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Why I Can’t Support the Healthy at Every Size Movement

Brittney Pereda (Photo by Easterday Creative)

I was raised to love every individual no matter their size, color, views or social status. I can confidently say that I personally treat all human beings with respect no matter our differences. I fully support an individual’s right in choosing their own goals for their body without stigma or judgement.

Having been a coach in the industry for some time now, I never push weight loss for physical appearance; that is left up to my client and my client only. However, if someone walks through the door with a weight loss goal, we are going to help them do exactly that in a healthy, sustainable way. The last thing I am going to do is try to use reverse psychology to allow them to stay overweight, nor will I shame them for wanting to be slimmer so as to live at a lower risk for illness and disease.

In the “Health At Every Size” community, I would be rejected for doing that.

First, I will start with recognizing the common viewpoints between myself and the HAES movement. For one, feeling beautiful and confident can happen at any size, and that can be gained or lost with absolutely no external change. The way an individual feels about themselves can be completely unrelated to their size or appearance, and focusing on a more healthy mentality doesn’t mean focusing on weight loss.

Also, be it a bodybuilder or someone with a little more meat on their bones, no one should be ridiculed for eating a cheeseburger at dinner every now and again. Photos on social media featuring an overweight woman eating an ice cream cone are often met with scathing and sometimes vitriolic replies. If it were an athletically built girl that would be acceptable though, right? Building a thick skin against public judgement is not easy, and putting others down is just not okay — but that’s another column.

I also believe all activities can be enjoyed by an individual of any size if they’re medically cleared to do so. I love to see any and all people have a little fun and move their bodies on a daily basis. We are slowly beginning to see more of this diversity in advertising, arts, media, etc., and it’s great to see models of all sizes display their clothing with empowering messages.

Unfortunately, however, there are downfalls to this movement, as well. As I researched the HAES Facebook group page and their website, I felt worse and worse about supporting the movement. So, where did it go wrong for me?

To start, any time a group fights for equality and inclusiveness, it can happen that they get lost in their core values because it ends up being about reverse discrimination and exclusion of those other groups rather then their original ideas of promoting equality. To be clear, I am not claiming that thin people aren’t privileged in many ways. My point here is that if HAES truly valued equality and inclusion, they wouldn’t betray those values.

Celebrating larger built bodies doesn’t mean you have to shame fit or thin people. Calling people “stick figures” or telling others they are so fit that they “look like a man” or “aren’t feminine enough” is a double standard. All the clichés come to mind: Two wrongs don’t make a right, treat others as you’d like to be treated … you get the picture.

What about the young girl — overweight or not — who’s interested in eating healthier foods? This could be for any reason, which is her own business. As a fitness and nutrition professional, I have constantly heard things like, “You need to live a little,” or, “You don’t need to diet.” It doesn’t register with many people that I simply enjoy eating foods that nourish my body. And if my overweight friend, family member or client wants to choose a salad over tacos, this group doesn’t need to be telling them that their self-esteem is low and that they are giving in to society’s pressures.

I also fear that the HAES community can make obese or overweight individuals feel like losing weight is impossible and that they can’t succeed for the long run. Again, weight loss doesn’t have to be the end goal, but if someone wants to better themselves, it is absolutely cruel to undermine someone’s drive like that. Self-efficacy is one of the biggest correlations with weight loss success and psychological well-being.

Sometimes HAES advocates ignore large amounts of scientifically backed evidence on the health impacts of obesity. I came across the spread of so much misinformation about the so-called disadvantages of losing weight, and even saw it stated that being overweight will help you live longer. That is not based in fact at all, and it’s wrong to put into people’s heads who might not have a clear representation of what is medically healthy.

We should all speak up against body shaming, but don’t be fooled by groups who twist facts to meet their agenda. You have a brain. Use it and do good with it. Do your own research, create your own goals … no matter what anyone else thinks.

Brittney Pereda is the founder and owner of eXtreme Body Benefits, a fitness and nutrition company based in south Charlotte.

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