HAES nutritionists: Health At Every Size® 101 and what to expect when working with one

You’re curious about what it’s like to work with a HAES® nutritionist or dietitian. Maybe you’ve heard generally what this means and you want to know if it’s an approach you need.

You’ve heard the terms “Intuitive Eating” and “Health at Every Size®,” and they sound intriguing.

But let’s be real, you might not have a full grasp of what they’re all about.

Your goal is simple: you want a healthier relationship with food and your body, and you’re not quite sure how to get there.

Enter: An approach grounded in compassionate, helpful care!

What is Health At Every Size®?

In the most simple way, HAES nutritionists don’t fixate on weight or weight loss.

You might have the perception that nutritionists are all very clinical, and probably holding a green apple in a white room somewhere.

But a HAES nutritionist or dietitian is much more interested in what you need from them. Rather than assuming that we know best and that’s that.

A Brief History of HAES®

Hang on tight, because this is a whole new way of looking at health.

HAES® isn’t just about healthcare or about your personal health. It’s a social justice movement dedicated to respecting all bodies and ending weight-based discrimination. The principles of Health At Every Size® were established in 2003 by The Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH).

But 2003 isn’t where the HAES® movement began. It has roots in the 1950s when fat (I use “fat” as a neutral body descriptor) Black and Brown women and non-binary people campaigned for equal rights and celebrated all bodies.

Why is a HAES approach needed?

Sadly, the current healthcare system and culture harm people in larger bodies. There is systemic discrimination of people in large bodies.

This means people are less likely to go to the doctor when they’re unwell or concerned about something.

Our healthcare system and public health system in general is anti-fat bodies.

The HAES approach gives an alternative to this system. It rejects dieting and weight loss goals, and clinicians support your health regardless of your body size.

A Health At Every Size nutritionist or dietitian helps you engage in health, without focusing on weight.

Pillars of HAES®

When HAES® was officially established, five principles were made.

The pillars of Health At Every Size are:

1. Weight Inclusivity

Embrace and respect the natural diversity of body shapes and sizes, without idealizing or pathologizing any specific weights.

2. Health Enhancement:

Advocate for policies that improve access to information and services that enhance overall well-being across physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other domains.

3. Respectful Care:

Recognize biases, work to end weight discrimination, stigma, and bias, and provide services that acknowledge the impact of socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities on weight stigma.

4. Eating for wellbeing:

Promote flexible, personalized eating based on hunger, satisfaction, nutritional needs, and enjoyment, rather than externally regulated eating plans focused on weight control.

5. Life-Enhancing Movement:

Encourage enjoyable physical activities for people of all sizes, abilities, and interests, allowing them to move their bodies without feeling punished.

These principles guide us away from a weight-centric approach. We believe that pushing individuals to conform to a specific weight range is not evidence-based, person-centered care, and it can do more harm than good.

How we use HAES® pillars at Ease Nutrition Therapy

We are HAES® informed clinicians. This means we hold the values and pillars of Health At Every Size.

It’s not that we dictate what you want to speak about in appointments. It’s simply that we hold the value of HAES within us, like an inner framework.

In the words of Danielle from Shiva Baby, “It’s a lens!”

Can a HAES® approach improve your health?

If you’re thinking that a HAES® clinician is right for you, then great! But you also have health needs and you want help with your relationship with food.

So how does that all work?

Here’s why working with a HAES nutritionist can improve your health:

  • We put you in the expert
  • HAES dietitians and nutritionists can be invaluable for individuals dealing with eating disorders or disordered eating because they take a non-diet approach. Shifting the focus from weight to healthy habits can be incredibly beneficial in these situations.
  • They can also assist with various health conditions because they prioritize the person’s overall health, not just their weight. They provide non-judgmental care and treat everyone equally, regardless of their weight and body size. Their focus is on how you feel, not on your weight and body size.

What’s the science behind it?

It’s time for a tiny bit of science and research.

Healthy relationships with food:

Contrary to popular belief, accepting your body and moving away from a focus on weight loss isn’t “letting yourself go.” Quite the opposite! Body acceptance can actually make it easier to develop genuinely healthy habits.

2002 clinical trial found that women who adopted healthier habits without purposely trying to lose weight improved their health more than those who dieted.

