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Love Wins

by Dawn Clifford, PhD, RD

All we need is love. In the name of love. What about love? Give a little love. Put a little love in your heart. Love songs flood the radios as we turn the calendar to February and pick out valentines. Then why do I feel like picking fights with dieters, diet-promoters and screaming at my television screen when a commercial comes on for the latest dieting show?

We all know love wins. We all want to experience more peace in our lives. Most of us aim to be loving to others… most of the time. I’ll never forget the first time I heard Dr. Linda Bacon, HAES® advocate and author describe the HAES movement as a peace movement. She couldn’t have described it better. In fact, the movement is filled with peace, love, respect and acceptance.

  • Love your body.
  • Find peace with food.
  • Body respect. (credit Dr. Linda Bacon and Lucy Apharamor)
  • Accept your size.
  • Be at peace in your body.
  • Eat what you love. Love what you eat. (credit Dr. Michelle May)

So the feeling of wanting to go to battle with a Facebook friend who just doesn’t “get it” catches me off guard. And before I know it, I’ve put down my hearts and rainbows and I’m reaching for my sword.

It takes a conscious effort to refrain from drawing battle lines, and I believe the whole movement depends on our ability to do so. We can be the most influential when our messages towards one another and the outside world are filled with the spirit of the entire movement.

Here are three reasons why we need to express love and not hate as we share the HAES message with others:

  1. Connection counts. The person receiving the message will be more open to hearing the message if you communicate it with kindness and compassion. You perhaps have heard the quote, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Carl W. Buechner. Isn’t that the truth? It’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to talk someone into fully embracing the HAES paradigm after an initial interaction, especially a bad one. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to plant a seed. If you communicate with love and compassion the recipient will be more likely to return to you for future exploration because he or she feels safe, heard and appreciated. And that individual may even explore the resources you provide, seeing you as someone who is trustworthy and who really cares.
  2. It feels good. You’ll feel better about yourself if you look back on a conversation or interaction without regretting your word choice or tone. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
  3. It’s the right thing to do. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, we can all probably agree that love wins. We find ourselves cheering for Rey and the rebel forces, Superman and Harry Potter because we like “good guys” and we don’t care much for the dark side. And while telling someone off either in person or on-line doesn’t automatically make you a “bad guy,” every little movement towards love is a tiny step away from hate. And that’s a good thing.

If the movement is a movement centered on acceptance, then the least we can do is to aim to accept others as they are. We don’t have to agree with them, but we can accept them as human beings doing the best they can.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Hurt people hurt people.” In other words, individuals who lash out and draw battle lines are usually hurting inside in ways we may never be able to fully grasp. At times, there may be a need for healthy boundary setting. Regardless, tactics such as revenge, manipulation, insulting or berating the person aren’t going to help. We may need to love from afar, but we can still choose love.

My pastor once said, we’re all like giant porcupines trying to get close to one another. And we unintentionally poke each other, the closer we get. When we tuck in our spikes the best we can, it makes others want to tuck theirs in too.

Here are practical ways to put away our spikes and share love instead of hate when communicating the HAES message:

  1. Be respectful. Shouting and cursing don’t do much to gain respect. It just makes you sound angry and mean. Consider word choice carefully. It may even be helpful to spend a few days mulling over your response if you feel triggered to attack.
  2. Ask-offer-ask. Find out from the person you’re engaging with what he or she already knows about the Health At Every Size movement. Make an attempt to understand a bit about the person’s story before sharing the message. Before providing information, ask the person you’re engaging with if he or she is interested in hearing it. This simple ‘ask permission’ question can work wonders in demonstrating respect for the individual’s autonomy and choice.
  3. Listen intently and deeply. During individual interactions, demonstrate a deep curiosity and interest in the person. Show the individual that you’re listening by sustaining eye contact and mirroring back pieces of what you hear. If engaged in on-line dialogue, provide statements that demonstrate empathy such as, “That must have been really painful for you.”
  4. Affirm. It’s amazing what a little affirmation can do to support the rapport-building process. A phrase such as, “you seem to really care about your health,” can really disarm an angry or hostile person. Aim to build others up instead of breaking them down by constantly being on the lookout for character strengths in those with whom you engage and communicate the strengths you see.
  5. Agree to disagree. If you go into the conversation trying to win the battle, you may just do that (at least in your own mind), but you’ll likely lose the connection. If, after describing your concern about a weight-centric approach or program, the folks with whom you’re speaking adamantly disagree, let them. Something as smooth as, “I hear that you feel very strongly in this philosophy and that mine differs significantly from yours. It’s great that we could communicate our different opinions and agree to disagree.”

A little love goes a long way. The golden rule from grade school still applies – let’s be a community of HAES advocates who treat others the way we want to be treated.

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” Martin Luther King Jr.

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Dawn Clifford, PhD, RD is an Associate Professor and Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at California State University, Chico. In addition, she co-founded and is the current director of FitU, which is a peer mentoring nutrition and exercise counseling program on campus. Dr. Clifford conducts research and is an accomplished speaker in the areas of motivational interviewing and Health At Every Size®. She is a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers and recently authored Motivational Interviewing in Nutrition and Fitness. In addition, she is a co-chair of the ASDAH Education Committee.

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