At any given time, 53% of Americans are on a quest to slim down and the average woman devotes six months a year to counting calories and 31 years on a diet over the course of her lifetime. And yet, waistlines continue to expand and obesity rates continue to rise, leading many experts to believe that diets simply don’t work.
So aside from years of yo-yo dieting, points-tracking, starving and binging, self-loathing and doctor reprimands, what does work at helping us develop the physique we’ve always dreamed of?
According to some, it has nothing at all to do with adhering to certain foods while banning others. It doesn’t even require forced exercise. It’s a new movement known as Health At Every Size (HAES), and its principles are so radical and elementary that they are bringing a wave of relief to dieters, while ensuing a wave of concern from doctors.
The premise is simple: healthy behaviors are more important than weight loss.
On the HAES plan, dieting, calorie counting, points and strict rules and regimens are abandoned for “intuitive eating”—a method that lets you control what you eat simply by listening to your body and distinguishing real hunger from emotional hunger. For exercise, again it’s based on what your body responds to. Instead of trying to force yourself to stick to a gym routine that you hate, this movement encourages you to ditch what you don’t like and, instead, do anything that is fun. In other words, forget about following someone else’s rigid rules about eating and exercise, HAES is all about teaching you to love and respect your body just as it is—no matter the size.
Of course discarding the old dieting methods and freeing ourselves to accept our bodies as they are while filling them with things that only bring joy has some doctors raising their eyebrows with concern, stating that BMI’s and weight guidelines help stave off health issues like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a whole host of other problems. Yet, mounting research suggests the HAES movement may be onto something.
One study by the National Institutes of Health followed 78 women as they participated in a HAES program or a conventional diet. While the women in the HAES group were coached on healthy eating, physical activity, lifestyle choices and body image issues, they did not follow a set of rigid rules about food and fitness. In the end, the women in the HAES program didn’t lose weight, but they saw multiple health improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, activity levels and depression at the 6-month and 2-year marks. Meanwhile, the women in the dieting group lost weight and also showed signs of health improvements initially, but within two years they went back to their old behaviors, health conditions and weight, proving that HAES may have longer-term benefits.
The premise of intuitive eating and exercise may not get all of us into a pair of skinny jeans, but we love the idea and think it makes a lot of sense. If we all paid more attention to what our bodies really need and respond well to, then we would find foods that make us feel good while we’re eating them and even better afterward. We’d find exercises and movement that bring us joy instead of dread. And we’d find bodies that work better and are happier and healthier versus ones that are constantly trying to live up to someone else’s unrealistic ideals.
What do you think?