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Health at Every Size Is for Everyone

A few months ago, I wrote some about my thoughts on the Health at Every Size movement. Basically, the Health at Every Size Movement advocates for more awareness of the large amount of empirical, scientific evidence demonstrating that healthy behaviors such as exercise, sleep and nutrition influence health far more than BMI does.

Is it too obvious from the above sentence that I teach college writing?


When I talk about why I support Health at Every Size, many people think I’m simply arguing that there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to being overweight or obese.

I think accepting larger people is really important. But there’s more to it than that. A few of my favorite authors and experts on this subject, like Paul Campos and Linda Bacon, write about how people of all shapes and sizes can benefit from a Health at Every Size approach.

Let’s take an example of a behavior that might or might not be healthy, like exercise. Each of us has to choose how much and what kind of exercise we want to do.

I feel best if I walk, ride my bike, and do a little heavy lifting. On the other hand, when my Dad was recovering from a broken hip and shoulder, being mostly sedentary was the healthiest choice for him. Each of us had to make our own choice based on our knowledge or our own bodies.

The problem is that we sometimes stop listening to what our bodies need and want because, in our culture, we too often to see exercise primarily as a means of burning calories and losing or maintaining weight.

For much of the time that I had disordered eating, I thought of exercise this way. This caused me to exercise far more than I needed to because I falsely believed that I needed to exercise a lot to maintain my “normal” BMI. But in fact, I now realize that it’s not only healthier for me personally to get a more moderate amount of exercise, but I maintain the same weight even though I exercise much less now.

Or the opposite might happen: let’s say you’re also someone who easily maintains a so-called “normal” BMI. If you see exercise only through a weight loss lens, you might neglect the joy of getting out and moving your body because you think you don’t “need” it–and your health care provider might not notice or be concerned that you live in the basement in front of your computer screen.

Likewise, I’ve read and personally been told a number of stories from folks on the higher end of the weight spectrum who tried exercise first as part of a weight-loss attempt. When they didn’t lose weight and keep it off long-term, they gave up on finding a kind of regular movement that they enjoyed and that made them feel good because they had negative associations with exercise of all kinds.

I hope it’s clear from each of these examples that people of all shapes and sizes can have a healthier relationship with exercise if they divorce their ideas about exercise from…well…shape and size. We can’t be in tune with what our bodies need if we see the sole purpose of exercise as achieving a certain arbitrarily determined weight. And the same is true of having a healthy relationship with food, rest, etc.

On a final note, I also think that the Health at Every Size movement can make us all more compassionate people. Assuming that anyone who’s larger clearly makes unhealthy choices and that anyone who’s thin makes healthy choices is narrow-minded and judgemental thinking, just as assuming you can guess someone’s intelligence based on their gender. It’s wrong in the sense of inaccurate, and it’s wrong in the sense of cruel. Size is a kind of human diversity, and we need to be okay with that diversity, for our own sakes as much as for others’.


No specific questions today–just interested to hear your thoughts. 🙂

Happy Monday!

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  1. Cora says:

    Absolute truth. It all comes down to our constant need to rekindle what it is like to actually listen to our bodies. Intuitive eating and intuitive movement/exercise shouldn’t be such a foreign or difficult thing, but somehow it has become just that. I’ve been kind of riding a new intuitive train lately – or at least really trying to – and its amazing what you can discover when you actually ask “but how do I feel….?”

    1. Joyce says:

      It is amazing–and it’s amazing to me how we become so intellectual about food, movement and body that we no longer notice what we feel. Here’s to the intuitive train!

  2. Diane Wahto says:

    Joyce–This is interesting. When I go to the Y for water aerobics, I see all sorts of body shapes and they’re all in bathing suits. No one gives it a second thought. I love water aerobics for several reasons. It gives my muscles a good workout and I get to see people I’ve become friends with over the time I’ve been going. I used to walk two or three miles a day, but I can’t do that any longer. Being in the water is a good way for me to move without pain. I still take a thirty minute walk in the park with Pat and Annie on the days I don’t go to the Y. The park is beautiful right now. We’re usually the only ones there in the morning, but when someone else shows up, that person is almost always friendly. One of the workers said to us a couple of weeks ago, “We love you guys.” This was after Pat started helping him clean up the mess Memorial Day picnicers had left.

    As for food, I know what I can eat and what I can’t. If I eat too much fiber, I might as plan on staying home all day. I do eat some chocolate when I feel like it. It’s rejuvenating. I think we each have to figure out what works for us.

    Good blog.

    1. Joyce says:

      It doesn’t surprise me that you and Pat have made friends in that neighborhood. You are both such kind people, and who can resist Annie, after all? 😉 It’s awesome that water aerobics has been such a good thing for you. I can’t imagine having pain with every movement like walking; I’m glad that the water helps you feel good, see your friends, and move without pain.

  3. Evangeline says:

    Hm, I guess my deepest wish would be that the focus of wellness would shift away from vanity and fitting into some unattainable mold. That mindset seems to suck all the joy from living healthfully, exercising, eating foods that nourish our bodies, etc. Of course having an ED is waaay more complicated than just vanity or trying to fit into size 00 jeans, but it definitely plays a role. It did for me anyway.

    I think I would be a big advocate of the Health at Every Size Movement. I imagine it would work wonderfully most of the time, and I like embracing this thought process, that health isn’t defined by BMI or size. The idea that “health” is super complex and unique for each person because each person is complex and unique. My only concern is that it could become an excuse for unhealthy living. (i.e. “I have diabetes and heart disease, and I don’t feel like exercising because it’s not for me and veggies just aren’t right for me either. But it’s okay because I’m me, and I’m healthy in my own way.”) Maybe I’m misinterpreting though.

    1. Joyce says:

      I see your point, Evangeline. I would argue that *any* healthy living style, if misinterpreted, can lead to making unhealthy choices, like advocating for exercise can lead to exercise addiction in a few extreme cases.
      I think a common misperception about Health at Every Size is that it’s advocating for an “anything goes” approach to health. It’s still a *health* at every size movement, and most of the advocates I have read for the movement would agree that eating fruits and veggies and exercising are going to help combat the effects of diabetes and heart disease. The movement simply points out that doing healthy things doesn’t guarantee that everyone will reach the same size and shape.
      Since this is an eating disorder recovery blog, I’ve also made the point that for certain people at certain times of their lives, letting go of exercise can also be the healthiest choice.

  4. I recently finished reading HAES and I think you totally captured its essence in this post Joyce 🙂 It’s all about acceptance, re-learning how to be in touch with our bodies, and letting go of societal ideals because our bodies are smarter than we are 😉 Love how you explained it and love that t shirt!

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Cayanne. (Cats make everything better.)

  5. I agree with Evangeline’s post above! I do see both sides though and I think you’ve made some awesome points!

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Heather!

  6. Alyssa says:

    This is so important. I love the HAES movement. Because health is truly different at every size. Thank you for this Joyce- this is such a good reminder.

  7. Kaylee says:

    This is spot-on! But definitely tough to execute at times because society gives us an image of health at one size for everyone. It’s also tough for me not to compare with others. I like how the HAES movement reminds me to focus on me (in the lease egotistical sounding way possible) and what my body needs and provides.

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