimination creates toxic environments that disproportionately cater to thin patients while ostracizing fat people. In healthcare settings, anti-fat bias can look like providing treatment suggestions that focus on losing weight instead of actually hearing a patient’s concerns. Subsequently, due to frustration or discrimination, many people avoid going to the doctor’s office altogether.

Traditional medical interventions focused on dieting or weight loss often don’t work– at least in the long run. Research shows that most people gain back most (or more) weight after dieting, and chronic dieting often coincides with disordered eating.

HAES-Informed Therapy What It Is and How It Can Help

What’s Wrong With BMI?

BMI (short for body mass index) is a numerical term based on height and weight. Doctors use this number to lump patients into set categories: underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese. From birth, healthcare providers look at this BMI to see if someone’s “on track.”

On paper, the concept of BMI might sound logistical. But this number doesn’t reveal much of anything about your health. It doesn’t examine blood pressure, mental health, mineral levels, medical history, genetic concerns, systemic factors or anything else that might indicate poor health outcomes. And even in comparing body size, BMI doesn’t distinguish between muscle, bone mass, or fat.

Moreover, BMI was actually developed by a Belgian mathematician and statistician named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He was not a physician- he simply created a formula to measure the average European adult man.

Nearly 200 years later, healthcare providers still stubbornly use this formula. The idea is that BMI is simple, inexpensive, and noninvasive. And while that thought process may be true, the limitations of this model are significant.

 

What Are The Benefits of Embracing Body Neutrality?

In recent years, body positivity has taken the media spotlight. Body positivity refers to loving your body at any size and finding the inherent goodness in how you look. Achieving a body-positive mindset might entail specific interventions like positive affirmations or practicing gratitude for specific parts of your body that you have neutral or positive feelings towards.

Body neutrality focuses more on accepting your body for what it does for you. Someone who embraces body neutrality doesn’t try to change how they feel about their body’s appearance. They instead focus far more on how their body feels,  what it provides, and health promoting behaviors. .

Being body-neutral doesn’t mean you have to love your body. But it does mean you strive to find acceptance for it. For example, someone who engages in body neutrality might say, I appreciate my body for all it does for me everyday. It’s beautiful exactly as it is. Someone who engages in body neutrality might say, My body is amazing for carrying my newborn.

You can practice body neutrality by:

  • reminding yourself that your appearance is only one small part of yourself
  • accepting that weight doesn’t correlate with self-worth or overall health
  • practicing intuitive eating and listening to your body’s need for nourishment, movement, or rest
  • aiming to observe your body without judgment
  • focusing on the wonderful things your body can do for you
  • being mindful of ruminating thoughts about your appearance
  • wearing comfortable clothes that you enjoy and feel good for your body
  • disengaging from conversations that entail diet talk or body bashing

 

Which One Is Better: Body Positivity or Body Neutrality?

Both mindsets have their advantages, and there is certainly room to embrace either or both thought processes. Body positivity and body neutrality fight against social factors regarding ideal shapes and sizes, and they can undoubtedly help people improve their self-esteem.

However, body positivity is not always a realistic goal, especially when you first begin untangling yourself from dieting, desires for weight loss, or low self-worth. In some ways, focusing on body positivity still remains appearance-focused. Furthermore, people may feel like they’ve ‘failed’ if they don’t genuinely like how their body looks. It can also feel disingenuous to praise something that you don’t really want to praise.

Body neutrality epitomizes having a healthy relationship with yourself. You are more than just your physical body, and your life is so much more than how you look. When you can let go of focusing on your appearance, you have more emotional energy to focus on what really matters: your relationships, passions, and values in life.

HAES-Informed Therapy What It Is

What Does It Mean to Work With a HAES-Aligned Provider?

A provider who isn’t HAES-aligned might:

  • highlight the benefits of weight loss for mental health
  • ask persistent questions about diet or physical activity
  • automatically assume certain emotions are due to your size
  • show visible discomfort when you talk about your body or weight
  • directly recommend you try certain dieting strategies

Unfortunately, even some of the most well-intentioned healthcare providers often discriminate against people based on their size. They automatically make negative assumptions about larger bodies, and they often disregard one’s overall health to instead focus on weight loss.

