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“Poodles are Great, but Poodle-Centric Health Policy is a Nightmare”: ASDAH Critiques Science on Health and Weight

by Amy Herskowitz, MSc

Back in September of 2013, I was positively struck by a commercial on TV with anti-diet messaging for the Go Girls! initiative co-created by Cheerios in Canada. Despite the fact that it was an ad sponsored by a giant multinational corporation like General Mills, with all its inherent hypocrisy and contradictory messaging about the dangers of dieting (but purchase our products!), it was refreshing to see something on TV that spoke to my HAES® sensibilities.

I sent an email out to a bunch of fellow HAES colleagues from both in and outside of ASDAH, and mused about the “what if” possibilities of creating a YouTube video on the Health At Every Size® approach. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a commercial with a message imparting the concept that everybody is worthy of love, dignity, respect, care, value and good treatment, by one’s self and others? Wouldn’t your heart swell with pride for a campaign that spoke truthfully and powerfully to the issues of diet failure, the diet industry’s wolf-in-sheep’s clothing approach of appropriating HAES language and hawking their (tested-and-failed-in-the-long-term-for-most-people) products and plans as “lifestyles” that “ditch the diet”, or the health and civil rights benefits for all bodies by adopting the HAES Principles? Wouldn’t it be absolutely epic to see our movement depicted in popular videos that go viral on social media?!

The idea picked up steam and a number of interested people jumped in with both feet to help support this fantasy become reality. I gauged the interest of the prolific and politically astute activist on social media, Stacy Bias for her artistic talents and abilities, and the conceptual brilliance and research expertise of Dr. Deb Burgard, and by August 2014, a project proposal to ASDAH was born. Our goal was to create an animated “explainer video” that helps the general public, who may be unfamiliar with the HAES paradigm, to understand the limitations of the current research on weight and health.

After months of conceptual brainstorming, financial sponsorship and helpful advice from ASDAH’s Leadership Team, input from the thoughtful and talented friends who provided feedback on Deb’s script, and many long hours of Stacy’s animation savvy, the Association for Size Diversity and Health is pleased to launch “Poodle Science” – our first animated video that explains why it is invaluable to read published studies in weight science from a critical analysis perspective.

For over 25 years, the scientific literature on weight-loss has shown that almost all attempts to lose weight end either in weight cycling (the temporary loss and then full gain, or full gain plus additional weight), disordered eating, or all-out eating disorders. The Health at Every Size model is an evidence-based approach that helps people determine the day-to-day practices they prioritize and find sustainable to support their well-being. The HAES paradigm builds on the research showing that social determinants of health: socioeconomic status, equality, equity, social support, and freedom from racism, violence, sexism, poverty, weight stigma, and so on, are the most important contributing causes of health disparities, and yet, they are rarely addressed within medicine or the clinician-patient relationship. A lack of attention to these issues, combined with an obsessive focus on arbitrary numerical cutoffs that define health and disease, allow capitalist market concerns like profits from drugs, surgeries, diets, and procedures to trump scientific inquiries that establish how to optimize our well-being.

Poodle Science will be available on ASDAH’s YouTube channel by 9pm EST on February 23, 2015, as the first day of Eating Disorder Awareness Week wraps up in the US. Hopefully, this is the first in a series of videos that will increase public awareness and research literacy regarding weight and well-being.

Amy Herskowitz

Amy Herskowitz, MSc, is a senior program consultant for the community health care sector in the Ontario provincial government, and has more than 15 years experience working with the eating disorder support, treatment, research and advocacy communities in Toronto.  Amy has served as ASDAH’s Vice President, International Vice President and is currently chair of the blog committee. In her spare time, she enjoys participating in sprint triathlon, playing with her young nephews, boardgaming and movie-watching with her partner, and throwing axes at targets.

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