Meeting You Where You Are: Health At Every Size Personal Training

I am Abigail Ladd, an anti-diet health coach, and Health at Every Size fitness professional. I have worked in the fitness industry for 15 years training people of all ages in multiple modalities. However, it was only in the last 5 years I walked away from the traditional “health & fitness” model towards the anti-diet and Health at Every Size frameworks driven by my own recovery from an eating disorder. This shift not only improved my relationship with my food and my body, but it has also made me a better trainer and coach to my clients and truly support them wherever they are with their fitness goals. 

While you may have heard of Health at Every Size or HAES, you might not fully understand what it is. So, let’s define it right out of the gates: 

Health at Every Size is a set of principles that was established in 2003 by the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH). These principles reject the idea that weight, body size and BMI are sole indicators of a healthy body. Instead, they are merely data points in a complex, nuanced system. We cannot determine someone’s health based on the size of their body. HAES also rejects the idea that weight loss is the panacea of the diet industry and some parts of the medical community claim it is, because people of all sizes experience varying levels of health – not just throughout the world, but also throughout their lifetime. Health isn’t a stagnant thing. After all, every time you get a cold or the flu, your health status has changed. 

As a personal trainer, I have had lots of conversations about Health at Every Size with colleagues in the industry because HAES brings out all the feels on either side of the discussion.

Critics of HAES describe it as “endorsing or glorifying obesity” and “giving up on your health.” First, the portrayals of fat or “obese” people in our media are far from “endorsing and glorifying”, in fact they are full of shame, collective disgust and often verbal abuse of fat people. Fat people are treated terribly and we all know it, which is one of the many reasons people are so afraid to become fat. There is not a multi-billion dollar industry promoting being fat, but there is a multi-billion dollar industry glorifying thinness and disordered eating. So, if we as a society want to be worried about glorifying a body type with unhealthy eating behaviors, we should all have our eyes trained on Diet Culture.

Second, health is not synonymous with thinness. We all know people who are thin, who manage health conditions and we all know people who are fat and manage no health conditions…and vice versa. More to the point though, health isn’t a moral imperative or something you “owe” anyone. Your health status is no one’s business but your own. Additionally, weight loss does not automatically correlate with improved health outcomes. But, health behaviors like stress management, eating nutritious food, and exercise, do correlate with improved health regardless of any change in weight. 

So, putting weight at the forefront isn’t “health promoting” because it is the wrong focus. 

Usually the main reason someone wants to hire a personal trainer and health coach is weight loss. Now, this can be coded in many ways: be healthy, have more energy, feel confident, be stronger, play with my kids more. However, when setting goals with my clients I ask: “If I help you be healthy, have more energy, feel confident, be stronger, play with your kids more, but your body size doesn’t change, will you be ok with that?” most of my clients say “no,” because what they really want is weight loss. They want to look the part. Now, there are many reasons people believe a thinner body will give them health, confidence, energy, strength and make them a better partner, parent or family member, but all of that is marketing. Thinness doesn’t mean you’ll get any of that and, more often than not, the behaviors required to make someone thinner than their natural frame – extreme food restriction, exercise routines and/or constant weight fluctuations are incredibly damaging to one’s health. 

We don’t know if a person’s body size will change as a result of adding in health behaviors. If we did, no one would have to try oodles of diets. They’d only need one. Bodies are diverse and nuanced. But we do know how to build a person’s strength, manage and increase their energy, build confidence, and increase your endurance so you can play with your kids for longer periods of time.

So, with Health at Every Sizes personal training, we do not pursue weight loss and  it’s not “on the back burner” because it’s not a reliable data point to set a goal. Your body might change in size and it might not. However, we can improve your strength, endurance, mobility, stability and your relationship with food. A Health at Every Size approach means we’re not trying to “fix” your body we’re working on the best way to support your body sustainably, so you can support it and yourself as your body changes throughout your life. 

When people think their bodies aren’t valuable as they are, regardless of size, they treat them terribly with crash diets and over exercising. But, when we acknowledge that bodies are inherently worthy and valuable, it is a lot easier for people to care for their bodies because they know how precious they are.

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