I was trained and educated through very narrow and privileged lenses (most dietitians and healthcare professionals are), and as I started practicing as a dietitian I began to practice the way I was taught. Yet, as I met with and truly listened to real human beings (not just some case study out of a textbook) things were not adding up. Why were the guidelines and interventions I had learned to use not working (ie. not helping others improve their health)? Conventional “wisdom” would have us believe that it is the individuals who have the problem not the guidelines or intervention. However, this thought process is so very biased and places all of the responsibility on the person. It ignores the very real and prevalent societal/systemic factors that influence health and create health disparities. It is also neither compassionate nor has it proven to result in improving health in the long-term. It perpetuates shame and guilt.
I got to a point where I was feeling very hopeless as a dietitian...and then I found Health at Every Size® (HAES). This approach to health, in addition to the philosophies of body respect and weight-inclusivity, are inclusive, respectful and compassionate. These are what we as humans deserve. These are our birthrights.
Now, does this mean that I ignore the science or the research in providing care for my clients? If the scientific evidence is ignorant to social determinants of health (factors that influence health status beyond genetics and lifestyle that are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources in society, and include history of trauma/abuse, socioeconomic status, social connection, access to healthcare, stigma and discrimination), perpetuates shame and guilt and does not include all aspects of health (ie. social, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, financial, physical, etc) then the answer is yes. I do disregard this form of research because it is not applicable to the true human experience. Thankfully, though, there has been and continues to be a great deal of research that considers social determinants of health, challenges our biases and truly views all aspects of health (not just the physical one). Utilizing this latter form of research as well as the evidence within a human being is what engaging in evidence-based practice really means.
Additionally, upon aligning my practice with HAES, I also began to discover that this philosophy is part of something much bigger than health. HAES is part of a social justice movement, one that works to end stigma and discrimination of all kinds, promotes compassion and equality and values every single human being rather than greed and power.
If the idea of a social justice movement has you feeling uncomfortable, I invite you to sit with that and explore why this may be. I ask you to consider your privileges (such as being white, male, higher socioeconomic status, educated, thin-bodied, cis gender, etc) and how these have shaped your life, and then how humans without some or all of these privileges have had different, harder and more stigmatizing life experiences.
Let me be the first to say that I certainly do not claim to be any sort of an expert on this topic. This is something I continue to learn more about every single day of my life and there is much more to learn.
Is your curiosity peaked? Interested in exploring more? Check out the following resources:
@haes_studentdoctor (on Instagram).
Live in Georgia and are looking for someone to provide support and guidance in your journey in finding food and body peace as well as assist with deciphering all of the confusing messages about nutrition, health and exercise? I would be honored to work with you. Click here for more information!