People come through our doors with a variety of goals. One of the goals many people have is to lose weight. Weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s so deeply ingrained in our culture, for many people the words “fitness,” “exercise” and even “health” are synonymous with restrictive diets, weight loss plans, and counting calories. But there is a movement that’s attempting to remove weight from the conversation about health entirely, which is a good thing for you and your mental health (more on that later).
Health at Every Size© (HAES) is an initiative from the Association for Size Diversity and Health, and is a weight-neutral approach to health that promotes “all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes.” Its main focus is on physical health and the research that shows weight and body mass index are not the end-all, be-all predictors of physical health, disease, and longevity we thought they were. But it has numerous significant implications for mental health too, and not just for people in larger bodies.
It Lets Us Enjoy Food Again
Under a weight loss-focused paradigm, food can become an enemy. Food categories are designated by virtue, and so is the language we use when we eat them (“I’ve been so good, I ate a salad today” or “I’m so bad for eating those three slices of pizza”). But allowing yourself to enjoy the food you eat without attaching self-judgement to it is incredibly freeing, good for your overall mental health and self-esteem, and has the lifelong benefit of altering your relationship with food over time. Instead of something to be feared and judged, food becomes an enjoyable fuel for your body.
It Lets Exercise Become Rewarding
Since weight-loss is a long-term goal, shifting focus to the short-term goals of exercise make it more immediately rewarding, which works better for us human beings. The immediate rewards include feeling more energized, less depressed, less anxious or stressed, and better able to focus on the task at hand. Being more aware of these will make it easier to maintain a regular exercise routine. The more immediate the reward, such as a decrease in depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders, the more likely you are to keep exercising. This is good for your body and mind, regardless of weight or size.
It Lets Us Know We’re Okay the Way We Are
Does this sound familiar? You’re trying to improve aspects of your life, your relationships, your habits, or even your personality. When you get down to the business of change, you treat yourself as an impediment or a tragic flaw that is blocking your progress. Many people who struggle with mood disorders see themselves this way. But there’s nothing wrong with you, even if maybe you’re going through a lot right now and that suffering is causing some strain on your work, your habits, or your relationships.
But how are you going to believe nothing is wrong with you if your goal is to change something so integral to your life as the way your body looks? It’s the opposite of what I as your therapist would want you to be telling yourself. Your body is perfect as it is. A goal of self-acceptance and self-compassion, with an emphasis on creating healthier habits results in a more sustainable recipe for improved overall mental health and personal well-being.