Long term health:

Many people seek out dietitians to take control of their health and break free from food obsessions and eating disorders. Unfortunately, dietitians who focus on weight loss may prescribe restrictive diet behaviors, which can exacerbate food obsessions.

Weight-inclusive dietitians and nutritionists work with you to establish health-promoting behaviours that fit your unique lifestyle and support your body, without an emphasis on weight.

These behaviours are tailored to your values, goals, ability level, and financial means. We prioritize intuitive eating and healthy behaviour change over strict nutrition rules, focusing on long-term health rather than quick fixes.

Forcing weight loss isn’t actually healthful:

It surprises many to learn that there is actually little scientific evidence that being thin offers an advantage when it comes to longevity and overall health. No one has ever proved that losing weight prolongs life.

If anything, research has shown that weight loss can be associated with dying younger.

HAES is social-justice oriented:

The HAES® approach holds a clear social justice objective: promoting size acceptance, ending weight discrimination, and moving away from society’s fixation on weight loss and thinness.

Food variety:

When you stop dieting, you start to crave a wide variety of foods, including nutritious ones. Additionally, dieting often leads to a cycle of losing and regaining weight, which carries health risks.

Ending this cycle is not only beneficial for your physical health but also for your mental and emotional well-being.

FAQs about working with HAES® nutritionists + dietitians

Hopefully, I’ve helped you see how a Health At Every Size nutritionist or dietitian might be an ideal fit, here are some common questions answered.

Will I be weighed or given a meal plan?

Not usually. Most HAES clinicians wouldn’t weight you or give you a meal plan.

The only exception would be if you’re recovering from an eating disorder. This is to ensure you’re medically safe, progressing in recovery, and becoming more physically well.

Will a non-diet approach help me lose weight?

No one can really know what is going to happen to your body weight. Shocking, huh? You’ve been told forever that you can manipulate your body!

A Non-Diet or HAES approach doesn’t promise or hope for weight loss.

What kind of clients do most HAES nutritionists support?

Most HAES nutritionists and dietitians work to help you build a healthy relationship to food.

They might have their own specialists area or mostly work with disordered eating and can help with any additional needs to.

At Ease Nutrition Therapy, we are eating disorders and disordered eating experts. If our clients have medical conditions or specific needs, we can help them with these too.

But we don’t work with anyone who isn’t struggling with their relationship with food. Not because we *couldn’t* help them, it’s just not our interest.

What are some red flags to look out for?

There are a few red flags to look out for to make sure a nutritionist is truly HAES-aligned.

Some people use the term HAES because they think it sounds good. I don’t think it’s meant to trick anyone. This includes people who claim to be “non-diet” but also help people lose weight: the two things are completely different.

Why haven’t you mentioned Lindo Bacon?

I wanted to write clearly why we don’t mention Lindo in this blog.

You will come across others who cite Lindo as the “creator” or “go-to person” in the Health At Every Size movement. But this isn’t the case.

There was a situation in 2021 where this all came to light, which I won’t discuss here but you can find it in more relevant spaces.

Lindo was not the creator of HAES. But they did write a book titled Health At Every Size. Which is why Lindo is often claimed as the creator. HAES was established long before Lindo.

What are some other terms that are similar?

Not everyone knows what Health At Every Size is (but now you do!) so nutritionists might use other terms. Some other terms we might use are:

  • Intuitive Eating Counsellor
  • Nutrition Therapist (note: this is different from Nutritional Therapist, which is someone who has completed a nutritional therapy degree or diploma)
  • Nutrition Counsellor
  • Non-Diet Nutritionist/Dietitian

Does HAES mean you can be healthy at any size?

“Health At Every Size” sounds like that’s what it means. But HAES doesn’t mean that everyone is healthy at every size body. A HAES approach also means that you don’t “owe” anyone health.

So if you’re not “healthy” it’s not a moral failing.

Recommended further reading + resources

To learn more about the history of HAES and body liberation, I recommend these resources:

  • Fearing the Black Body by Professor Sabrina Strings (*)
  • Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen (*)
  • The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor (*)
  • You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tower (*)
  • The Mindset Nutritionist (Jeanette)’s resources

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