3 Ways HAES Helps You Raise Happier, Healthier Eaters

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Whether you know all about Health at Every Size®️ (or HAES as many people refer to it because, well, that’s a mouthful) or you’re hearing about it for the first time, this piece is meant to answer the question, “Can HAES help you raise healthier eaters?” 

To kill any suspense right now, my answer is:  “Heck yes!”  

By incorporating a HAES mindset into your life, you can make meals more peaceful for you and your kids!

Parents who operate from a HAES point-of-view have fewer food fights, less mealtime stress, better eaters (ie higher nutritional intake), have higher self-esteem, and are more protected from eating disorders.

All those benefits stem from the fact that with HAES parents are able to better understand what it really means to be a healthy eater. (🥬 Spoiler alert: It is not a love of kale! Though no disrespect to lovers of leafy greens!) In this piece, you’ll learn:

  1. What HAES Is and Isn’t

  2. How Parents Benefit From HAES

  3. How HAES Helps Kids

  4. 3 Ways HAES Helps YOU Raise a Happier, Healthier Eater 

If you really want to make the tips work well, you might start by learning more about HAES first. Some brief information is below, as well as resources for those you who want to take a deep dive into all the writing and peer-reviewed research behind this growing approach to nutrition and health. If you’re all good when it comes to what HAES is, keep scrolling to get some insights into how it helps your kids with their eating and body esteem. And if you like this piece, consider sharing it to help another parent who you know has been worrying about weight.


What is Health at Every Size (HAES)?

In a nutshell, HAES is a social justice movement that calls on us to stop focusing on weight loss as a cure-all for everything that ails us. 

HAES draws attention to the fact that the link between high body weight or BMI and poor health is not as solid, strong, or convincing as we have been led to believe. Likewise, losing weight doesn’t solve the health problems that diet culture and the majority of the medical community promises it will fix. 

HAES is a mindset about health that is inclusive and respectful instead of judgmental, biased, stigmatizing, and dismissive. HAES also promotes prioritizing overall well-being and the creation of opportunities for accessible and realistic life-enhancing change that are both individualized and achievable.

But What About Weight Loss?

Many people’s knee-jerk, push-back reaction to the idea of HAES is “but we can’t just let everyone get fat” or “but isn’t it unhealthy to be overweight?” To be clear, HAES doesn’t deny that some research shows links between higher weights and increased risk of disease. HAES points out that studies show associations, not causation.

Weight and higher weight are not the cause of disease—disease risk, overall health, and body weight are impacted by a host of factors that are way more complex. Thus “treating” weight—and ignoring everything else that contributes to our health, such as our environment, food access, socioeconomic status, healthcare access, genes, for example, is misguided and ineffective, even harmful, approach to helping people stay healthy.

Even if weight loss were a perfect “treatment” for poor health, weight-loss diets fail at producing weight loss more often than they succeed. Further, even when they do succeed that success is short-lived for most and often leaves dieters with a host of additional problems.

People who try to lose weight via restrictive dieting and exercise routines, for example, are at risk for a host of other significant problems including eating disorders, rebound weight gain, depression, stress, malnutrition, slowed metabolism, muscle loss, decreased self-esteem, anxiety, preoccupation with food, and more. 

Since it’s worth saying again, trying to “treat” a person on the higher end of the weight or BMI spectrum by making their body slimmer, leaner, or smaller, it is proven in multiple studies to be harmful.  And if you follow this blog, then you know that I never tire of pointing out that dieting is particularly harmful for children.

Dieting is particularly harmful for children.

These are just some of the reasons that a growing number of registered dietitians practice from an anti-diet and HAES-aligned approach.


Thinner Isn’t Healthier

HAES points out the negative impacts of holding the diet-culture-based belief that so many of us share—consciously or unconsciously—which is that thinner bodies are good or healthier bodies and larger bodies are bad or unhealthy bodies. Further, we tend to associate positive or negatives with people who live in those bodies.

The idea that big or fat bodies are unhealthy and bad is untrue. And the idea that thinner bodies are healthy and good is also untrue.

HAES draws out significant bodies of research to prove that body size does not determine health. HAES also calls into question other bodies of research that claim as much.

Weight stigma and weight bias harm us as a culture and community both individually and collectively regardless of our weight. Our fear of fatness harms our relationships with each other, our relationships with our body, our relationships with our appetites, and our relationship with food. If we are raising kids in larger bodies or if we are simply particularly fearful of our child becoming fat, weight bias can harm our relationship with our child—and even our child’s physical and emotional well-being, too.

HAES is good, safe, and, in my opinion, a highly recommended mindset for you and your kids. HAES is especially helpful if you or your child are living in a larger body because it offers an alternative—and research-based—point of view about weight and health. That said, ridding ourselves of fear of fatness is something that I believe everyone can benefit from adopting regardless of their body size.

