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Exploring Healthy Weight

by Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD

For the past two decades, anti-weight-loss-diet proponents throughout the U.S. and several other countries have celebrated next week, the third week in January, as Healthy Weight Week. The event was founded to call out the sense of defeat experienced by millions of people who subscribe to the #1 New Year’s resolution to “take care” of themselves, and present a call to action for changing that scenario.

There’s no mystery why the sense of defeat – the definition of self-care at this time of the year centers on weight loss, often at any cost. Recent statistics confirm weight loss remains the #1 resolution for 2014, a rank it has undoubtedly held for many years. The method of choice to achieve weight loss is all too familiar also: dieting, which delivers outcomes ranging from emotional overeating, including binge eating; weight loss usually followed by a regain of even more weight than was lost; decrease in muscle mass; reduced self-esteem – the list goes on. Definitely not anything that anyone interested in true self-care is looking for.

In recognition of this obsession with dieting at the beginning of each new year, Francie Berg, pioneer in the movement away from weight loss diets and ASDAH member, founded Healthy Weight Week (HWW) in 1989 (date edited). Its goal: To help people understand that in trying to take care of themselves, one of the best things they can do is to stop obsessing about their weight. The call to action: Change the focus from weight to health, to be able to more sustainably adopt healthy behaviors that truly define self-care. In other words, embrace a Health At Every Size® philosophy/lifestyle.

Francie comments on the impact that HWW has had:

“Each year more and more people know about Healthy Weight Week and more understand its message. They know the value of size acceptance. They’ve experienced the harmful effects of dieting, idealizing thin models and harassing large children and adults. They’re ready to move on. Based on the calls I’ve received all over the world from people interested in the message of HWW, I think we’ve been a part of that change.”

But What Is a Healthy Weight?

In preparation for the week this year, there has been discussion about the term “healthy weight.” The definition to date, as I explain it, is that a healthy weight is an outcome of living according to HAES® principles. That means it’s not a focus but a result – something that happens naturally and definitely varies according to the individual, given that we are all different. And although it seems contradictory, a healthy weight is weight neutral – weight loss or weight gain may or may not be a part of it for an individual, but that’s not the point.

But what is the implication of focusing on weight at all? Is it a useful term to help bridge the gap between weight obsession and size acceptance? These questions arise from legitimate concern that “healthy weight” may still be interpreted by many as “thin.” And that assessments of health should not be based on a person’s size.

As the new caretaker of HWW and believing that these are important questions for anyone working to move people to size acceptance, I’d appreciate hearing what the HAES community thinks about the term. How do you define healthy weight, or do you intentionally choose not to define weight in the context of health? What do you think about the concept? Are there potential pitfalls in using it, especially with a population that is unaware of HAES principles? Do you have ideas for how to mark the week? Should it even continue as a week?

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