the HAES® files: And yet it moves…

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Fall Ferguson, JD, MA

This month, I would like to talk about burnout – specifically activist burnout. It can be exhausting to have to continuously re-assert the same points over and over, points which seem “self-evident” to the activist.

Points such as: That restrictive dieting and obesity messaging and weight stigma and body shaming all cause harm, and in combination can be devastating.

Points such as: That an approach to health that emphasizes body acceptance, collective action to remove barriers to health, and individualized approaches that promote sustainable and pleasurable health behaviors just plain makes sense.

Note: This post is directed primarily at the seasoned HAES advocate, but I recognize that some readers may be new to the HAES model. If these points aren’t “self-evident” to you, then I refer you to the many articles, books, videos, and other resources on the ASDAH website. Great places to start include this 2014 article highlighting limitations of current approaches and suggesting that a HAES approach is promising, or Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor’s excellent dispelling of myths about the weight paradigm in Nutrition Journal. My purpose in this post is not to actually fight another battle, but to remark on the nature of the war.

Using Up Sanity Points

sanity pts cleanIt’s common among HAES advocates – and I imagine among many other activist groups as well – to remark upon the amount of “sanity points” it uses up to engage in certain acts of activism. I think of sanity points as the wherewithal to confront the most challenging ideas, opinions, and attitudes. Especially ideas, opinions, and attitudes that not only contradict our own, but which seem to belittle us or intended to shame us.

We need extra sanity points, for example, to attend an obesity conference or to read and analyze the hateful comments to a size acceptance piece published in a mainstream publication. I have nothing but admiration for those who seem to have boundless capacity for engaging in the size wars. Some of us get war-weary after a time. Dictionary.com defines the phrase war-weary as “utterly exhausted and dejected by war, especially after a prolonged conflict.” Yes, I think war-weary is a good way to describe those times when it’s really hard to muster the sanity points to keep fighting.

So, as happens from time to time, I have been running low on sanity points lately. As is usual in these cases, I believe, it wasn’t any one thing that got me to this state, and I won’t bore readers with the details. We all have those weeks or months when it feels harder to do the harder things, and it feels like we are running on fumes. That was my state of mind and body when a recent article entitled “Call for an urgent rethink of the ‘health at every size’ concept” from the Journal of Eating Disorders crossed my path.

With gratitude, I will leave a detailed response to the article to the competent efforts of others. I summarize my take on the article here simply to advance my story: the principal author, Amanda Salis, PhD, argues “vehemently” (her word) that it’s dangerous to tell people they can be “healthy at any size” because if you stay at a higher weight for too long, you will get stuck there, and your kids will too. Dr. Salis is in favor of promoting healthy behaviors as long as it is with the motive of “nipping excess weight in the bud – while it is still possible.” This don’t stay fat for one more minute because you might get stuck that way trope strikes me as just another variant on traditional obesity fear mongering, with some dodgy genetics thrown in to advance the and your children will be fat too trope as well. What cost me sanity points in this instance was not so much the “urgent” message itself, but the fact that it was published as a peer-reviewed commentary in the Journal of Eating Disorders. I was discouraged that a commentary on the HAES model passed the peer review process without providing a single citation to a HAES-based source. I was also discouraged that it was seen as useful or even credible to have a non-HAES advocate (Editor-in-Chief Phillipa Hay) write a “response” that describes Dr. Salis’ arguments as “persuasive.”

So now what?

There are anti-obesity articles published every day, so I can’t tell you why this one in particular hit me harder. It probably had as much to do with whatever else was going on my life than the article itself. The question that interests me here is what next? How to regroup and reignite the activist fires within? I have three ideas to start the list:

  1. Strategic Retreat: It has to be OK to retreat and “reboot” from time to time. A little R&R away from the front, as it were.
  2. Support: It’s important to seek support from others. I am not very good at this; I tend to brood alone and in silence. But when I overcome that instinct and reach out, the HAES and size acceptance communities are incredibly warm and supportive.
  3. Perspective: Fighting the good fight can’t be about winning every skirmish. I see the cultural shift slowly happening; we all do. Our success breeds outrage among those who have the most to lose. The more acceptance accorded to the HAES approach, the more strident some voices will become in opposition. I am deeply interested in building bridges and finding commonalities of purpose as a long-term strategy, but I also know that there will be those who are not open to making alliances, and you can’t win everyone over.

What are your strategies for recovering your sanity points?