What does HAES have to do with healthy eating?

And our fears about becoming fat actually cause more harm to our eating and health than actual fatness.

Many of us allow fear of becoming fat to dominate our lives. Here’s a secret: Fear of fat and healthy eating do not go together. Crazy talk, right? You’ll understand more as you go deeper into this post.

Here’s a secret: Fear of fat and healthy eating do not go together. It’s impossible to be a healthy, competent eater if you’re afraid of becoming or staying fat. And it’s impossible to raise a healthy eater if, as a parent, you’re afraid of them becoming or staying fat.

When we eat from a place of fear and control, we end up with many dysfunctional and disordered eating habits. When we eat with the fear of fatness in our minds, we aren’t able to be intuitive or attuned to our own appetite and hunger—a skill that’s strongly associated with good health! Fear of fat will derail us and our kids when it comes being a happy, healthy eater.


Health at Every Size + Kids

When we are biased against larger bodies and terrified of becoming fat or raising children who become fat, we become terrified of food and eating and feeding their families. As a nutritionist, I see this problem all the time. I see it in my clients who are second-guessing everything they put in their mouths and asking me questions like “but aren’t apples too carby for him?” and “but how can she be hungry when she just ate?”

Thanks to diet culture and relentless pressure to “eat healthy”, many of my clients don’t trust their own appetites or their pleasure with eating and because they love their children dearly and will do anything to protect their health, sometimes they don’t trust their children with food either.

When we consciously or unconsciously transfer our fear of becoming fat onto our children it put tons of negative pressure on their eating, causing stress and uncertainty about food, their hunger, likes, and dislikes. It can lead to conflict between you and your child. Worse, it can cause an internal conflict within the child themselves if want to eat something or want to eat more (or less) despite their parents or subconscious telling them not, too

What does HAES have to do with healthy eating?

When we have a fear-based mindset about eating and the stakes feel so high, it’s also no wonder that so many of us are critical of and concerned about everything our kids put in their mouths. However, when we come to the table with trust in ourselves and acceptance of our bodies and our children’s bodies, we can eat in a calmer, more relaxed way.

HAES is helpful because it gives us good reason to stop worrying so much about eating and weight!

Simply ridding ourselves of the belief that we need to “cure” fatness can lessen stress and harm regardless of where we are on the weight spectrum. Being positive and accepting of our own bodies and our children\’s bodies can improve our relationship with our children, helping them feel more valued, respected, and connected to their sense of self.

Understanding that science shows that our weight and our eating habits don’t have as strong an impact on our weight diet culture teaches us can help shift our relationship with our child and our child’s relationship with food and their body in powerful ways. Adopting a HAES outlook and approach is proven to benefit adolescents, in particular, who are so often focused on changing bodies and particularly vulnerable to the lure of dieting.

Simply ridding ourselves of the belief that we need to “cure” fatness can lessen stress with eating and harm to our relationship with food and our body regardless of where we are on the weight spectrum.  

Being positive and accepting of our own bodies and our children\’s bodies can improve our relationships by helping them to feel more valued and respected for who they are opposed to what they look like.


Health at Every Size for Parents

Understanding HAES or applying a HAES approach to your family’s eating habits can make meals more peaceful by helping you understand why it’s better to worry less—not more—about your child’s weight as well as why it’s important to avoid micromanaging their eating. (If you want a free tool you can use to help you do just that, it’s covered here.)

Ultimately, developing a HAES mindset will help you raise a happier, healthier eater by ensuring your child has a positive relationship with food and body. 

3 Ways HAES Helps Kids Have Better Relationships With Food & Body

1. Your Child Becomes a More Intuitive Eater!

Intuitive eaters (or attuned eaters) listen to their body to know how much and how little to eat, which is a skill that studies show is linked with a host of physical and emotional benefits including lower cholesterol, better body image, reduced stress, better self-esteem, and reduced risk of disordered eating.

When you learn more about HAES and the truth about weight science, you’ll be better able to push weight worry to the side for the sake of your health and your eating well-being. And if you can take weight worry off the table (so to speak), you’ll have a whole lot easier time allowing your child to use their own innate skills to guide their eating. How’s that work? When can start focusing on the conversation and connection and stop worrying about every little bite your daughter does or doesn’t eat, you and your child will both feel more relaxed and in touch with your body.

Parents who fully trust their children to tune into their bodies and eat as much or as little as they are hungry for raise kids who are more protected from binging and extreme dieting, as well as from having huge (aka harmful) shifts in body weight (or BMI percentile).

2. Meals Are Easier & Less Stressful to Prepare!

In my experience, the more concerned a parent is about their child’s eating the harder time that child has becoming a healthier eater. If it sounds like a paradox, you’re right; it is!

