My Experience with the ‘Darkside’ of the HAES Community

my experience with the darkside of the HAES community (and four issues I have with it now)

**I am making a disclaimer front and centre so that there are no noncontextual assessments made of this post. I do not agree with fat-shaming or body shaming of any kind. I do not think that any person should be treated poorly because of the package they come in. I believe in recovering wellness from any point in a person’s life – in making the most of the health that each of us is capable of attaining. Most importantly, I don’t think any person’s opinions should be ignored just because of the package they come in. While I agree with many views of the Health At Every Size movement, I disagree with some participants of the movement who have become so insular and unwilling to accept facts over extreme feelings. I am not speaking to every member of HAES; this post is about those individuals who refuse to engage with anybody outside of their echo chamber. **

Every ‘journey’ takes its detours, and this one is about one of mine.

It was a detour down the rabbit hole that is anti-diet culture and radical body positivity.

Let me start at the beginning. My previous blog, BeetsPerMinute, was about health and fitness. I launched that blog in 2013 after beginning a process of healing my health and becoming a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist through NASM. I started the blog to talk about workouts, recipes and my experiences, both personal and professional.

Right around the corner from 2013 came the boom of ‘body positivity’ which I loved. As someone who struggled with multiple eating disorders throughout my teens and twenties, I loved the concept of people accepting bodies of different sizes, abilities, colours – all of it.

I am not ignorant to the fact that the modern body positivity movement was born from the radical fat acceptance movement which has roots going back to the 1960s.

Over the years, many fat activists believe the current body positivity movement has devolved into a party where size 12, white, (mostly) white, hourglass-figured women are predominantly represented over larger, less conventional (yet, more prevalent), and diverse bodies.

Essentially, what we are left with now is a movement which attempts to include the radical sentiment of the fat acceptance crowd packaged into mainstream body positivity which has caused anger and infighting within this ‘community’. Many fat positive people feel as though body acceptance has been co-opted by corporations and influencers to now package body positivity to be less inclusive to the fat community. Fat activists see their fatness as a political act. And I want to be clear, I think people have the right to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their size, colour, religion, ability, and more. However, I believe that this respect for all bodies should be a two-way street and I no longer believe it is.

I want to talk about the anger and drive to change society by telling people they are no longer in the driver’s seat of their body and that it will do as it will, regardless of their attempt to change themselves. That intentional weight loss – even in the name of health – is NOT positive, but internalised fatphobia and an exercise in succumbing to an oppressive capitalist system.

via Instagram
Credit: DISfigured Film

A glimpse into fat activism online

Recently, I read multiple social media posts and articles by the self-proclaimed, “fat sex therapist”, Sonalee Rashatwar.

Rashatwar has made some bold claims about health, fat, and fitness. Some of the claims include:

I do not think it is a surprise that the man who shot up Christchurch, New Zealand was a fitness instructor. Nazis love this idea of an idealised body, so it makes sense to me that a fitness instructor might also think about an idealised body in this thin white supremacist way.”

“I truly believe that a child cannot consent to being on a diet the same way a child cannot consent to having sex.”

Food addiction is a fatphobic myth.”

I find much of what Rashatwar says to be problematic, with the exception that all people are deserving of respect and humility. What I am discussing in this post is where I feel that the expression of such extreme beliefs is convincing people who are damaging their health (and people who work to help them) that everything science has discovered is manipulation and there is no practical use for such advice.

Where my HAES journey began

I am now going to share something that I’ve only touched on in other posts. About two years ago, I received an email from someone who read my previous blog, BeetsPerMinute about my fitness plans for brides. Without reposting the email in its entirety I will share an excerpt:

Erin, as a person who claims to have struggled with eating disorders and body image issue for so many years, I find it appalling that you think it’s okay to tell women that they should be thin for their wedding. As if being fat on their wedding day is such a problem. Your views are extremely fatphobic as is your internalized self-hate, which is oozing, from this blog. Please do better.”

Ouch.

At the time I received this email, I was personal training a woman who was getting in shape for her wedding and thought brides would be a great demographic to help. I never got into personal training and nutritional therapy to capitalise on making people feel bad about themselves. Was I wrong for offering this service? Should I take the words of a perfect stranger to heart?

