Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Guest Post: Why I am Walking Away from HAES

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A few years ago I wrote a post detailing my concerns regarding the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement. My concerns are simple. While I'm a strong supporter of the notion that scales don't measure the presence or absence of health, it seems to me that HAES proponents often takes this concept further than it ought - both in terms of cherry picking and promoting confirmation bias tweaking data, and in terms of reacting aggressively when anyone suggests weight may be a valid source of concern to an individual or a physician. Yesterday I received an email from someone who has had some struggles with HAES and I asked if I might post their email anonymously so as to see if their experiences were unique and unfortunate for them, or par for the course and unfortunate for HAES.

I wanted to thank you and respond to your HAES article - but had no intention of reviving a nearly 2 year old thread. I recently walked away from the HAES movement, because, as you predicted in 2012, the proponents would use so little credible information that they wind up discrediting their reputation along the way. But not only that, but the localized followers have taken an even more drastic turn, and I feel that it has become somewhat dangerous.

Members of groups are either rabidly defensive, or walk on eggshells. After a recent blow-out it came to my attention that many of the HAES speakers may have some disordered health issues that are unresolved, and are using the program - not to promote health at any size, or to stop shaming people about body size - but to simply cover or hide coping mechanisms. You are not allowed to speak up and say things - things that ordinary people would say - without being accused of "triggering" HAES members - things like, "Some people decide to gain or lose weight for medical reasons".

To me, it became all too frightening that even speaking of someone gaining or reducing weight for a health or medical reason (or just because they want to, honestly) - as decided by patient and doctor - receives such a vehement backlash from the HAES community that you are, essentially, ousted. The "community" has become less about health at any size. It has become "Only healthy at larger sizes". It was noted that people who gained weight for health reasons were OK (that intentional weight change is acceptable). People who benefited from weight loss, however, were villains, lying, or anomalies. (Their intentional weight change is bad, offensive, and "dangerous") Health concerns for people at smaller sizes were/are irrelevant.

It is even more worrisome that unqualified individuals whose disordered habits may be triggered by the personal decisions of others are giving medical advice, and essentially encouraging people to stop listening to their doctors. The HAES people are right, the medical community (and individuals in it) are wrong.

That is downright terrifying.

I just thought I'd drop this note, because, well, people are walking away, and not just because of the lack of credibility. And it's too bad, too - because advocating health for everyone, and reducing stigma is an excellent thing. But alienating people because they have chosen health at a particular size - that does not fit into their overall agenda - is not the way to grow a movement.