When we put pressure on ourselves as parents to make meals that are uber healthy—whatever that means to us individually—and then put pressure on our children to eat those foods in an effort to keep them healthy, we steal a lot of joy from the meal. We also raise our kids to come to believe that mealtime is stress time. Meals become really complicated to prepare and children become more and more stressed by joining us at the table when there is conflict, concern, and criticism about their choices.

Listen to this: Simply having family meals—in other words, eating together with your kids—is enough to improve your child’s nutritional intake. And studies that show this also conclude that it’s true regardless of what you\’re eating.

When you read and learn more about HAES, you start to understand the truth about eating: our diet actually accounts for only a small part of our child’s health and well-being. That’s good news because it can help us, as parents, put less pressure on our children to eat specific foods in specific amounts and open them up to a host of benefits.

For example, children who have parents who are more relaxed about food—not more strict—are at lower risk of disordered eating, have less pickiness, increased nutritional intake, increase self-esteem, and more stable body weights.

3. Your Child’s Body Confidence Soars!

If you can start thinking with a HAES mindset and stop linking weight to health, it’ll be a lot easier to help your daughter start believing that her health and well-being are decided by a whole lot more than a number on a scale, too.

When we de-emphasize body size as an indicator of health, we can focus on helping our kids appreciate their bodies for all the things they can do as opposed to what they look like. It can also give them room to start focusing on and feeling good about habits other than weight loss which truly support their well-being such as being active, getting more sleep, being more discerning about how they use devices, and developing positive relationships with their peers, siblings, and their community.

When a child understands that their body weight is not a reflection of their health it can also help them understand that—despite what diet culture tells us—their body size is not a reflection of their worth either. This opens up opportunities for them to start valuing deeper parts of themselves such as their character, resilience, kindness, likes and dislikes, skills, hobbies, and their ability to be a good friend, for example.


Health at Every Size pdf

Intrigued by HAES but wondering where’s the proof?

I gotcha! And I don’t blame ya for wanting to see the evidence either! One of the best things about the Health at Every Size®️ movement is that there’s a significant amount of peer-reviewed research behind the benefits of using this approach! Plus, since we all know that the idea that getting people to lose weight isn’t the best approach to better health is a very unpopular one, multiple experts have exposed much of the questionable research that has been used to back it. They also call into question the validity of tools used to assess health based on weight such as the body mass index (or BMI) and, in the case of kids, BMI percentiles.

For a quick resource that you can access immediately, check out the popular Health at Every Size PDF, a manifesto that challenges six popular assumptions about weight and includes nearly 30 pieces of individual research.

Principles of HAES

As you learn more about HAES, you’ll see that it is based on compassionate, inclusive, and respective care which—when you’re a parent—is pretty tough to argue with, in my opinion! You can learn more about the specific Five Health at Every Size®️ Principles, which were created by the Association for Size Diversity and Health in 2003.

  1. Weight Inclusivity Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.

  2. Health Enhancement Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional and other needs.

  3. Eating for Well-being Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.

  4. Respectful Care Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.

  5. Life-Enhancing Movement Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.


Best Books About Health at Every Size

Need more convincing when it comes to unliking weight loss and health? (Or maybe you’re on board but you’re having trouble getting a spouse, friend, or family member to jump ship on dieting themselves?) You can do a deep dive into the research by reading a book that’s packed with solid references and explanations. For example, the manifesto above is excerpted from the Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Lindo Bacon, Ph.D.

CAUTION from an RD: The book above does talk about nutrition and, as an RD, I recommend taking what’s there with a grain of salt or skipping that section of the book all together, particularly if you’re recovering from disordered eating, an ED, or simply feel triggered by the topic.

A slightly faster, easier (but still research-based!) read is Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Plain Don’t Understand, which is co-authored by Bacon. (You can download an excerpt from that last link.) More books from more diverse perspectives (races, genders, body types, health histories, etc) are being published and self-published all the time. I’ll do my best to keep this post updated but in the meantime don’t hesitate to

To find a full list of the best books written by authors and experts who operate from a HAES perspective, click here.


Get Help From A HAES Doctor, Therapist, or Dietitian

If you’ve felt the effects of weight pressure from your own physician or pediatrician, there’s hope! A growing number of medical doctors, therapists, and dietitians are adopting a HAES perspective, which means they will focus on . You can find a list Health at Every Size®️ providers here.


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🎧 Listen to Protect Her From Diet Culture

Learn six simple strategies for navigating weight worries, setting limits with food, intuitive eating, social media, and body image with this FREE 30-minute audio guide. You’ll learn some of the best things to say and do for your daughter when it comes to food, leaving you feeling less stressed + more confident ASAP!


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