Shapely Prose Lexicon: “Dieting” and “HAES”

Dieting is the deliberate pursuit of weight loss as a goal in and of itself.

HAES, Health at Every Size, is endeavoring to improve one’s health by means other than weight loss, but which may cause incidental, almost always temporary, weight loss. HAES is about working to make your body as healthy as possible, regardless of its size, hence the name.

The behaviors related to both might, in some cases, overlap, but the intent is not the same, and it makes all the difference.

30 thoughts on “Shapely Prose Lexicon: “Dieting” and “HAES”

  1. Perhaps we need abbreviations, so we can be cool like dat.

    WLD- Weight-loss Dieting.

    It is against the spirit of FA to participate in WLD.

  2. Kate, thanks for being patient and being willing to keep going over this. I’m one of the people who has been struggling to understand the distinction between what I consider “diet” (changing your eating habits in general) and your use of the term “diet” (changing your eating habits for the express purpose of weight loss). Is there a “Fat Acceptance 101″ blog or site (along the lines of the Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog) where I could get more detailed background information?

  3. Yes, let’s define terms! I’m all about being very specific, because words mean things.

    I came to say that a “gluten free diet” and a “diet” aren’t the same thing, and although I know this, what do we say when it’s brought up? I think “weight loss diet” is a great addition to the lexicon, because I have a specific diet, but it’s not a “diet”. I like not having to exorcise a word (diet) from my vocabulary while being able to be really specific.

    And I’m going to pull this out on any health care professionals who try and mess with my mind (also known as acting like my fatness makes me ignorant to what a “healthy diet” is).

  4. About four years ago I did a lot of reading on natural hormone enhancement as a way of building immunity (I had no insurance), anti-aging (late 50′s), strength and vitality. I changed the way I’d been eating and loved how much better I felt. But, I choked on calling it a diet. From then on I spoke in terms of my eating plan.

    I have had some real setbacks when I slipped into WLD attitudes and self-criticism. It is damn tricky to steer clear of this trap.

    This last year I did a lot of reading and thinking about going vegan because eating meat didn’t make any sense – from a planetary resources standpoint. Again, I try to express this as an eating plan.

    But, since I am fat I know this translates to others as diet (as in WLD). I think this is an incredibly important distinction and time will help all of us adjust our innermost conceptions – and given enough decades the culture will follow. My biggest struggle is within my own mind. Thank you for taking real pains to point out the distinctions, Kate & Co. and positive, thoughtful commenters.

  5. This is a good point, but it kinda galls me. The primary – and as far as I can tell at 11:30 at night, oldest – definition of “diet” is basically “how/what a person eats”. That’s still the default definition for a LOT of people – including myself. Weight-loss diets are only one kind of diet, under that definition.

    Obviously, you can define the terms of your own conversation. This comment really isn’t meant as a criticism of this post, not at all – more like a criticism of the culture we live in, where a perfectly fine and useful word for talking about what people eat has become equated with eating in a way intended to lose weight. There’s something kinda creepy about that, and something kinda … devaluing, I suppose.

    Then again, I have some issues with the devaluing of words. Don’t get me started on the insanity of our common cultural equation of love and sex…

    I guess this is a bit of an off-topic comment. I think you hit a peeve-nerve of mine. :D

    (And I know I’ve never commented here before, but I love this blog. It always makes me think.)

  6. Alix, I hear you. This was posted specifically in response to people who asked what I mean by “dieting” (as in weight loss) vs. HAES.

    But if you missed Fillyjonk’s point, you’ll note I defined “dieting,” not “diet,” in large part because I agree with your definition of that. :)

    And thanks!

  7. I’m not sure why the gerund isn’t registering…

    It is. Which is why I said that it’s an off-topic comment that I posted because it brought to mind an annoyance I have with the culture, not the post? I’m mildly compulsive with peeve-related comments – I pretty much have to post them just to be able to sleep, which is why I made a point of saying, twice, that my comment is more or less off-topic.

    And it’s not like there’s not a gerund for the primary definition of diet, either. “Dieting” can be – and at least in what I read, often is – a synonym for “eating”.

  8. And since it got lost in my obsessive bitching (boy, do I need to shut up) – I completely understand what motivated this post, and agree with it. In terms of the perpetual discussion of this blog, those distinctions need to be drawn.

    I really am all for defining terms, and even for redefining terms to suit a particular context and need. (Not that anyone could tell from my peevishness above… :D) I was more taking the chance to gripe. (Bad Alix, no avocado.)

    Sorry for the minor derailment.

  9. English is so problematic because it’s so hard to really add subtlety to language if there isn’t a word specifically for it.

    So diet can mean the way you eat, the way you don’t eat, the way you lose weight, and the way you hate yourself through food. But it’s so easy to mix up all those things with one sentence.

