Are we losing the “war on obesity”? Some experts think so and suggest that it is time to make peace by trying a different approach to health and wellness. Research indicates that current recommendations for weight loss and weight management are not working.

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Studies have shown that:

  • diets don’t work for long-term weight management
  • sustained weight loss after following a diet is not occurring
  • continuous weight loss and gain is detrimental to health

At best, dieting may result in short-term weight loss. However, the weight loss is often difficult to maintain, and research has shown that individuals who have lost weight do not achieve the intended benefits of disease prevention and increased longevity. Furthermore, there may be unintended consequences. Preoccupation with food and body, eating disorders and reduced self-esteem are outcomes that have been linked with dieting behaviour.

Challenging conventional wisdom begins with thinking differently about weight. The Health at Every Size® (HAES®) approach questions the value of promoting weight loss and dieting behaviour. It supports shifting the focus to promoting healthful behaviours and size acceptance. Based on the simple premise that the best way to improve your health is to honour your body, HAES® encourages us to:

  • accept and respect the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes
  • eat in a flexible manner that values pleasure, and honours cues of hunger, satiety and appetite
  • find the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital

The Health at Every Size® Concept is Not New

Studies looking at non-dieting approaches to health have been practised since the early ’90s. However, the HAES® movement is gaining momentum and has received a lot of attention, likely due to an intense societal focus on obesity. The HAES® approach achieves health outcomes more successfully than weight loss treatments and avoids the contraindications of a conventional weight focus.

Research has shown that the HAES® approach leads to improvements in

  • physiological measures (blood pressure, blood lipids)
  • health behaviours (eating and physical activity habits, diet quality)
  • psychological outcomes (self-esteem, body image)

HAES® promotes well-being and self-care rather than prescriptive exercise, and focuses on helping you find enjoyable ways of being active and building activity into your day-to-day routines. It encourages active living for a range of synergistic benefits—physical and psychological—which are independent of weight loss.

Based on science, with data published in well-respected journals, HAES® is a trans-disciplinary movement that is promoting a shift in focus away from weight management and towards health promotion. Fitness professionals have a role to play in reshaping the way society thinks about health. You likely already know that being thin does not equal being fit, and that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

You can help to support and inspire others to focus on health and well-being rather than on weight. Check out the HAES® message for fitness professionals. To support the cause, sign the HAES® pledge

Colinda Hunter

Registered Dietitian

Colinda (BPE, BSc HEc (Nutrition), RD) is a registered dietitian who shares her knowledge of food and the science of nutrition to promote optimal health and wellness. As a nutrition educator with Alberta Milk she develops nutrition education resources and programs for health educators.

Article posted on June 1, 2012

Active Tip

Boys and girls who watch four or more hours of television each day have a greater body fat and a greater body mass index (BMI) than those who watch less than two hours per day.

The Expert Says

Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes – love and appreciate the body you have. Colinda Hunter, RD