HAES providers recognize this insidious nature of weight bias. They understand the systemic discrimination associated with this faulty thinking. Furthermore, a HAES-informed provider actively strives to dismantle the problematic messages associated with dieting.

Keep in mind that not all life coaches or therapists operate from this holistic framework. Unfortunately, many providers still hold onto outdated, racist, or fatphobic beliefs about what health means. They may directly or indirectly project these biases onto their clients.

You have a right to health care that respects your dignity. If you want to seek care for your physical or emotional well-being, consider asking potential providers what they think about HAES. Their answer (and the rationale behind their answer) should give you direction about how you want to proceed.

 

Coaching Services for Breaking Up with Diet Culture

Even if you know that diets are damaging to your physical and mental health, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to separate yourself from the insidious messages about what it means to “be healthy.” We are inundated with constant reminders about how we should act, look, and carry ourselves in the world.

Breaking up with diet culture, in many ways, means standing up against societal norms. Women, in particular, often fear this work. We live in a world focused on intentional weight loss, where we’re scrutinized for our body size, and where bashing your body or sharing ‘healthy habits’ are routine conversations among friends and loved ones.

As a HAES provider, my coaching services focus on:

  • eliminating the concept of ‘healthy food’ vs ‘unhealthy food’
  • embracing concepts of intuitive eating
  • engaging in joyful movement instead of rigid exercise
  • moving towards size acceptance
  • strengthening emotional well-being regardless of body size
  • setting boundaries with people/services who disrespect you

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but the transformation tends to be profound. As people realize that they are so much more than a body- and that life is far too precious to focus on losing weight- they often feel a sense of freedom they’ve never had before. Things suddenly seem much more limitless.

My break-up with diet culture coaching provides a blend of support and accountability. Together, we’ll unpack the ways you’ve felt stuck by toxic messages about weight, and you will learn how to build a more peaceful relationship with yourself.

HAES-Informed Therapy

Weight Loss, Weight Stigma, and Trauma: What’s The Connection?

Feeling singled out because of your weight doesn’t just feel uncomfortable. There’s significant evidence showing that people impacted by weight stigma are twice as likely to have a high allostatic load. An allostatic load refers to the combined burden of chronic stress and challenging life events.

High allostatic loads can have devastating consequences on your physical health- it’s associated with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic pain, and cancer. It’s also a risk factor for numerous mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Similarly, people with eating disorders tend to report higher rates of trauma. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the vast majority of people with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder have a history of interpersonal trauma. Subsequently, anywhere from 10-30% of people with eating disorders also have PTSD.

People often endure ongoing trauma due to their size. This trauma can range from being harassed about your weight or being discriminated against at the doctor’s office. As mentioned, anti-fat bias is pervasive. It comes in the form of unsolicited health advice or pitied looks or assumptions about how fat people live and take care of themselves.

This is all to say that you are not alone in feeling frustrated, ashamed, or anxious in your own body. Our society is harsh, and practicing self-compassion and self-love can feel like a strange act of rebellion.

 

HAES-Informed Online Therapy in Seattle & Washington State

Do you recognize having a disordered relationship with food or exercise? Do you feel like the ruminating thoughts you have about your size are affecting your quality of life? Are you sick and tired of diets and weight loss and the hyperfocus on your physical appearance?

It’s time for a paradigm shift. People of every size deserve to live meaningful, joyful lives. Even if it seems foreign to you, you can embrace who you are, regardless of how you look. As a HAES-aligned provider, I provide compassion, guidance, and unconditional positive regard in my practice.

Additionally, as a trauma-informed therapist, I recognize the impact trauma has on every part of our well-being. I use EMDR to help clients move past feelings of stuckness and become desensitized to the traumatic material holding them back.

I look forward to supporting you in your journey! Contact me today to get started.

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