the HAES® files: Marketing for HAES® Professionals: Six Tips for Marketing without Selling Weight Loss

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Rachel Dhanya Smith, MA, LPC, NCC, CAC II, RYT 500

Marketing your own business is hard. It can be doubly hard when you are a Health At Every Size® (HAES) professional in a field that typically uses weight loss to sell services. Our culture is steeped in marketing messages that highlight (or invent!) flaws and promise to fix them. It can feel like this is the only way to market, and I have seen many a wonderful practitioner create marketing materials that go against their own ethics because they fear they won’t be able to keep their businesses afloat if they don’t. Questions come up: How will people find me if they don’t even know that HAES is an option? What do you say to someone who thinks the solution is weight loss? Will I lose business if I don’t promise weight loss? Is it even possible to grow a business with HAES principles at the foundation?

As a private practice counselor and yoga teacher specializing in body image and eating disorders, I know firsthand the pressure and temptation to market my business from a weight-loss platform. When I talk to peers in my field, this type of marketing is expected, and an “Oh, well, it’s a drag, but it gets people in the door” attitude prevails.

As a woman of size, however, I do not have the privilege of marketing this way, even if I wanted to (which I don’t). I also know the danger inherent in marketing this way. “Getting people in the door” through weight loss marketing is not without harm. For years, I thought that even though I was eating intuitively and moving intuitively, I must be “doing it wrong” because I didn’t lose weight as promised. My unchecked belief in the link between health and weight loss substantially impacted my ability to reclaim my body, move towards my own definition of health, and establish trust in myself around food and physical activity. I distinctly remember the day I discovered HAES, and the incredible realization that there were other possibilities for a happy, full life beyond the scale. It was a watershed moment that allowed me to finally live as if I weren’t waiting for a different body to show up.

Now that I work in this field, I feel strongly that I must be open, honest, and clear in the marketing of my business in order to do no harm. Refusing to market using weight loss has pushed me to get creative, to think deeply about my work, and to determine how I really want to connect with my clients. I have learned to embrace a HAES foundation in my business, and to use this in a way that sets my business apart from other businesses offering similar services. In the spirit of sparking creativity and possibility for other HAES professionals out there, here is a list of my six favorite tips for selling your business without selling weight loss.

  1. Determine what you are actually selling. I am willing to bet that it is not actually weight loss because this isn’t actually a thing for the vast majority of people in the long term. In my case, I knew I couldn’t sell weight loss, but I also had to come to terms with the reality that I don’t have a magic wand and that I can’t “fix” What I can do is connect, inspire, support, comfort, understand, listen, see, validate, educate, collaborate, encourage, and otherwise offer kindness in a very unkind world. Don’t underestimate the power of what you do. People come to see you for YOU. If you can be authentic and present for your clients, then you are harnessing some incredible healing power, whatever your field. Once you can clearly articulate what you are offering, you have a much better chance of connecting with someone who really wants what you have.
  1. Understand how your client wants to feel and focus your efforts there. This is key for marketing because of the way the human mind works. We don’t seek external things for external reasons – we seek them for internal reasons. We want to feel something as a result of our efforts, whether it is a particular positive feeling (i.e., inner peace, happiness, or freedom), or the release of a particular negative feeling (i.e., letting go of self-judgement, sadness, or insecurity). You know your clients better than anyone! What do they come to you hoping to feel? Use your marketing materials to honor the deeper needs your clients have in seeking your services.
  1. Acknowledge potential desire for weight loss. This might seem counter-intuitive as we are not offering weight loss, but it is important because so many clients come to a HAES practitioner due to struggles they have faced around weight loss. This struggle is very real, and people vary in their ability to imagine a life without getting to the promised land of a lower weight. When you acknowledge this up front, it sets you up as someone trustworthy, and someone who understands what people are going through. This opens the door for your clients to work through blocks that might come up in their work with you.
  1. Educate! Use your marketing platform to illuminate new possibilities for your clients. This is the fun part! Once people find your website, your blog, your card, or your flier, you can give them a taste of what HAES has to offer! This could be something small, like a quote or a surprising fact on your business card, or something more involved, like a series of blog posts on a topic you’re passionate about. This is where you can connect with people as they begin to imagine something bigger and better for themselves.
  1. Embrace your message. Go for it! This has been the most powerful tactic I have taken as a business owner. I do not apologize for having a HAES platform. This relieves me from having to act like I can provide something I know I can’t, and it further relieves me from the ethical dilemma of bait-and-switch marketing. The biggest surprise for me was that people are truly excited to work with me because I am a HAES practitioner, not in spite of it! The belief that we have to use weight loss lingo to sell HAES goods and services is a big fat myth. Some people won’t want to work with me, of course, but the people who are coming in my door are the ones who do – and there is no shortage of people looking for the breath of fresh air that is a HAES practitioner in a sea of dieting “”
  1. Trust your client, Trust Yourself. If you trust people to decide for themselves, then when they come through your door, they are already in a position of empowerment. If you trust yourself to BE yourself, then you will truly be able to connect with the people who need you and your services the most. Your particular voice is needed in this world – trust that you have something unique to offer, get clear about what that is, and go toot your own horn! Your clients are waiting.