And I did take that message to heart. I am human. I still struggle with things, and one of the biggest reasons I got certified in fitness and nutrition is because of how many years I struggled.

Loving yourself and prioritising your physical and mental health are NOT mutually exclusive.  #health #mentalhealth #physicalhealth Click To Tweet

So, I tried to ‘do better’ as I felt that maybe, somewhere in that email, there was a kernel or two of truth. I bought both of Dr Linda Bacon’s books and started to follow the work of the anti-diet brigade. And I began to think that I was maybe part of the problem.

I consider myself to be very open-minded. I feel my deep sense of empathy causes me to continually evaluate how my words and actions make other people feel. I truly started to believe that what I had spent years doing, talking about exercise and nutrition, was harming others. I began to evaluate how much of my interest in this subject was fueled by my experience struggling with body image. Somewhere in the books, blogs, and podcasts, I was consuming; I decided that I was going to stop pushing myself and turn my back on what society wanted.

So, I registered as a HAES personal trainer back in 2016. HAES is Health At Every Size. I still stand behind the belief that healthy lifestyles should be inclusive regardless of size, age, race, gender, dis/ability, sexual orientation, class, religion and other human attributes. I understand that ‘health’ can and does look different on everyone. I also believe that people should be encouraged to engage in a healthy lifestyle without a focus on weight loss or aesthetics. I will always support any person if they approach me about recovering their wellness with dignity, respect, and compassion.

I understand that weight is a symptom of so much more than any of the lazy stereotypes associated with it. It's tied up in so many systems. However, there is a fine line between encouraging someone to love themselves and going around calling… Click To Tweet

Where I now disagree is that you can be genuinely healthy at any size. Are there some people whose weight will not impact their overall health? Perhaps, but I’d like to see how that weight has impacted them by the age of 45 or 50. I have seen far too many cases of this not being so in my personal and professional life. When people start advocating that exercise and weight loss for the purpose of overall health are ‘toxic behaviours,’ I can no longer support that aspect of the movement. I understand that weight is a symptom of so much more than any of the lazy stereotypes associated with it. It’s tied up in so many systems. However, there is a fine line between encouraging someone to love themselves and going around calling people who choose to determine how that self-love manifests (i.e. exercise, weight loss,etc.), ‘toxic’.

I spent nearly two years in this space. I stopped training clients regularly and started to drink and eat more than ever. At first, it felt good to take that ‘pressure’ off of myself. Instead of working out for 60-90 minutes per day, I whittled it down to 30 minutes, then 20 and some days (consecutively) 0 minutes.

Eventually, I started to struggle with motivation at all. I was always angry. I had let my blog and coaching fall by the wayside. I sincerely lost a part of my identity.

Deep down, though, something never felt right, and even in this alleged ‘inclusive’ space, I was still never allowed to have thoughts or feelings about what was said. I had thin privilege and my ‘feelings’ were invalidating someone in a bigger body’s existence.

I was overweight for the first time in years, and I didn’t find it liberating or a radical act. I felt lethargic and fed up. My drinking had increased because I felt so depressed from not exercising regularly and ‘intuitively’ eating far too much food.

You see, I had gained 25 pounds – and at 5′ 1″ that was a significant amount. In fact, my BMI registered as overweight. My period began to come less frequently. I went from a size 2 to a size 10 (UK 4 & 12). I physically felt like shit.

During this time Amy Schumer’s film, “I Feel Pretty“, was released and I watched social media explode about how insulting the film’s message is because Schumer is the ‘beauty ideal’. Honestly, it was around this time that I started to feel like I had heard that comment hundreds of times. I have seen Schumer repeatedly get torn apart for being ugly, fat and many other descriptors. She has to have thick skin to continue to thrive in the public eye. But I also felt annoyed by the ridicule she was receiving from the online critics, because I could relate. Even with my weight gain, I was still labelled ‘thin’ and conventionally fit the beauty ideal. The struggle I was having with my body was treated with the same disdain by members of the very community I was trying to appease that Schumer’s was. I had surrendered my passion for fitness and nutrition, walked the anti-diet walk, changed my body and mindset, and at the end of the day, my struggles were still being invalidated. Where was the positivity? The support? I then realised; I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.

