The premise behind HAES is that diets don't work, and fat itself is not the mortal enemy it's made out to be. Too much focus, even within the medical community, is on losing weight. At all costs. And when you make fat loss the end goal, you don't necessarily get healthy results, you just get a thinner person. An example is that you can cut off a limb and lose weight according to the scale, but you are not better off or any healthier. Other less grotesque examples are the extreme bariatric surgeries (which carry huge risks and side effects), or crash diets which often lead to eating disorders. All of which may technically lead to weight loss, and none of which create healthier people.
HAES promotes health and fitness, plain and simple.
Except that it's clearly not simple. More and more people in the fitness industry and medical community are coming around to this notion, especially as more studies are done which demonstrate that it is your actions, your habits, which determine your health - not your body size. Yes, it is possible to be fat and fit, and it is equally possible to be thin and unhealthy. What you put into your body determines your health. How you move your body determines your fitness. Health should be measured by blood glucose, cholestorel levels, flexibility and mobility, lack of pain, quality of sleep, and all of those things which are not visible. The number on the scale? Not the only or the best indicator of health.
So why is this such a radical concept?
Health at Every Size does not necessarily mean that everyone and anyone IS healthy at any size. That includes the very skinny, the normal, and anyone in any BMI category. No one is truly arguing that obesity is healthy. (Well, some may. I'm not.) The point is that there are far better determinants of health than just your body size, or how much fat you carry. It all comes back to you can't tell what a person eats, how often they work out, or anything else about them except how their body stores fat.
Obesity is a really complex issue. There's no clear-cut solution, because if there was, trust me: us fatties would be all over it. The problem is that so much reporting and discussion about obesity is over-simplified, so that the message is basically "FAT = DEATH! OMG! DECLARE WAR ON OBESITY!" It's not helping. It's not working. HAES offers a more health-based approach.
The bigger point that resonates with me and HAES is not just that it's possible to be healthy at any size, but that we have the right to be healthy. I don't think I truly believed that. I felt like getting fat was my own fault (rather than considering various social, economic, genetic, environmental, and cultural factors), and so I forfeited my rights to be treated with respect or dignity. HAES changed that. If it was solely about weight loss I'd still be on the diet yo-yo train of starvation and eating frozen Lean Cuisine dinners and buying Weight Watchers snack cakes. The focus on health has led me to attempt varied exercise and clean(er) eating.
It's also saved me a lot of sanity points because there's a lot of tie-ins to body image with HAES. Mat has said to me that "Fitness is about feeling good." Happiness should be part of health, and accepting your body and your self is a crucial stop on that journey. I know that not all of the science that is spouted in support of HAES concepts is sound, and some arguments over-reach. Dieting is contrary to HAES practice, so attempts to control weight go against it, and I am clearly working to control my weight and to continue losing. Still, it was HAES which got me to adopt a more balanced approach to life, health, and fitness. It worked in the beginning, and then disordered eating and a really F'd up body image were re-triggered by losing the weight; exactly what I didn't want to have happen. In my quest for making this the year of balance, it is time to revisit some of the old HAES articles and concepts, and get back to a focus - a true, sincere, honest focus - on becoming HEALTHY. No matter what size I reach.