Body Acceptance Not Weight Loss Associated With Long-Term Health Research Suggests
August 26th, 2013; Posted in Emotional Eating & Body Image
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.
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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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.
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