The beginning of the end

The cracks had started to form, and all of a sudden I began to think, ‘I’ve only gained 25 pounds, and I feel terrible, and my hormones are whacked out how the hell does a person carrying 2-5 times that amount not feel terrible too? How can they be truly healthy that way? Is it worth it to do this to myself just because I think that somehow I was a cog in the oppression wheel? Am I losing my marbles?!

On March 5, 2018, I woke up and pulled my head out of my ass and took a long look in the mirror. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. So much of the work the anti-diet brigade does is used to make people who care about weight loss for health, and fitness feel like self-righteous challengers.

From that date forward, I quit drinking, cleaned up my diet and busted out my personal trainer cap. Within four months of filling my life with nutritionally balanced portions of food and daily exercise guess what happened? I lost nearly 30 pounds and felt like my old self again and I have kept it off for over 14 months.

The experience was what led me to further my education and start this new blog and to renew my love of holistic wellness and spreading helpful information about nutrition, emotional eating, fitness, and the struggles of finding where you fit in. I will not allow outside assessments of who I am cloud what I already know is real ever again.

The final points of this post were a bit long-winded to get to (apologies). However, I needed to go through this experience to know myself better. Having taken my life and my health towards the edge and back gave me valuable insight and what I believe to be a considered opinion on the subject of health at every size and my core issues with the extreme side of the HAES community on both a personal and professional level. And as a final disclaimer, I want to say: people have the right to exist in whatever body they are in – without hate or prejudice. But I also believe that people have the right to care for themselves; however, they see fit – without judgment or unfair criticism. Nobody has to lose weight if they don’t want to, but they don’t get to invalidate anybody else’s decision to do so or to be proud of it.

I am certain that this post will be picked apart and challenged and that’s okay. I can also say that this post could be turned into a 500-page book filled with more of my personal experiences, experiences of others, and accompanied by facts and statistics, but people set in their ways will continue to believe what suits their narrative. Perhaps this post suits mine. I don’t believe people should be treated poorly for the body they live in, but I also believe that it goes both ways. If someone had the right to judge and tell me that what I was putting out into the world is toxic, then I have a right to address it and discuss what I find wrong with their criticisms.

How do you feel about the HAES movement? Have you had an experience similar to (or different) from mine? Let’s discuss!

Meal Timing, Thermal Effect of Food, CICO, and ‘Starvation Mode’ – Real or BS?

Meal Timing, TEF, CICO and Starvation Mode - Are They Real or BS?

“If you don’t eat enough calories, your body will go into ‘starvation mode’ and it will hang onto fat, and you will gain weight.”

“You should eat six small meals instead of three to lose weight.”

I’m sure you have heard these before. 

The girl from accounting says them. 

I used to say it myself. Though I had no proof, it sounded like it made sense.  I mean, our bodies do respond to stress in times of crisis – so surely it is designed to literally ‘stall’ metabolic processing so that we don’t die?

This blog post is all about popular things people say to justify why losing weight is complicated and futile.

Spoiler alert: It’s not. But let’s look at the first item on our list:

Thermic Effect of Food

First, let’s look at TEF – the thermic effect of food or the amount of energy expenditure above the basal metabolic rate due to the cost of processing food for use and storage. (Whew – that was a mouthful!) The TEF averages at about 10% of a person’s caloric intake and varies based on macro groups – i.e. dietary fat is easier to process than protein. For example, when you consume 100 calories of protein, your body will only provide energy for 70-75 of those calories, whereas if you were to eat 100 calories from fat, your body will provide energy for around 97 of those calories.

via GIPHY

Meal Timing

Then comes the ‘How many meals/times should I eat per day’ discussion. There is much speculation (and misinformation) about how much and how often a person eats effecting their overall metabolism and weight loss efforts.

Again, something I believed, but through personal experience have discovered is also not true.

