Last month, I had the opportunity to be in Chicago for an amazing conference led by ASDAH (Association for Size Diversity and Health). What was my purpose for going? In a world dominated by pre-conceived notions of what health should look like (i.e.: thin = good, fat = bad), it is nice to be in a community of like minded individuals focusing on the countering of those ideas. Given my mission to help my clients find a balanced approach to their lifestyle, without dieting, I felt I could learn a lot more on how to integrate the Health At Every Size (HAES) principles more in my own community. And I got so much more out of it than what I expected!
The title of this year’s conference – Staying the Health at Every Size Course: Navigating the Weight Debate in the Evolving Healthcare Environment – was very fitting considering the American Medical Association’s recent decision to label obesity a disease. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need alternative strategies to address health (without it always being about size).
Here were some common themes that resonated for me :
1. There is a wealth of knowledge within the ASDAH community! From mental health professionals, academics and dieticians to activists who want to take their personal experience with size discrimination to advocate for unbiased care. HAES (Health at Every Size) Experts have the experience and the research to support their efforts in turning the tides of “weight assumptions and discrimination” within our health care system and culture.
2. Obesity prevention campaigns do more harm than good, especially when those strategies are focused on our children. The following banner posted at the conference spoke volumes with it’s speech balloon – “When we hear you say you want to get rid of childhood obesity, we feel like you want to get rid of us”. We need curriculum in our schools that addresses weight stigma alongside strategies for living a balanced approach to healthy eating and joyful movement. In the words of one of the presenters, Kathy Kater, we need to “teach kids to CARE instead of COMPARE”.
3. The war on obesity has made its way into the boardroom. There are workplace wellness programs in the US that use fees and penalties, primarily focused on weight loss and shaming employees into participating; all in an effort to reduce the company’s group benefit spending. Legally, businesses are allowed to charge higher premiums to associates who do not participate in the program and/or who’s weight is not in a “desirable range”. Not only is this intrusive and invading of an individual’s privacy but it further perpetuates weight stigma, suggesting an employee is not good enough unless they are at a certain weight. A corporate wellness program, anywhere in the world, needs to be more than just a return on investment (ROI). Workplace wellness can and should promote all facets of health, providing a supportive and caring framework from which associates can participate free from bias or criticism. Only then will companies be able to attract and retain an engaged workforce.
4. There is a lot of evidence that suggests a weight-focused approach to health is more detrimental and can have long-term negative repercussions. If we are to make this a more positive experience for all, we need to demonstrate how the current medical model (the idea that size and health are inextricably linked), is extremely flawed and counterproductive. We also need to constantly show to the medical professionals the HAES alternative and it’s proven efficacy to better health .
5. Only you know your body best! Take charge and be the “CEO of your own health.” I love this phrase! Such a simple but impactful statement. Everybody is entitled to fair, judgment-free care at the doctors office, in the emergency room, in schools and at the office. EVERY BODY.
The conference gave me lots to think about and added to my to-do list! I want to take what I learned in those 3 days and bring it to YOU and our community. Because, couldn’t we all use a new way of defining and finding good health?