The dieting approach.

The dieting approach to health is to focus on weight loss. When weight loss is the focus, a person will take steps to improve their eating and exercise habits.

To get to their ‘ideal weight’ quicker, many go on a fad diet which usually involves cutting out specific foods or even eliminating entire food groups. Drastic changes to eating habits leads to hunger and cravings, which lead to feelings of deprivation and body dissatisfaction. Many also reluctantly join a gym to do more intense exercise. This may lead to injury, setting them back further than they started and often putting them off exercising altogether. Aiming for weight loss, often through restrictive and resented changes, end up being unsustainable and don’t lead to improvements in health. They may even deteriorate health.

Even if and when significant improvements to their health are achieved, not having achieved the desired amount of weight loss often leaves them feeling discouraged. A sense of failure may develop, leading to a greater urge to lose weight, and the diet cycle starts all over. The negative experiences and the feeling of constantly ‘going nowhere’ do not encourage self-care, long-term behaviour change or improvements in health.

There’s got to be a better way.

You may have heard of some health practitioners working in a ‘non-diet’ or ‘Health At Every Size’ (HAES) manner. Unfortunately, HAES is misunderstood and treated condescendingly by some due to its focus off weight loss. Some clients are even fearful that working in this manner will exacerbate weight concerns. On the contrary, there is increasing evidence to support this approach for those with eating and weight concerns. Although HAES’ main focus is to improve health by addressing behaviours, when health improves (and positive changes to weight occur as a consequence of changing to healthier behaviours), self-worth is boosted and positive changes are sustained long-term.

The Health At Every Size® Principles are:

  • Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  • Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  • Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  • Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  • Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

The HAES paradigm works on a foundation of self-care. When people feel better within themselves and about their body, they are more likely to feel motivated to take care of their bodies and to initiate or maintain healthy behaviours. It also incorporates intuitive eating and mindful eating. With an approach on health-centred behaviours rather than weight centred dieting, the focus can be one of gentle, wiser, more sustainable changes to support health. The HAES approach is equally applicable to chronic health issues as it’s focus is on achieving health improvements.

Josephine Mollica is the owner of Eatwiser and uses a HAES and a non-diet approach to assist people with food, weight and body image concerns, disordered eating and chronic lifestyle disease such as hormonal, gastrointestinal or cardiovascular health issues.

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