Health at Every Size

Over the last few years, I continued to come across the phrase “health at every size” or HAES for short. The HAES model is becoming more popular both in the eating disorder recovery community and in the mainstream media, so let’s take a closer look at it and what it entails

What is the HAES model?

The HAES model recognizes and accepts that bodies are diverse, that health and weight are not mutually exclusive, promotes overall health and well-being that is not focused on weight or weight loss, and that a variety of foods can be enjoyed in moderation.

The HAES model was first proposed by Linda Bacon in her book “Health at Every Size”. This model can be used by therapists, dietitians, doctors, and other medical and health professionals.

Okay, but how does this impact therapy?

As an eating disorder therapist, I promote the HAES model because it makes sense. Many people who come to therapy for disordered eating patterns have struggled with dieting, diet culture, and their relationship with their bodies. My role as a counselor is to provide my clients with correct information about dieting and diet culture so that they can begin to nourish and liberate their bodies in more practical and compassionate ways.

The first thing that is important to understand is the idea of set point theory. Set point theory posits that 80% of our body weight is biological and inherited, while we really only have control over 10-20 lbs. This means trying and trying to lose weight through dieting and restriction won’t work (more than the 10-20 lbs that we do have control over). This means that when somebody “fails” at a diet, they’re not failing at all. Their body is responding appropriately to the changes in nutritional intake.

How can HAES help me?

I utilize the HAES approach to help my clients accept their bodies, just as they are. It’s not an easy process and requires a lot of work and intention. We work to change your thoughts about yourself, your thoughts and relationship to food, and the internalized stigma you may have developed about your weight and body size.

I also work with clients to establish normal eating patterns in which they eat when they’re hungry, stop when they’re full, and develop an ability to listen to hunger and fullness cues. I often work in conjunction with dietitians for this aspect of treatment so that clients can ensure that they’re receiving a wide variety of different types of foods.

Lastly, I help clients develop compassion towards themselves so that they treat themselves with grace and patience as they learn these concepts. We’ve all been conditioned to believe diet culture and to also believe that thin bodies are better bodies. It’s time to reverse these thoughts and attitudes and to be accepting and compassionate to all body shapes and sizes.

Emily Teegarden