Is Health At Every Size the Solution to Anti-Diet? What Are They & How Are They Connected?
By: Liz Gruber, Ph.D.
What type of diet is anti-diet? It’s not a diet! The anti-diet movement radically opposes diet culture and the systemic impact it has on people’s lives. Diet culture is so engrained in today’s society that it’s sadly become normal to have a difficult relationship with food.
Diet culture is not a specific diet or lifestyle. By definition, it is an oppressive belief system that:
Idealizes thinness and is considered equivalent to “health” and a moral obligation that indicates status and the extent you deserve respect
Demonizes certain foods and ways of eating while elevating others which results in being overly preoccupied about what you eat, feeling guilty about your food choices, and diverting you away from pleasure, purpose and power
Promotes weight loss as being “good” for your health and it’s your responsibility to attain/maintain a shrunken body and other unrealistic beauty standards despite science showing intentional weight loss cannot be sustained for more than a few years
Stigmatizes and discriminates against people who do not reflect assumptions of “health” or meet diet culture’s rigid aesthetic standards
Ignores the harmful health outcomes of multiple oppressions such as racism, sizeism, ableism, sexism, and heterosexism
Examples of how diet culture shows up:
Receiving unsolicited comments about some else’s food choices and its implications to finding a partner or preventing a partner from leaving you
Exercise is viewed as a way to “compensate” for what you ate or will soon eat
Pressure on new mothers to “bounce back” after pregnancy
Habitual dialogue about diets and “weight loss strategies” across social settings (e.g. work, school, family gathering, attending a religious service, etc.)
Assuming weight loss should be used to prevent, treat and cure health issues
Withholding medical care to people in larger bodies (e.g. insurance not approving a surgery until an individual loses weight)
Inaccessible seating in public spaces
The lack of size ranges and size diversity in the fashion industry
Assuming someone cannot have an eating disorder because they are in a larger body and/or have other marginalized identities beyond gender
Being taught there are “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods that should be stayed away from in elementary school nutrition courses
Diets, cleanses and weight loss “tips” being rebranded and advertised as anti-die
Workplaces using incentives in Wellness Programs
It is important to clarify the frequent misconception of anti-diet meaning anti-health. Health At Every Size (HAES) is an inclusive and anti-diet framework to healthcare. HAES supports a peaceful relationship with one’s body and health promoting behaviors without the focus on weight. These behaviors are extend beyond food and exercise. They include quality sleep, reduced stress, and having growth-fostering social connections. Robust research indicates interventions that utilize HAES and promote an attuned and flexible relationship with food are related to significant improvements in health outcomes.
On the contrary to diet culture, the grounding principles of HAES are the following:
Respect for size diversity and other intersectional identities
Acknowledge social determinants of health and how multiple oppressions impact health outcomes
Strive to dismantle the weight stigma and bias held by healthcare providers and larger society
Supports people of ALL sizes, shapes and abilities to engage in fun and enjoyable movement
Supports health-related polices that improve well-being, self-care, and access to information
Promotes a flexible relationship with food based on bodily attunement, nutritional needs, and pleasure instead of weigh-controlled “eating plans”
Given how HAES directly contradicts our socialized belief system embedded in diet culture, the HAES model might be difficult to understand. The Association for Size Diversity and Health created a short, animated video to help illustrate and explain the HAES framework
It takes time to unlearn all of diet-culture’s guises to reconnect with your body in a way that it is not used to being treated. I encourage you to check out the below resources
If you are ready to say goodbye/adios to diet culture and looking to improve your relationship with food, movement and your body
If you are ready to let go of shame and feeling like a failure
If you are ready to learn how to appreciate and respect your body
Harrison, C. (2020). Anti-diet: Reclaim your time, money, well-being, and happiness through intuitive eating. Hachette Book Group.
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. St. Martin’s Publishing Group.