Yesterday an opinion piece by author Kasey Edwards emerged as a leading story on The Sydney Morning Herald's website. Edwards criticized weight loss company Jenny Craig (now rebranded as Jenny) for using celebrity Barry Humphries/Dame Edna as its latest ambassador.
Acknowledging that fifty years of research demonstrates weight loss maintenance carries a 95% failure rate, Edwards concluded: "given such 'evidence', it's no surprise diet companies resort to a stream of celebrity ambassadors to sell the fantasy that their tailored eating and exercise plans are a path to permanent weight loss and happiness."
It's refreshing to see articles questioning the traditional weight loss message in mainstream news. For many years we have been bombarded relentlessly with one-sided articles about how obesity makes one a 'ticking time bomb,' that Australia is the world's fattest nation (which is not true), that we need to lose weight now or die!
It seems a confusing time for Australians who want to improve their health. Most are not yet aware that in recent years there has been a quiet war being waged amongst health professionals about how to approach health.
In one corner, the traditional weight-centred paradigm tells us obesity is harmful, that the only solution to avoid these harms is by losing weight, and more often than not, that we only have ourselves to blame if we don't maintain the weight lost.
There are of course variations on this narrative, but they more or less follow this script.
In the other corner are various versions of non weight-based approaches to health, with a dominant health-centred paradigm emerging. This paradigm is still in its infancy and trademarked to prevent the weight loss industry from hijacking its approach to health and distorting its key principles to support the ultimate goal of weight loss.
Known as Health At Every Size®*, the HAESSM paradigm is often mistaken to mean an individual can be healthy at any size. In fact HAES is about engaging in healthy behaviours, whatever one's size, and letting one's weight fall where it will as a result of these health-giving behaviours.
HAES acknowledges that only one of three things will happen to a person's weight when they engage in a process of health: it will go up, go down, or remain the same. Regardless of weight, a person's health will improve simply by engaging in healthy behaviours.
HAES critically examines peer-reviewed research and challenges current day understandings about health and weight. It accepts that biological safeguards make weight loss ineffective for the majority over time, and that weight loss attempts put people at risk of unintended consequences, including food and body preoccupation, cycles of weight regain and loss, reduced self esteem, weight stigma and discrimination, binge eating, and higher than pre-diet starting weight.
While "everyone knows" obesity is harmful, a close examination of obesity research shows many of the claims about obesity have been exaggerated. Pop health 'experts' who claim that people should strive to be the 5% who manage to keep some weight off in the long term, and that people should 'try, try again' reveal ignorance about the harms of weight cycling and risks of weight loss dieting.
The HAES paradigm acknowledges that research shows health risks can be mitigated by engaging in healthy behaviours and letting your weight fall where it will.
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