And yet it moves…

The quotation in the title of this blog post—“And yet it moves”—is often attributed to Galileo after his trial for heresy because he argued that the earth trial of Galileorevolves around the sun. Apparently, Galileo’s judges refused to even look into his telescope to examine the evidence. (Sound familiar? Like, say, running down the HAES model without even really understanding or referencing it?) Galileo was ordered by the Church not to teach or even “hold” his dangerous ideas, and eventually was sentenced to the equivalent of house arrest.

Scholars debate whether or not Galileo really said “And yet it moves,” but it doesn’t really matter to me. I like to imagine that he thought it, whether he actually said it or not. And, the real point is that the ideas he espoused were stronger in the long term than any attempt to silence either the man or the ideas.

I also like the analogy because Galileo wasn’t actually the only one to assert heliocentrism; Copernicus published the idea over two decades before Galileo did, and many who came after also worked to promote heliocentrism before it was finally accepted. I find it helpful to understand that I am part of a lineage of HAES advocates, and the burden does not rest on any one of us.

We can take inspiration from the phrase “And yet it moves” as a rallying cry that transcends its historical origins. Let it help us to have the courage of our convictions. Let it motivate us to persevere in practicing with integrity. Let it remind us to support each other when the voices of orthodoxy seem particularly strong. Let it persuade us to keep on holding our colleagues accountable by asking them how the weight-based paradigm actually promotes health.

So I say to you, and to myself…And yet it moves.

8 Responses to “the HAES® files: And yet it moves…”

  1. I think of myself as an advocate rather than an activist because I’m only mildly active, but I find it helps to remember that I can’t force people’s minds.

    “We can never change someone’s mind – they have to do that, it being their mind and all – but we may be able to expand it with a new idea, a new perspective, a new option and that is powerful.” Ragen Chastain.

    She’s consistent about this– she describes her style of activism but doesn’t push other people to follow it.

  2. Self-care is always important, even more so when folks are actively arguing against you. I admit I reblog other activist’s words rather than my own since I still don’t feel I can explain these concepts very well. I still get sad when one of my friends wants to lose weight ‘for their health’ instead of say, ‘moving for their health’ or ‘getting enough sleep for their health’.

    As for keeping your kids stuck at a higher weight, well, it might be down to whatever your ancestors did. There is emerging evidence that your current health has been influenced by what happened in the past. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/10369861/Epigenetics-How-to-alter-your-genes.html

    How will all this dieting affect next generations? Will there be even more health issues? Will our grandkids be cursing the fad for eating less?Who knows.

    In any case, *HUGS* for all your hard work, and thank you.

  3. Great comments, Fall. I appreciate all the time and energy you put into it supporting others on this path. I recently delivered a talk on developing the resilience to advocate for size acceptance. If you want to check it out, a transcript of the first half of the talk is here: http://www.lindabacon.org/welcome/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Bacon_EDRS-2014-keynote-snip.pdf. Anyway, thanks for what you do.

  4. It helps to have been marginalized all one’s life. I never expect anyone to agree with me or even understand the points I am trying to make. All I ask for is that people be respectful; if they’re not, I’m done. It is disappointing that an article rejecting HAES is apparently written by someone who has not read or investigated HAES, but this is typical behavior for people more interested in propaganda than information. I find that many people love their concepts, especially when linked to their source of livelihood, more than they love trying to understand other people’s actual experiences.

  5. There are so many salient points in your article, Fall! Veteran HAES advocates can derive lots of battery recharging from pursuing friendship and support from their fellows–we can all help each other–but it helps to keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to be close personal friends with someone to derive inspiration from their work.

    I have always felt that the “half-life” of many productive activists is about five years, and anything after that is gravy. But part of the joy of being associated with many of long-time advocates and activists in ASDAH, NAAFA, CSWD, BEDA and other groups has been to see an ever-growing list of those who are productive for 10, 15, 20 years or even longer.

    You said, “…our success breeds outrage among those who have the most to lose. The more acceptance accorded to the HAES approach, the more strident some voices will become in opposition.” Very true. We can, in part, judge our success by the stridency of the opposition.

    One of my methods of keeping my sanity points alive, ready for future battles, is to avoid exposing my mind to the hateful writing of trolls in the comment sections after especially provocative or enlightened media exposure. It matters what you are willing to put in your mind.

    And just knowing that our pro-HAES and size acceptance movements (two similar but not identical endeavors) have more gifted and dedicated participants than ever before, helps me wake up each day with a positive attitude!

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