This one’s hard to write because it goes outside my experience, so bear with me.
Okay, so I have a dieting and ED history, and I’m getting over a pretty severe disconnection with my body. I still don’t always know what it wants me to eat, though I’m getting a better idea of what it doesn’t want me to eat (which, ironically, includes most of the canonical Fat Foods like burgers and bacon and cheese). That makes not dieting easier in a sense, because nobody’s going to judge my food choices; I often look, for all intents and purposes, like I’m on a diet, because I don’t eat fatty or heavy foods and I can’t eat much at a time. At least, I look like I’m on a diet until you put a cookie in front of me. Anyway, but of course it also makes not dieting harder because I’m fighting against a whole lot of disordered thinking.
But here’s something that makes not dieting much easier for me than it is for a lot of you: I am, basically, a healthy person. Yes, I have some indeterminate stomach troubles, but those just help put a premium on listening to my body, which will punish me if I give it something it does not want. I have PCOS, but it’s not a huge problem for me. As long as I take my medication and just keep plugging along, my blood sugar and triglycerides are good enough to keep my endocrinologist happy (and bless her, if the tests go down while the scale goes up, she’s satisfied anyway). I am able-bodied enough to exercise regularly. I’m young. I don’t have joint problems or diabetes. I’m not trying to get pregnant.
So it’s really easy for me to say “listen to your body”; mine has its idiosyncrasies, but it isn’t my enemy. It’s really easy for me to say “the weight you’re at when you’re healthy is your healthy weight”; I’m healthy, overall. It’s really easy for me to say “you don’t need to lose weight”; my doctor isn’t telling me that it’s the only thing that will save my mobility or my life.
And this is a difficult conundrum. Because I think that if all doctors embraced HAES, then they would see that maybe you don’t have to lose weight to improve mobility — you just have to build muscle. They would see that it’s not weight loss that will help your blood glucose levels — it’s not overdosing on sugar. But that’s a Utopian vision. Not every doctor has even heard of HAES, and meanwhile, they can and will deny you treatment if they don’t see the scale go down.
When it comes to people whose bodies are their enemies, I truly believe that HAES is still for you. It doesn’t mean “optimal picture of glowing Aryan front-of-Shape-magazine health at every size”; it means “the best health for you, independent of weight.” That’s how it was conceived, and it can still work for you. If you have fibromyalgia, for instance, you can’t go to the gym as often as DHHS might recommend. But you can go as often as you can go, or take a walk as often as you can take a walk, or do gentle yoga as often as you can do gentle yoga, or not exercise when you really can’t and feel good about it because you’re giving yourself the rest you need. You’re still treating yourself well, regardless of the number on the scale. Maybe you feel at odds with your body — it won’t work with you, it doesn’t deserve good treatment. You’ve got a good reason for that. But everyone feels a little of that — everyone in a diet culture makes war on their bodies, until they stop, even if their bodies aren’t making war back. Why add the self-hatred and self-abuse of dieting into an already tense mix? HAES can produce an uneasy detente; it might not make you allies, but it will take out some of the hostilities.
For people who are ill and caught up in an inimical medical system, though, it’s really fucking tricky and no lie. The Rotund said something on her blog about how right now, maybe weight loss is more important than activism for you, and it is absolutely your right to set those priorities, but they still can’t coexist. But on the other hand, who knows better the dangers of an HAES-negative medical system than someone whose treatment is contingent on weight loss? Perhaps you think of it as a temporary hiatus from activism, but perhaps you think of it as an undercover spy job. I don’t know, I don’t have an answer for this one. I think it’s reasonable that people see the judgment implicit in “I don’t think YOU should have to lose weight, but at MY weight, which is also YOUR weight, I certainly can’t be healthy.” Or, god forbid, “at MY former weight, which is also YOUR weight, I felt JUST TERRIBLE. Just my opinion though.” See what I mean? But I think there’s a big difference between that and saying “listen, I have to play the game or they will leave me to die.” The problem in that case? It isn’t you.
So I’m leaving this open, because shit, I don’t know the answer. But I wanted to say that I acknowledge the conundrum here.