Why Intuitive Eating Needs HAES

Intuitive EatinglovesHAESI got clued in to Health at Every Size (“HAES”) and intuitive eating at around the same time.  The two have always gone hand in hand in my mind.  But I distinctly remember the moment I realized that not everyone agreed with me.  My professor said to me, “You know, there are people who believe in intuitive eating for weight loss.”

Though I was displeased to hear that there were people running around being wrong about things, I managed to move on.  I wrote my master’s thesis on a HAES based intuitive eating approach to type 2 diabetes management.  On the day I was to present my thesis, another student in my program was also presenting the health education program that she had designed, which included intuitive eating…for weight loss.

As she started to speak, I internally coached myself.   “Breathe.  Be open to hearing what she has to say.  Breathe.  Keep breathing.”  At some point I was breathing so enthusiastically that the other audience members probably thought I was hyperventilating.  My brain was exploding with counterarguments.  (I get a little passionate about things sometimes, ok?)

During the Q&A session afterwards, I managed to calmly ask a respectful question about her approach, and then once again, I moved on.  I climbed back into my little HAES+intuitive eating bubble, and padded the walls with comfy body positive memes and reading materials.

In the last year I’ve been trying to reach outside my bubble to expand my sense of community.  From here I see other intersecting bubbles.  There is the eating disorder community, the mindful eating community, the intuitive eating community, the HAES community, the size acceptance community, and the fat positive community, which are connected to wider communities like fatshion, 4th wave feminism, social justice, and food justice.

None of these communities are mutually exclusive, and none of them have 100% crossover with another community.  I find that I am most likely to find anti-HAES sentiment in the mindful eating community, but it does show up in the intuitive eating community as well.  My temptation is to say, “Screw those people!” and pretend they don’t exist, but I think “those people” are becoming a growing problem.

As the pressure to diet and lose weight is increasing, so is the awareness that diets don’t work.  People are scouring the internet looking for some kind of way out of this conundrum.  They’re landing on intuitive eating, and they’re skeptical, but they’re hoping it could be the weight loss solution they’ve been searching for.

Us intuitive eating coaches tend not to advertise that intuitive eating is not about weight loss.  I think that this is partly intentional (we don’t want to scare people away before they have a chance to “get it”) and part of it is incidental (the focus really is not on weight loss, so why spend time talking about it?).  But this is problematic.

Let’s use a typical potential client as an example.  This person has been struggling with diets and weight loss for a long time.  They experience their body as more of an enemy than a trustworthy friend.  They want to learn how to listen to their body, but they also fear that if they do, they will lose all control and end up fatter, and therefore, unhealthier than ever.

This nagging fear makes trusting their body So Much Harder and for some, totally impossible.  So they keep dipping their toes into intuitive eating, and then running away when the fear and doubt become overwhelming.  If this goes on too long, they start to think that intuitive eating doesn’t work, or that it can’t work for them.

On the other hand, what happens if the would-be intuitive eater is informed that health (and not-health, and everything in between) can happen at any size?  The fear is gone.  The potential to reconnect with the body’s intuition skyrockets.  The work of becoming an intuitive eater becomes So Much Easier.

Some people do lose weight eating intuitively, and I suppose that gives them the chance to go on believing that size=health, which is a false belief that hurts people of every size.  People who maintain or gain weight eating intuitively are compelled to re-evaluate their beliefs about what it means to be healthy, which is both painful and liberating.

Just as becoming an intuitive eater takes time and practice, so does getting rid of internalized sizeist and healthist beliefs.  Adopters of HAES also face a lot of resistance from family, friends, co-workers, healthcare employees, and trolls on the internet.  It can be rough at times, but you also become part of an amazing community of passionate, intelligent, and caring people.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, as passionate as I am about intuitive eating, I don’t think HAES needs intuitive eating.  But does intuitive eating need HAES?  Yes, I believe it does.  Believing that your body is acceptable, trustworthy, and worth listening to is the foundation for healing your relationship with food and experiencing greater ease and wellness.

If you’re in the intuitive eating bubble and ready to learn more about HAES, jump in!  I recommend starting by reading about the HAES principles on ASDAH’s website here and checking out Linda Bacon’s book “Health at Every Size” from your local library.  Be a part of the movement that says there is no wrong way to have a body.

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