What HAES Means and How It Can Help Us Feel Better About Our Bodies, No Matter the Size

If you've been exploring intuitive eating and body positivity, it's hard not to come across the acronym HAES. Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN, an antidiet registered dietitian nutritionist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and host of the Food Psych podcast, explained to POPSUGAR that HAES stands for Health at Every Size, trademarked by its founders, the Association of Size Diversity and Health, and told us it's an "antidiet approach to health care that's designed to help people take care of their bodies without trying to shrink them."

Kirsten Ackerman, MS, RD, CDN, who hosts the Intuitive Bites podcast and identifies as a fat-positive dietitian, added that HAES is a social-justice movement that aims to support people of all sizes in having access to resources that support their health.

The HAES approach supports acceptance of size and body diversity, added registered dietitian Brenna O'Malley, founder of The Wellful, who specializes in helping people move away from dieting and disordered eating patterns to develop a healthy relationship with food and their body. HAES encourages an intuitive approach to eating, promotes enjoyable physical activity, and recognizes that health is multifaceted. Kirsten said, "HAES means that we can pursue and encourage health-promoting behaviors at all sizes and see benefits from those, regardless of weight."

Kirsten said Health at Every Size does not mean "Healthy at Every Size." It's certainly true that people can be healthy at a much wider range of body sizes than society suggests and that natural body diversity exists. However, Kirsten said, "the purpose of the Health at Every Size movement is not actually to argue that all people are healthy in their current body. Instead, the purpose is to support health behaviors and access to health resources and respectful care for people of all sizes."

Kirsten said HAES supports the idea that all people can pursue health and be supported in that journey without a focus on intentional weight loss. "This includes eliminating harmful weight stigma that many people in larger bodies experience in our culture, like when doctors assume they know the health status and health behaviors of a patient simply by seeing the size of their body."

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), weight stigma is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person's weight, which they explained "can increase body dissatisfaction, a leading risk factor in the development of eating disorders." Kirsten added that another purpose of HAES is "to illuminate the ways that weight stigma is both running rampant in our culture as well as the ways it is causing deep harm to our health."

Christy explained that HAES was developed in response to substantial scientific research showing that "intentional weight loss doesn't work and actually causes more harm than good, and that weight stigma and weight cycling likely explain most or all of the excess health risks we see in higher-weight people." She added, "HAES is an evidence-based method that healthcare providers use to help support the well-being of people in larger bodies without recommending weight loss."

Healthcare providers and dietitians who practice from a HAES lens aim to support their clients in engaging in healthy behavior changes without a focus on weight or weight loss, Kirsten said. They recognize the harm of intentional weight loss, which is established in research, so they won't encourage you to lose weight or lower your BMI the way some doctors do.

If you want to learn more about HAES, check out these body-positive books, including Linda Bacon's book titled Health at Every Size.