That’s where academic and scientific studies can help us to separate fact from fiction.

A recent study conducted by the University of Ottawa found that increasing meal frequency does not promote more significant weight loss when observing the weight loss progress between two groups of obese men and women.  Each group was administered either a high meal frequency (3 meals and 3 snacks per day) or a low meal frequency (3 meals per day, no snacks) diet throughout eight weeks.  Each group was instructed to complete the study under the same amount of energy restriction (total calories consumed). 

So, if eating three, four or six meals timed throughout the day is what works best for you – go for it, but know that there is no one hard and fast rule when it comes to the number of meals you eat per day.

What it really comes down to is our next item, calories.

CICO (Calories In, Calories Out)

Many people don’t believe this, but when it comes to weight loss, gain or homeostasis—it’s calories in/calories out (CICO). 

That is the rule, but of course, some exceptions and variables make the concept not 100% foolproof. An example of an exception would be in individuals with underlying metabolic and hormonal conditions and those who are not addressing the issue through medical and/or dietary means. And an example of variables that impact CICO is the thermic effect of food concept explained above

Hormonal conditions can prevent weight loss or even cause excessive weight loss or weight gain. Ultimately a combination of medication and diet working in harmony (for example, a low GI or ketogenic diet for individuals diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome to combat insulin resistance) along with a suitable caloric intake can help to regulate this issue. In some cases, without the need for prescription medication.  Notice, calories still continue to be a factor in this situation despite a change in dominant macros levels.

Now, it is true that when you reduce calories (and lose weight), the number of calories the body requires will decrease as well.  I think this is where people cling to ideas like ‘starvation mode’ and ‘long-term weight loss is unsustainable’.

Here’s the deal: If you change your lifestyle (i.e. lower your caloric intake and increase your physical activity) and then after reaching your goal go right back to eating the way you did before and not exercising – you’re going to gain that weight again and probably more. That doesn’t mean your efforts didn’t work – it means you stopped being consistent and didn’t adjust your lifestyle accordingly. Many people go through this when they don’t address the underlying issues they have with food. You can read about whether or not you have a toxic relationship with food here.

What we’re talking about are called total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and adaptive thermogenesis

TDEE is comprised of both resting (BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate) and non-resting energy expenditure (the combination of exercise energy expenditure, TEF, and non-exercise activity thermogenesis.)

Adaptive thermogenesis refers to the underfeeding-associated fall in resting and non-resting energy expenditure (REE, non-REE) – aka eating less than the body requires at rest vs when the body is active. 

Simply stated:  If a person eats fewer calories than their body requires at rest, they will create a surplus and their body will lose weight.  The more active this individual is, the more calories they will burn and used in tandem with a reduced calorie diet, will potentially create more significant weight loss results.

As the body reduces in mass, the caloric requirement will also drop — and as this happens cutting calories further will adjust the body to continue to lose weight or adjusting/increasing caloric intake to create an energy equilibrium, which will result in maintaining the loss of weight.   This is, of course, simplistic and can vary for issues such as hormonal imbalances and body composition variances. 

‘Starvation Mode’ (and that famous weight loss reality show study)

A few years ago, a study conducted by the Journal of Obesity, set out to measure long-term changes in resting metabolic rate and body composition in The Biggest Loser contestants.  

When published, I was caught in an 18-month period of time where I was reading all of Dr Linda Bacon’s research and books and immersing myself in the HAES community. As a result of this interest, I was very taken in by this study as I, as a fitness and nutrition professional, had found the show to be problematic in many ways. ( I am in NO way saying that I had lost my mind to believe any of the research Dr Bacon has done, but I have since changed my mind about some of it – but that’s for another post.) 

In the Obesity study, it showed how the contestants of The Biggest Loser had regained the weight loss on the show and damaged their metabolisms in the process. 

Okay, this is something that I have dealt with when working with clients who want to lose weight.  Most people want it off, like yesterday, and think that cutting out entire food groups or creating huge calorie deficits every day is the only way.  And while those methods may help them lose weight – rapidly – they will likely not keep it off, which is what this study proves.  However, the deception is that sustainable weight loss is impossible for obese individuals and that is not true.