 


Rachel Dhanya Smith, MA, LPC, NCC, CAC II, RYT 500 is a licensed professional counselor and yoga teacher with a private practice just outside of Boulder, Colorado, where she specializes in Body Image, Eating Disorders, and Self-Love. Rachel draws from many years of experience in depth psychotherapy, eastern philosophy, yoga, and meditation. It is her mission to help her clients live unabashedly happy, connected, full and embodied lives. Want to get happy, too? Check out Rachel’s work at www.imaginativecounseling.com

 

 

 

5 Responses to “the HAES® files: Marketing for HAES® Professionals: Six Tips for Marketing without Selling Weight Loss”

  1. I used to work in a law office that had a large bankruptcy practice. I still remember when the Sr. Partner came back from a marketing seminar with lots of good ideas about how to relate to prospective bankruptcy clients and put them at ease.

    Many bankruptcy clients show up full of guilt, remorse and hating themselves for things that are FAR beyond their control (ex., medical bills — I remember one devastated client who was filing bankruptcy after being inundated with bills following a life-saving a heart transplant for which her insurance company had declined to pay; clients whose employer closed the business and moved it overseas so they no longer had a job or an income, OR clients whose former employer filed a corporate “reorganization” bankruptcy so its hardworking retirees now only would receive $0.06 cents for every $1.00 dollar they’d been promised in retirement pension benefits; etc., etc.). These clients who DID NOTHING “WRONG” but wound up in bankruptcy would show up crying and ashamed, full of self-hatred and unable to look anyone in the eye, their heads hanging low, etc., etc.

    So at this marketing seminar the Sr. Partner learned about the INYF (“Its not your fault”) approach, reassuring clients that first of all, they did nothing wrong, second of all, that bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of (the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to file bankruptcy; it was the Founders’ progressive alternative to debtors’ prisons); and third of all, that the attorney is on their side and will offer them an alternative perspective to all the stereotyping and negativity and discrimination that is out “in the wild” about “people who file bankruptcy.”

    This reminds me very much of that …

  2. An awesome post, Rachel.I think one of the most valuable springboards you list is #3, acknowledging the desire for weight loss. Helping clients probe what they think weight loss can bring them is a great entrance into their world. For some it may be Improved health, for others its about feeling attractive, and of course the list goes on – but once you have identified what they’re really looking for, you can better support them on their journey. It’s ironic that even though you are not offering them weight loss, their drive to lose weight can be the most effective starting point.

  3. when i see an add / marketing a product or service for any weight loss, i throw it out as “garbage”…i’ve lived long enough to know it’s BS …marketing lies loses my business

  4. My brother is a psychotherapist and often meets clients who focus on a desire to lose weight as their primary motivation. His approach is to ask, “OK, what’s REALLY bothering you?” He finds out what the client thinks losing weight will accomplish, and then turns the focus to reaching that goal directly rather than hoping weight loss will achieve the goal.

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