From time to time the Health At Every Size® Blog will be sharing HAES Matters ”roundtable” posts with our readers. The questions that appear in the HAES Matters posts are based on questions generated by participants at ASDAH’s 2011 Educational Conference. The participants were asked to list the most common questions they heard with respect to health, weight, dieting, and the Health At Every Size approach to promoting wellness. We have compiled responses from some of ASDAH’s HAES experts to these commonly asked questions. We hope you will comment below with your own questions, answers, and reflections on these HAES matters.
Q: The HAES® approach suggests helping people find “individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity”. What about a person who weighs 500 lbs and feels s/he is unable to leave their home?
A: Deb Burgard
A person who is 500 pounds is not necessarily unable to leave home, so let’s think about someone of any size who is unable to leave home due to mobility challenges. In the case of a thinner person, we are much more likely to problem-solve using whatever abilities and preferences that person has to work with, and it is no different for someone at a much higher weight. Does this person like the water? Do they like music? Companionship while they are moving?
Once we start thinking about what it would take to make movement accessible to someone, the problem solving begins, and it is usually about changing the environment and not the person. It would be amazing to create environments that are much more appealing, safe, and usable by people of much more diverse sizes and abilities.
A: Michael Loewy
No one is too big to move around as much as feels good. I found that motivational interviewing techniques that meet a person where they are now and assesses their motivation to change, with no judgment, worked great for me to figure out what exactly I wanted to do by way of increasing my body movement without feeling forced to do something that I would never sustain anyway.
A: Deb Lemire
A person who has become unable to leave their home because of their physical body size (not all folks that are 500 lbs are housebound) has many confounding factors that impact their health physically, emotionally and psychologically. Determining what the true barriers are for that person is the first step in helping them move their body in a way that is appropriate and enjoyable for them. Once those barriers are identified, solutions can be found to remove or work around them. Getting to know a person’s history, likes and dislikes, and experiences, will help identify what they might want to do, what they might be able to do. You start from there.
Q: How can one respond to those who challenge that the HAES® model is “healthist” and/or “ableist” in its promotion of exercise?
A: Dana Schuster
Before I became a Health & Fitness Instructor, I worked in the field of vocational rehabilitation with individuals with a wide range of physical challenges. What I found then, and what I believe now, is that enjoyable physical movement feeds the mind, spirit, and the body no matter what shape/size/ability an individual physical body may be in. Helping someone to find what activity works for him/her – however they are “abled”- is one goal of the HAES approach. The choice to explore movement options or not, or to engage in physical activity or not, should always be the decision of the individual, and no good/bad value judgment should ever be attached to that choice.
A: Deb Lemire
The HAES model leaves a lot of wiggle room in determining how one might want to contribute to their own wellness. It does not dictate any particular right or wrong way. That is the opposite of a healthist approach, which deems only certain behaviors and those that choose them to be healthy. The HAES approach is generous when determining “appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity.” It does not limit exercise or physical movement based on a preconceived right way of moving. It presents all those on the bell curve from one end to the other, with the option to find what works for them based on their individual needs, desires and physical ability.
A: Deb Burgard
The HAES model can be vulnerable to reductive, structurally biased, and co-opting influences. It is ableist to assume that everyone can move in the same way, or should. It is healthist to grant moral superiority to people who are lucky or privileged enough to have more health at a given time. Some presentations of the HAES model have been ableist and healthist, and that needs to be challenged. When the model is reduced to “eat intuitively, exercise, and your weight will be fine,” it should be challenged. When people present themselves as “exceptions to the fat stereotype” to gain credibility and privilege, they risk throwing people whose lives happen to resemble the stereotype under the bus. We must fight to keep the HAES model specific enough to avoid it being another way to pursue weight loss, and unspecific enough to accommodate the wide variety of abilities, lives, and bodies that we represent. It is up to the individual to determine what their priorities are for investing in the practices that add value to their daily experience; but it is the responsibility of a humane community to create environments and policies that provide a way to have a choice.
A: Michael Loewy
The HAES model does not promote exercising—it promotes feeling good and taking baby steps to making small improvements in our eating and movement such that we can feel better in our bodies. I am very much opposed to any practice that is not sustainable, whether it be diets or exercise programs. I do what feels good to my body (most of the time) and if it hurts or doesn’t feel good, I don’t do it. Occasionally I overdo it if I go to the Pride parade or if I take a walk with friends and go too long, but this is by my own choice.
A: Fall Ferguson
The HAES approach to movement and exercise is not about judging someone for not exercising; it’s about defending the right to move our bodies—all bodies—in ways that are pleasurable and life enhancing.
Unfortunately, our culture has become extremely healthist, in the sense that it values “personal responsibility” for health, and the moral worth we attach thereto, over diversity and wellbeing for all. In such a culture, it’s easy to misinterpret any mention of movement or exercise as a healthist mandate to conform our bodies to a specific physique or fitness level. However, I think this mischaracterizes the HAES model’s treatment of movement and exercise.
We should advocate for the removal of all barriers—whether environmental, socioeconomic, or cultural—to movement and exercise for all bodies. Beyond that, I encourage mindful movement, similar to mindful eating, in which we reconnect on the deepest level with our bodies’ needs. Sometimes we need to move, sometimes we need to rest, but no one else, ever, gets to tell us what, how, or when to move or rest.