“Diets don’t work.”  Okay, no they don’t when they are ‘crash diets’ or unsustainable and highly restrictive.

Hollywood juice diets, master cleanses and ‘detox’ – oh, how I LOATHE – pills will help you lose water weight in the form of excessive bowel movements and carbohydrate restriction. 

Cutting back 500-1000 calories per day and adding in 150 minutes of cardio per week will help most individuals lose 1-2 pounds per week and create a lifestyle (and weight loss) that is sustainable.

The difference between a person like a contestant on The Biggest Loser and an individual who decides to cut 500-1000 calories per day and incorporate more physical activity into their lifestyle is the rate and severity of the weight loss between their starting point, the timeframe and the overall amount of weight loss. 

In the case of TBL contestants, they were restricting calories at a severe level while also performing hours and hours of physical activity per day; this is the epitome of ‘crash dieting’!


And while it may seem like a contradiction saying ‘starvation mode’ isn’t a thing, the following example is one of those exceptions I addressed earlier in this post:
When a person who is 100+ pounds overweight goes from eating 4000 calories per day to consuming 1000 calories per day overnight, they will create a 3000-calorie daily deficit, which over a week amounts to a 21,000-calorie deficit or roughly a six-pound (2.7 kg) weight loss. 
Now add 5-7 hours of physical activity daily on top of that, and we’re talking an additional 1500-2000 exercise energy expenditure deficit in addition to the caloric deficit, so we’re talking something like 35,000 calories, or 10 pounds (4.5 kg) per week. 

In addition to TBL contestants severe deficit and exercise energy expenditure, we could also talk about the levels of cortisol, ghrelin and leptin that become impacted by the stress of limiting calories and performing that level of physical activity seven days per week.  Messing with stress and hunger-controlling hormones will make the body physically crave food because, at that point, it is in a state of crisis.  That is incredibly unhealthy, unrealistic and unsustainable.  That is what you do in an extreme competition or game show or …oh, wait, that’s what The Biggest Loser was. 

via GIPHY

I’ve heard people in support of Dr Bacon’s work say that The Biggest Loser study confirms everything they’ve said about how they cannot lose weight and that their experiences with restriction caused disordered eating and therefore they are fat, aren’t going to apologize for it or participate in diet culture when it is clearly futile. 

I am not arguing that weight loss is challenging – especially when the starting weight is 100 pounds or more above what a healthy (and I’m using the BMI chart very loosely here) for their height should be.  Weight loss is a simple concept, but something challenging to put into action and those reasons are more about the emotional component of food and a person’s relationship with itespecially when that emotional component is a symptom of trauma.

Weight loss is a simple concept, but something challenging to put into action and those reasons are more about the emotional component of a person's relationship with food #eatingpsychology #coaching #weightloss #health Click To Tweet

Diet culture, in my opinion, is the crash diet/snake oil salesman approach to weight loss.   Cleanses, weight loss teas and all of that bullshit which cuts corners or claims to suppress physiological urges to eat are gimmicks and do not offer a sustainable long-term approach to weight management. These things don’t work long-term because a) they are unhealthy and b) they go against every facet of common sense – ‘slow and steady’ – science of sustainable weight loss.

If weight loss is something you are looking to achieve to improve your health and the life you lead, I hope this information has helped to clear up some of the confusing rhetoric that exists. I want to stress that I am not here to tell anybody that they should lose weight or that it is the most important thing a person should focus on, but if it is something you have struggled with, this blog is a good resource for healthy, holistic weight management and lifestyle choices. Remember to subscribe to the blog to see new posts when they go live.

TL/DR: Starvation mode – in the way it is most commonly framed (i.e. following a moderate dietary framework) – isn’t keeping you from losing weight. Weight loss is a balanced science and is both adaptable and delivers results, but those results vary depending on where you start from, how you approach these changes and if you’re ready to make long-term, sustainable lifestyle choices to maintain the loss. It is not easy, but it is also (for the most part) not super complicated. The best place to start is to want to start and the best way to keep going is to always remember why you started.