    It’s a shame that so much of this problem seems to come from the weakness of language.

  10. Kate, my turn at the dead horse, everyone else move over please.

    Hate to nitpick, but this definition just won’t work. Absolutely no one pursues “weight loss as a goal in and of itself”. It’s for health reasons, to look better, or for better comfort e.g. airplane seats etc. But I don’t think anyone tries to lose 20 lbs purely because one number is better than the other – there’s always a context and other reasons to it.

    Here’s my problem, hear me out because I’ve put a lot of thought into it. I’m not the smartest guy, so if I can think of this, you bet a lot of other people can.

    Suppose my brother, a devoted FA guy, decides that he needs to improve his health since our father died early of a heart attack and he doesn’t want to. He eats a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables, increases his fiber intake, and cuts out saturated fat. He doesn’t care about his weight and his quite happy with his body the way it is. He just wants to have better heart health, so he cuts out the fast food even though he loves it.

    According to your definition, this is perfectly OK and is healthy.

    But I notice that my brother is losing weight, and so go on the exact same program with the express purpose of reducing my weight. I don’t care about my heart at all, I just want to look good on the beach because I am vain.

    This is “dieting” according to your definition and is inherently unhealthy.

    There’s the problem – how can the exact same course of action be healthy in one case and unhealthy in the other? My body doesn’t understand philosophy, so the outcome can’t be that different from my brother’s.

  11. Question: if I wanted to float ideas for a FA-movement logo, where would be a good place? I don’t blog much on my own…

  12. Hate to nitpick, but this definition just won’t work. … there’s always a context and other reasons to it.

    Yeah, not the point. There’s a context to any goal. Dieting sets weight loss as a specific goal, regardless of context/reasons/additional goals pursued simultaneously. HAES does not.

    There’s the problem – how can the exact same course of action be healthy in one case and unhealthy in the other? My body doesn’t understand philosophy, so the outcome can’t be that different from my brother’s.

    Actually, it can. Because weight loss resulting from HAES is A) incidental, and B) usually just as temporary as any other weight loss.

    So you do the exact same things as your brother, except he’s practicing HAES, and you’re trying to lose weight. What your brother finds is that his health improves and he feels better about himself, even if he loses no weight at all or gains whatever he loses back. Because he is interested in improving his health, regardless of his size, any weight fluctuation is essentially meaningless to him, and as long as he feels better, he’s succeeding at his goal every day he practices HAES. These feelings of accomplishment and good health can continue indefinitely.

    You, however, specifically want to lose weight. Maybe you do that on the HAES-twin diet, at the beginning. But it does not last. The weight eventually starts to come back, as it does for pretty much everyone. At this point, you have failed at your goal. That’s frustrating and demoralizing, which is a far cry from your brother’s experience right there. You may have started out thinking “I would like both to improve my health and lose weight,” but now you have to prioritize. If you’re still going through the motions of HAES, the health improvements are probably still there — but the weight, if you ever lost it, is coming back. So now what’s the priority? Good health or weight loss? Can you feel good in your healthier body even if the weight comes back?

    Since the premise here is that you’re a vain person who wants to lose weight for aesthetic reasons, the answer is no. This means you have to prioritize weight loss over health improvements. You have to up the ante in pursuit of that goal. You have to start restricting your calorie intake and/or increasing your exercise levels beyond what merely makes you feel better and improves your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, etc. — which is what you were already doing on your HAES-twin diet.

    Now you’re getting into the territory where there’s a potential for physical harm as a result of dieting. Also, you’re going to gain it back again, probably with a little extra.

    This cycle, too, can continue indefinitely. But it’s not much fun. And it sure doesn’t make you feel better on the whole.

    Intention makes a difference.

  13. I was thinking about this in the shower this morning (an excellent place to be thinking about body acceptance issues), and it occurred to me that one of the important differentiating factors between dieting and eating with an eye to nutrition is emphasis on emotional and physical comfort. Dieting and weight loss programs are all about delayed gratification, and often make your comfort out to be the enemy, or a sign of failure. Self-acceptance requires making your comfort a priority.

  14. So can we then introduce a handy mnemonic device by saying that WLD causes FA to become FAWLD? You know, like “fouled”? Ha… ha?

    … I’ll show myself out. :)

  15. Alix, I’m so with you on the language peeves (in fact, I’ve considered reactivating my long-defunct blog just to rant about grammar/usage peeves). Ironically, for years our society used the term “reducing diet.” Unfortunately, Americans tend to be lexiconically lazy and dropped the “reducing” part. The result is the dead horse that we’ve been beating.

    SweetMachine, I now have a brand-new favorite comic. Thank you so much!

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