Deep dive: Better understanding Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating models
By: Kate Daigle
“If we make self-love or body acceptance conditional, the truth is, we will never be happy with ourselves. The reality is that our bodies are constantly changing, and they will never remain exactly the same. If we base our self-worth on something as ever-changing as our bodies, we will forever be on the emotional roller coaster of body obsession and shame.” — Chrissy King
Our relationship to our bodies can be one of the most complex relationships we experience. It’s a relationship that is constantly changing, fluctuating and evolving as we walk through the various developments of our lives. Let’s face it - we are constantly bombarded with advertisements of products and messages about appearance, which leads individuals to fight how they naturally look at all ages. As a result, we face an increase in individuals experiencing body-image concerns, disordered eating and heightened comparisons. Today’s society is chalk full of images, expectations, standards and rigid beliefs about how we all “should” be taking care of ourselves to reach optimum “wellness”.
In fact, low self-esteem and confidence, body-image issues and disordered eating are some of the most common issues that individuals present with when seeking therapy – and these issues don’t discriminate against gender, sexuality, race or ethnicity. Over the years, as we become more available to advertisers through social media, more harmful fads have developed, which don’t end up treating the issues at hand. Fortunately, in response to many of these harmful trends, we now have more effective and holistic models for helping individuals develop a more positive relationship to their bodies and the food they eat.
What are those models you might ask?
Here at Be Your Best Self & Thrive Counseling, we promote Health at Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating practices, which are two of the most common and effective ways of changing how you view yourself through body acceptance, food freedom and empowerment. As a clinician, I often hear many strongly held beliefs about what individuals perceive to be versions of “health” and “wellness”. For example, behaviors such as calorie-counting, body-checking and comparisons are common approaches that individuals engage in to feel a sense of control over their appearance and weight, which makes them feel healthy or well due to their beliefs about what it means to lose weight, etc.
Let me tell you, these models challenge those commonly held beliefs like no other.
My hope for you is that after reading this post, you will a) develop a better understanding of what these models are and how they confront some of the most challenging aspects of our relationship to body and food and b) debunk some common myths I often hear about both approaches.
So, let’s take a deep dive!
What is the HAES Model?
The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDH) defines the HAES model as an approach that “is a continuously evolving alternative to the weight-centered approach to treating clients and patients of all sizes. It is also a movement working to promote size-acceptance, to end weight discrimination, and to lessen the cultural obsession with weight loss and thinness. The HAES approach promotes balanced eating, life-enhancing physical activity, and respect for the diversity of body shapes and sizes.” You can find more on their definition of the HAES model here.
Sounds like an ideal way of relating to our bodies and food, right? This model promotes body acceptance and challenges commonly held beliefs about “beauty” while teaching individuals how to live truly balanced and empowered lives.
But many folks can be resistant to HAES, as it is a very new and different way of approaching body acceptance. And there are some commonly held misconceptions that we see play out in the media frequently. This can have some harmful consequences, primarily for those who struggle with body-image and weight as they may shy away from this approach completely. And if you’re someone who is familiar with this model and find yourself a bit hesitant, then I invite you to challenge yourself and explore your own biases and beliefs about what it means to relate to the HAES practices.
Here are some of the most common myths that are associated with the HAES model …maybe you’ve believed one of these yourself at some time!
Following the HAES model means that I can eat whatever I want and still be healthy.
● Following HAES model principles means that I simply don’t care about my body.
● The HAES model suggests that weight doesn’t contribute to poor health.
● The HAES model doesn’t emphasize a need for exercise or healthy eating.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating was a concept developed in 1995 by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. They define intuitive eating as “a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought”. You can find more on them and their breakdown of Intuitive Eating here.
Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch based their framework for Intuitive Eating on these 10 principles:
1. Reject diet mentality
2. Honor hunger
3. Make peace with food
4. Challenge the “Food Police”
5. Respect your fullness
6. Discover the satisfaction factor
7. Honor your feelings without using food
8. Respect your body
9. Exercise – feel the difference
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition
These principles help people redefine their beliefs and views about what is acceptable and healthy in the context of their relationship to food. You can read more about these principles here.
Part of the benefit of engaging with intuitive eating practices is that you learn to develop a more collaborative relationship with your body and tune into its needs. For example, here are some simple questions you can ask yourself to begin exploring how connected you are in your relationship with food and your body:
1. Do I listen to my hunger cues? Do I know when I’m hungry? How can I tell?
2. Do I listen to my fullness cues? Do I know when I’m full? How can I tell?
3. Do I know what I want to eat at this moment? (i.e. hot v cold, sweet v salty, crunchy v soft)
4. Do I have certain, strongly held, beliefs about food? (i.e. good v bad foods).
5. Do I know what kind of movement my body needs in the moment to feel balanced? (i.e. stretching, yoga, high intensity, cardio, walking).
6. Do I rely on food as an emotional crutch?
By asking yourself these questions regularly, you can begin to develop a better connection to your body, one in which you really listen to what your body is telling you and approach food from a place of nourishment. IE helps us learn how to reduce emotional eating and rigid, harsh food habits and replace them with a kinder, more positive approach to food and weight. And the more you practice IE, such as the above questions, the better able you will be able to assess what you need to do to improve your relationship to your body and food.
Remember - go slow and be kind to yourself. As I mentioned, our relationship to our food and bodies can be quite complex. It takes time to make changes, so focus on just one thing each day that you can do to heal your relationship with food and your body. Remember that no model or approach is a one-size-fits-all model – and those approaches or models that suggest they are for everybody tend to fall into fad-dieting and diet culture trends. The goal of the approaches I discussed, HAES and IE, is empowerment; to feel confident in knowing your body and what it needs to feel balanced and well.
Be Your Best Self + Thrive Counseling uses a holistic, non-judgmental approach to help you build an alliance with your mind, body and spirit that work together for your benefit. Kate is a therapist who is experienced in working with body acceptance and relationship to food. You can find out more about her here. Book your free consultation here to discuss how we can help!