I get the impression that some readers think that Health At Every Size means perfect adherence to the standard tenets of health, but without an eye towards weight loss. That’s an easy and reasonable mistake to make, partly since we don’t always go back and define our terms (sorry everyone who’s asked what HAES stood for recently!) and partly because I think it’s easy to interpret HAES that way. Honestly, it’s the simplest way to explain it and I’m sure I’ve explained it like that. But that’s not really what we’re about here, so I wanted to post a quick clarification.
There is nothing about HAES, at least as we advocate it here at Shapely Prose, that says that you need to have optimal scores on every test, that you need to be free of chronic illnesses, that you need to eat like a hippie and work out like an athlete. First of all, there is never a moral imperative to do things that are considered “healthy.” You are not less deserving of respect if you eat fast food, if you smoke, if you repeatedly hit yourself in the head with a hammer. HAES isn’t about marginalizing you if you’re not the perfect picture of glowing cornfed vitality. Shapely Prose certainly isn’t. By the same token, you absolutely don’t have to embrace HAES to participate in the movement — though if you read on, I hope you’ll find that you want to or maybe that you already have.
So you don’t need to be healthy to be good. We’ve written about that before; The Rotund did a particularly good piece on it. But you also don’t need to be “healthy” to be healthy. When we talk about Health At Every Size, we’re not talking about macrobiotic food and treadmills — maybe that’s what works for you, maybe it doesn’t, but it’s not the only face of “healthy living.” What we’re talking about is something a lot more complex and a lot less regimented, something that’s harder to break down into bullet points in a women’s magazine. Something that’s not about following rules or keeping up appearances, but about respecting yourself and doing what is best for you.
HAES can look like bean sprouts and barbells, absolutely. It can also look like hot toddies and resting up. Or like chocolate cake and a long walk. It’s not about feeding yourself “right”; it’s about feeding yourself what nourishes you. It’s not about getting the amount of activity prescribed by the AMA, but getting the amount prescribed by your body.
As an example: Personally, I’m fairly young and able-bodied and need to get exercise mid-day or I crash out in the evening, so I work out every day. But today I cut my workout short, because I was tired. The long workout and the short workout are both HAES; I did them both for the same reason. The long workout isn’t because I have to do a certain amount of exercise to count as “healthy” or “good.” It used to be, but it isn’t anymore. The short one (or the skipped one) isn’t because I’m lazy or weak. They’re both because my body wants a certain amount of activity right then. Likewise, it used to be that if I ate cake, it was because nobody was looking, or someone else was eating cake so it was okay, or because I’d “earned” the right to be “bad.” Now if I eat cake, it’s because I want cake, and if I don’t want cake, I don’t eat it. (Usually. I mean, nobody’s perfect.) Same cake, but one’s HAES and one’s not. It’s got more to do with attitude than behavior. If you’re doing what you’re doing because it’s what you’ve determined — without judging — that you want or need? Then it’s HAES, whether it’s veggies and leglifts or a box of bonbons. If you’re doing what you’re doing because of what someone else might think, or because of an abstract sense of what you ought to do, or because you’re frightened to do something else or can’t think of anything else to do? Then read on, because I think we can convince you that there’s a more nourishing way to live.
Just to be perfectly clear, we here at SP do NOT look like the Pictures of Health all the time. Regular readers know this — you’ve heard stories about Kate force-feeding herself Italian subs and whatnot — but it’s easy to forget because we talk abstractly sometimes. But I don’t want anyone reading “I practice Health At Every Size” to mean “I may be fat, but my refrigerator looks like a food co-op and I have a closet full of matching workout outfits and running shoes.” There are plenty of reasons why a lifestyle like that might be out of reach for someone — money, physical condition, or just a lack of inclination. But HAES means something a lot more complex than “fat in body, thin in habits.” It means a life based on something deeper than self-recrimination. And it’s possible for everybody.