Health at Every Size is a fitness and nutritional ideology that makes these pursuits about health and wellness, rather than weight. In a time when the Western world is caught up in a panic about obesity, especially childhood obesity, Health at Every Size is a calming breath of fresh air.
How is HAES Different?
Health at Every Size, or HAES, followers believe that everybody, and every body, can be healthy. Rather than focus on major weight loss, which many experts believe is an impossible goal for most people, HAES focuses on the belief that it's possible to feel good and improve health in the body you have right now.
Adolescence is hard. Most kids only want to look right. They're given media examples of nearly impossible thinness to look up to and compare themselves to. It's so easy for them to believe that there is something wrong with them if they don't measure up. This sometimes leads to psychological problems like body dysphoria and eating disorders.
When a teenager has a body type that is larger than what is considered by society to be normal, they are often bombarded with advice on how to slim down. Doctors, teachers, friends, and even parents not only openly encourage these kids to change their bodies, they feel a moral obligation to do so.
HAES is different, because it focuses on teaching anyone, including teenagers, to love their bodies and to take care of them, regardless of weight.
Making Your Home HAES Friendly
If you want to turn your home into a HAES friendly zone, start by removing unhealthy and unrealistic diet and weight loss materials from it. Instead, invest in books that teach basic nutrition and some equipment for making fitness fun. Check out Dr. Linda Bacon's book, Health at Every Size, for a good primer on HAES.
The simple act of making fitness activities about fun, rather than weight loss, is a paradigm shifter. Take your whole family hiking or install a basketball hoop and invite your teenager to shoot a few with you. Riding a bike around your neighborhood is far more fun than spending countless hours on a stationary bike.
Fill your kitchen with a wide variety of foods, and refuse to put a moral value on any of them. All foods have nutritional value. Rather than focus on calories or fat grams or carbs, help your teenager pay attention to how they feel after they eat. A breakfast of whole grain toast and eggs may give them longer lasting energy than the quick burst that comes with a sugary pastry. Realizing this and really understanding it will have far more of an impact that insisting they eat in a way that you think will cause them to lose weight.
Make sure your child understands that the world is made up of people who come in all shapes and sizes. Weight is not an indicator of health. There are plenty of slender people who have poor health, just like there are those who are heavier and vibrantly healthy. Provide them of examples of extraordinary people who look like them.
HAES is All About Acceptance
If there is one message the Health at Every Size movement has to offer, it's this: Your body is okay,just the way it is. Self-acceptance and body-acceptance are far better roads to health and fitness than shame and guilt.
One of the best things you can do for your family, especially if you have a teenager who is struggling with body image, is to learn to accept your body. Stop talking badly about it. Start treating it with respect. There's a good chance that your teenager, who shares your genetics and very likely your body type to some degree, is listening when you talk about how much you hate your thighs or how disgusting your fat stomach is.