How To Get Started With Health At Every Size

Moving from a diet/weight loss mentality to a Health At Every Size® mentality can feel pretty daunting. It’s not necessarily easy to let go of typical beliefs around weight and health when everyone from your doctor to your mom to various media to your office mate are telling you about the wonders of the latest diet/celebrity weight loss/the dangers of fat, etc. Even if you’ve been reading about HAES® and understand why it makes sense, it can be hard when you actually try to apply it to your own life.

So how do you go from the theory of Health At Every Size® to the practice of it? My advice is – just start somewhere. Just do one thing that you associate with Health At Every Size® and commit to it for a week or a month or however long you need.

faith is taking the first step even when you dont see the whole staircase mlk quote
What will your first step be?

Let’s take a step back and define Health At Every Size®. I like to use Linda Bacon‘s definition. She says that it encourages:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
  • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.

In a nutshell, these three principles are the basis for HAES®. As Linda notes, “It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control).” By adopting and internalizing these principles, we practice HAES®.

These principles are, of course, deceptively simple. If you’ve been a chronic dieter for years and years, it’s likely going to be a difficult transition from dieting and restricting to a “flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.” If you’ve only ever exercised to lose weight and burn calories, it may be heard to find the joy in moving your body. If you’ve believed heart and soul in the thin beauty ideal all your life, “accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes” likely will be challenging.

Truthfully, this is the bulk of what I do with my clients – supporting them to really make these principles part of their every day lives. And of course, working with a HAES® counselor is a really wonderful way to get support with living a HAES® lifestyle.

But if you aren’t working with a counselor, where can you start? I say, start anywhere. Start with anything that seems fun and/or even a little easy. For example, if you already have an idea of how you can exercise in a way that makes you feel vital, go for it. If you feel like you’re already starting to see the beauty in a diversity of bodies, focus your efforts on that. If you’re intrigued by the idea of really paying attention to your hunger and fullness and eating with that awareness, try that. Don’t start with the thing that seems really hard or incomprehensible.

One of the beautiful things about HAES® is that each of the three main principles interact with one another. Respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes may lead you to respect your body more, which may lead you to eat and exercise in a more intuitive healing way. Paying attention to your hunger may allow you to notice what else you’re hungry for in your life, which may lead you down a very healing path of connecting with yourself and your desires. Moving your body with joy may allow you to see the beauty in a variety of bodies.

You really don’t know where your HAES® journey may take you, but it’s important to take that first step. Whatever first step you take is a good one.

What was or will be your first step on your HAES® journey? Let me know in the comments section below.

Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. Go to to get your free download – Golda’s Top Ten Tips For Divine Dining!

4 replies on “How To Get Started With Health At Every Size”

How do you negotiate the “internal cues” bit when you are dealing with someone who either has decreased bodily awareness (I’m Autistic. Not only are my eating cues ALL psychological, but I often don’t know I need to pee until OMG WHERE’S THE BATHROOM. It’s a real thing.) or who have a history of disordered eating or both? (I not only have the funky bodily awareness thing but my psychological cues to make up for it have been distorted a lot by both bulimia and compulsive behaviors stemming from abuse history/)

That’s the ONLY part of the steps you mention here I can’t hit. *

* I have other things that some might try to classify under the first step, but are actually more along the lines of personal body integraty issues- If I don’t recognize a picture as myself, I’m attracted, but as soon as it clicks that that’s me. . . Dysphoria resulting from dysmorphia. I seriously see myself as about 100lbs lighter than I am, and I’ve been working on it for YEARS.

I SO wish my family understood HAES… I gained 10 lbs after I graduated 5 yrs ago because in college I was an athlete that had to work out 4 hrs a day.  Shockingly when I slowed that down to a normalish intensity (30 min daily) and allowed myself to cave to my food cravings (all in moderation) I stopped looking like a body builder.  The constant remarks and comparisons to the old me are getting tiring… I keep trying to explain that I’m still quite healthy: I don’t eat much junk food (I’ve never really liked the way junk food tasted so thankfully that hasn’t been a huge problem for me), I exercise regularly, and I take care of myself otherwise, but they can’t seem to understand that being skinny is not the important issue here.

I recently joined a gym because I was sick of being stuck at a computer all day, only to go home and sit in front of the TV. It wasn’t easy to find a gym I liked because I purposefully went in with the mindset that I just want to be more active and rebuild some strength, not focus on weight loss. I finally found a gym that I love because their mindset is to do what you can at your ability level. The intake counselor didn’t even blink when I said I wanted weight loss to be a happy side effect, not the main focus. Every exercise we do can be modified to be easier or harder, depending on your personal fitness level. I’m in the therapeutic class, but find it really encouraging that even the advanced classes do some of the same moves we do (just more reps, or with weight or resistance added in).

One thing I did have to nip in the bud early on was the way my friends and family were “encouraging” me. I had to tell them repeatedly that weight loss wasn’t the focus. I’m not going to start dieting too. I’m going to eat what I’m going to eat. Working out has made me crave healthier choices, but they’re not a mandate. If I want to skip a class, don’t make me feel guilt about it. If I feel like I have to work out or have to eat a certain way, I will rebel against that, and their “encouragement” becomes counter productive. If I work out because I want to I’ll stick with it.

One thing I appreciate is the joy aspect of being physically active. I was reading Runner’s World (or maybe Women’s Health?) recently and it had a little blurb that said something like, You don’t have to do every workout just the way it’s written on a training plan. If you hate intervals, you can find a different workout that suits the same purposes differently. So in this instance, the example was to try running with a friend and taking turns chasing each other instead of doing a timed interval thing, or if even sets bore you doing something that builds and then comes back down. And I thought that was such helpful advice, because while I like running and I like improving, I don’t always like the workouts that are designed to help me improve, like, “run 10x 400 at your 5k pace with :10 rest between” or “run 10 mile repeats cutting down to faster than 5k pace” or whatever other thing is long and repetitive. But the idea that (since I’m not an Olympian, just a recreational runner) I can do something else that works toward similar results (speed or distance or turnover or form) that is better suited to what I enjoy is really great–it makes me feel more in control of my running and like it’s more about me and my enjoyment, not just “this is what runners do.” And I think applying that idea to all physical activity is a great idea. So yay for having joy in moving around!

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