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History of the Health At Every Size® Movement, Part 1

by Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D., LCSW

In response to requests from our readers, the Health At Every Size Blog is honored to reprint Barbara Altman Bruno’s history of the HAES movement. Most of the installments of this history have been previously published in ASDAH member newsletters. This post is Part One in a series that will appear in the coming months.

The Health at Every Size (HAES) model exists because of prejudice against extra weight/fatness. This prejudice has occurred quite recently in the history of humans, since a relatively adequate and reliable supply of food has only been available during the past two to three centuries.

Scrutiny of weight only became a growing social issue around the beginning of the 20th century. One of the contributing factors was the development of ready-to-wear clothes, which did not allow for as much individual size variation as had clothing that was hand-tailored. The size constrictions of ready-to-wear helped prompt Lena Bryant, founder of Lane Bryant, to comment that rather than trying to make one’s figure conform to fashion, fashion should conform to the figure.

Another factor was the development of reliable, portable and affordable scales, so that for the first time, people could measure their weight in private. Yet a third factor was improved eye care, which led to people scrutinizing!

One of the major experiments to validate many of the experiences of weight-loss dieters occurred in the mid-1940s. Ancel Keys wanted to study the effects of starvation on humans(1). Keys wanted to find out the conditions and needs of populations in Europe after liberation. He recruited 36 young men, conscientious objectors, who were tested and found to be physically and psychologically healthy. He housed them in dorms at the University of Minnesota.

For the first three months of the study, the men were able to eat freely (about 3,500 calories a day). Their routines required them to walk about three miles per day and do other movement and chores. For the next six months, their rations were cut by half. Their diet consisted of what might be available to eat in European famine areas – mostly root vegetables, cabbage, and wheat – but they were given adequate vitamins, minerals, and protein. Within about two months, they lost half of their total body fat. They became irritable, lethargic, unkempt, uninterested in sex, and obsessed with food. They all lost a quarter of their starting weight.

One cut off a fingertip, two suffered severe enough mental breakdowns to excuse them from the full six months of semi-starvation.

At the end of this period, the men were given more food but remained miserable and ravenous, even after eating an average of 5,000 calories per day. Not until nine months after recovering their starting weights did their body fat and muscle return. Six of the men ended up with an average of nine and a half pounds more body fat than before entering the experiment.

Keys’ study, The Biology of Human Starvation, was published in 1950. During that same year the Framingham study began, which would eventually show that life expectancy was lowest for thin men, followed by the lightest and heaviest women. A U-shaped curve, wherein except at the weight extremes, weight makes little difference in life expectancy, has since been found in the Framingham study and many others.

During the 1950s, the Cold War was in full throttle, and one of the fears was that Americans, enjoying postwar prosperity, were becoming “soft on Communism.”

Also in full throttle was psychoanalysis. In 1957, psychotherapists Helen and Harold Kaplan concluded, “Almost all conceivable psychological impulses and conflicts have been accused of causing overeating.”(2) A few years later, Albert Stunkard would find no correlation between neurosis and overweight, but an inverse correlation between weight and class.

The decade of the 1960s was one of intense possibility, both for good and bad. A charismatic, youthful president vowed to put a person on the moon before the end of the decade, and ultimately succeeded. The Beatles rose to mega stardom. Birth control pills finally gave women control over their reproductive processes and the second wave of feminism began. The Civil Rights Act was passed. President John Kennedy, his brother/attorney general Senator Robert Kennedy, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated. The Stonewall riots began the gay rights movement. The Vietnam War raged, as did the counterculture protests against it.

Also, Weight Watchers began and became popular around the United States. British waif-like model Twiggy became the new beauty standard and Thin was In. And the gastric bypass began.

In Vermont, Ethan Allen Sims experimented on students and later, prisoners, to test intentional weight gain of 20-30 pounds. One subject required 7,000 calories a day to maintain weight gain. All the subjects doubled their normal daily intake of food and required an extra 2,000 calories a day to maintain their extra weight. Like the subjects of Keys’ weight-loss experiment in the 1940s, Sims’ subjects also got lethargic and apathetic, and rapidly returned to their pre-experiment weights once they stopped overeating.

An article called “More People Should Be Fat!” appeared in a major national magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. Its author was Lew Louderback, whose experience as a fat person married to a fat person was augmented by research into fatness. The article said that:

  • Sexual responsiveness in women is positively and significantly correlated with a general positive attitude toward food and eating.
  • Among survivors of heart attacks, fat people live longer than thin people.
  • Fat people have a lower risk of tuberculosis.
  • Fat people have a lower suicide rate.
  • There are “thin fat people” who suffer physically and emotionally from having dieted to below their natural body weight.
  • Forced changes in weight are not only likely to be temporary, but also to cause physical and emotional damage.
  • Dieting seems to unleash destructive emotional forces.
  • The five-year cure rate for obesity is virtually zero.
  • Eating normally, without dieting, allowed Louderback and his wife to relax, feel physically better, and normalize and stabilize their eating and weight.
  • It has now become so “in” to be thin that fat people’s civil rights are repeatedly and openly violated.
  • Fat people are discriminated against in jobs and in education.
  • The persecution of fat people is not for health reasons, but aesthetics.

Bill Fabrey, a young engineer with a fat wife and a history of preferring larger women, read Louderback’s article and was elated to find that he was not alone. He had been enraged at the mistreatment accorded his wife and other fat people. He contacted Louderback in 1968 and they helped each other: He helped Louderback research his subsequent book, Fat Power, and Louderback supported Fabrey in founding the National Association to Aid Fat Americans (NAAFA) in 1969, a nonprofit human rights organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for fat people through public education, research, advocacy, and member support. NAAFA would subsequently change its name by the mid-1980s to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

The size acceptance movement was born.

Published to the HAES Blog with permission from Barbara Altman Bruno. Copyright © 2017 Barbara Bruno. All rights reserved.

Readers can access subsequent installments of this history here:
 Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6   Part 7

(1) Ancel Keys, The Biology of Human Starvation. University of Minnesota Press, 1950.
(2) As quoted in Bennett, W, and Gurin, J, The Dieter’s Dilemma. Basic Books, 1982, p. 29.


Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D., LCSW, is a clinical social worker,  size acceptance activist, and HAES pioneer.  She has presented at clinical conferences, appeared in television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and demonstrations, and has written many articles, including well-being columns for larger people, guidelines for therapists who treat fat clients, a brief history of HAES, and a book, Worth Your Weight (what you CAN do about a weight problem).  She is former co-chair of education for ASDAH and is on NAAFA’s Advisory Board.

2 thoughts on “History of the Health At Every Size® Movement, Part 1”

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