Body Acceptance Not Weight Loss Associated With Long-Term Health Research Suggests

Body acceptance

The Research on Dieting and Long-Term Weight Loss


Research has consistently shown us that the majority of dieters do not maintain their lost weight over the long-run. Long-term follow-up studies document that the majority of individuals regain virtually all of the weight that was lost during treatment, regardless of whether they maintain their diet or exercise program. In fact, a large percentage of dieters actually end up with increased weight.


Weight Cycling and Health

Weight cycling is the most common result of engaging in conventional dieting practices and is known to increase morbidity and mortality risk. Additionally, dieting can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with food and body over time, which can lead to an eating disorder. So, what does work for overall wellness? Does this mean that health is out the window? Certainly not.


What Works for Long-Term Health?

Research comparing participants in six randomized controlled clinical trials indicate that a Health at Every Size  (HAES[R]) approach is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in physiological measures (e.g., blood pressure, blood lipids), health behaviors (e.g., eating and activity habits, dietary quality), and psychosocial outcomes (such as self-esteem and body image), and that HAES(R) achieves these health outcomes more successfully than weight loss treatment and without the focus on weight loss.

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It often sounds scary to think of not focusing on weight. If the focus isn’t on weight, then what do you do? Rather than focusing on a specific number on the scale, the focus is on accepting and connecting with body. Essentially, it’s shifting your focus from external (what others think I should look like and eat) to internal (my body is telling me I need to stretch).


All six studies reviewed indicated significant improvements in psychological and behavioral outcomes; improvements in self-esteem and eating behaviors were particularly noteworthy. This is a very positive finding. No studies found adverse changes in any variables, which means that focusing on intuitive eating and body acceptance vs. dieting did not lead to increased health risk, poor eating habits, etc.


What is the Health at Every Size Approach?

1) HAES(R) encourages body acceptance as opposed to weight loss or weight maintenance;

2) HAES(R) supports reliance on internal regulatory processes, such as hunger and satiety, as opposed to encouraging cognitively-imposed dietary restriction (intuitive eating); and

3) HAES(R) supports active movement as opposed to encouraging structured exercise.

Encouraging Body Acceptance

It is often thought that body discontent helps motivate beneficial lifestyle change. Ultimately, this is akin to shaming someone into change. That doesn’t work. Research actually tells us that body discontent induces harm, which leads to less favorable lifestyle choices, perhaps as a means of coping with negative feelings (i.e., what the heck eating).


Compassion-focused behavior change theory emerging from the eating disorders field suggests that self-acceptance is a cornerstone of self-care, meaning that people with strong self-esteem are more likely to adopt positive health behaviors. HAES(R) research supports this theory. HAES(R) participants learn to value their bodies as they are right now, which strengthens their ability to take care of themselves and sustain improvements in health behaviors.


When starting with an approach encouraging body acceptance vs. body shame, fears often arise that individuals will eat with abandon and continue to gain more and more weight over time. HAES(R) research actually disproves these fears. All HAES(R) research studies report maintenance or improvement of dietary quality and eating behavior. This is in direct contrast to dieting behavior, which is associated with weight gain over time.

Supporting Active Movement

HAES(R) encourages people to build activity into their day-to-day routines and focuses on helping people find enjoyable ways of being active. The goal is to promote well-being and self-care rather than meeting a specific guideline for frequency and intensity of exercise. Active living is promoted for a range of physical, psychological and other benefits which are independent of weight loss. Ultimately, finding and incorporating movement into your life is about having fun and enjoying what it feels like to move your body.



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Recommended Reading:


Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight

Health at Every Size has been scientifically proven to boost health and self-esteem. The program was evaluated in a government-funded academic study, its data published in well-respected scientific journals.


Binge Eating HoustonIntuitive Eating, 3rd Edition

We’ve all been there—angry with ourselves for overeating, for our lack of willpower, for failing at yet another diet. But the problem is not us; it’s that dieting, with its emphasis on rules and regulations, has stopped us from listening to our bodies.


Binge Eating HoustonThe Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care

If you’re one of the nearly 116 million Americans trying to lose weight, only to find that every diet you’ve tried has failed you, you are a diet survivor. You can step off the destructive diet bandwagon and reclaim your self-esteem, positive body image and a happy, healthy life. These 60 inspiring lessons will give you the tools you need to change your relationship with food, your body and yourself.


Binge Eating HoustonWomen Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything

Geneen Roth adds a powerful new dimension to her work in Women Food and God. She begins with her most basic concept: The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about love, fear, anger, meaning, transformation and, yes, even God.


compulsive overeating50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food

Food has the power to temporarily alleviate stress and sadness, enhance joy, and bring us comfort when we need it most. It’s no wonder experts estimate that 75 percent of overeating is triggered by our emotions, not physical hunger. The good news is you can instead soothe yourself through dozens of mindful activities that are healthy for both body and mind.


Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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One Response to “Body Acceptance Not Weight Loss Associated With Long-Term Health Research Suggests”

  1. Linda Bacon Says:

    Great that you are raising these issues. Glad you found the article I co-authored in Nutrition Journal that this is predicated on. Just wanted to give you a heads up to some other resources.

    First, HAES(R)-sensitive health professionals looking for community should check out ASDAH ( Lots of great resources for the general public on their website as well, and a great blog.

    Also, I have written a book that discusses this research and helps people apply it, called Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight (

    Another place to visit is the HAES Community Resources ( It’s a great place to learn about HAES and show your commitment to the cause.

    Anyway, glad to see this discussion…