I thought about titling this post, “Jillita Horton, kiss my fit a**” or making a pun out of her too-easy last name, but then my crankiness subsided and I thought to my self – this is an incredible opportunity to address some of the common misconceptions, and fears, about HAES. And, I don’t need to get all “hood” to do so
So, this self-defined “fitness and weight loss professional,” Jillita Horton, wrote a piece on Yahoo called, “Why HAES Intuitive Eating Approach Promotes Obesity.”
This is actually a great title because it lets the reader know right away where Jillita’s priorities are and where she is coming from. The author is coming from a fear-based place and one that is focused on obesity, rather than health. Now that we know that, it’s easy to see that she would not be a fan of HAES right off the bat — HAES is about health; obesity is about BMI, which is not a measure of health, but rather a measure of your height to weight ratio. It is common knowledge that BMI is completely inadequate at measuring health and/or risk factors. One of the reasons health professionals cling to BMI is because the government does. Our entire “obesity crisis” and all of the profits that the government and others have to reap from it, are hinged on the measure of BMI. It’s as if I were to create a standard based on the ratio of your forehead to nose and then I were to find where most people range and then define that range as unhealthy. I could then tell people that they either have to change their forehead-to-nose ratio to be healthy OR they can take this pill, or buy this book, or eat this food that would help them achieve a better ratio (but it wouldn’t, clearly). [and if we're continuing this analogy, I'd also harass people for having an "unhealthy" forehead-to-nose ratio and discriminate against them].
I find it a bit suspect that Jillita hinges her argument on the fear of obesity, but no where defines it. I think she is relying on others sharing her bandwagon, & unscientific, fear of fat.
One of Jillita’s main arguments on why HAES can’t work is her belief that people are unable to eat intuitively without gorging or engaging in some sort of unhealthful behavior. The truth of the matter is that I understand her mistrust – I once wondered, too, “can people eat intuitively?” I think the most telling part of her piece is her last sentence, “If I ate based on intuition and enjoyment, I’d be eating nothing but chocolate cake, brownies with ice cream, pizza, white bread, butter flake biscuits and sloppy joes. What about you?”
Here are some truths to this last sentence and also to intuitive eating:
- intuitive eating IS going to be difficult for nearly everyone at first because we spend our lives SILENCING our bodies and acting counter to our bodily needs. For example, many of us sit at desks for 8+ hours a day (the human body is meant to move!), eat at defined “meal times” rather than when we are truly hungry and we learn from our diet-obsessed culture that our bodies cannot be trusted, that we must restrict and repent. To plagiarize myself, we need both nutrition & intuition to become healthful eaters. What that means is that sometimes we want cake; and some days we eat more than others; however, there is no need for the moral assignations, which often lead us to disregarding our desires (which means that we may not be satisfied with our food choices even if we feel full. This can lead to binging), or restricting (and later binging), etc. The reason, I presume, Jillita would eat nothing but the foods she listed if she were to become a “intuitive eater” is because she is currently engaging in restrictive behavior with these foods. Restrictive behavior is based on fear. If she were to see these foods not as “bad” or as enemies, but rather in a neutral, fact-based way (i.e. brownies are high-sugar, high-fat) and to allow herself to eat them without any moral baggage attached, she would actually not need or be prompted to engage in gorging or restricting — she could simply eat a goddamn brownie. I’ll use an example from personal experience – I used to label “sweets” as “bad” and would restrict them (i.e. tell myself not to eat them; and if I did eat them, I’d feel guilt and shame), so I naturally would obsess about these foods. If I could not control every situation and would encounter a food I defined as “bad” and partake in it, I would usually eat the food very quickly and without control (as if I could eat it quickly enough, it would not count as having eaten it at all). The unintended consequence was that I did indeed feel as if I had not eaten the food because I inhaled it while feeling stressed and voracious rather than enjoying it. This would lead to the “all or nothing” sentiment that is common amongst disordered eaters, so I would seek out other “bad” things to eat under the pretense that since I had already “failed” and eaten a “bad” food, I might as well go all out and eat as many “bad” things as I could get my hands on. Alternately, if you do not have this moral and emotional baggage associated with food and want a giant vegan cookie, as I sometimes do, you make a mindful decision that you want it, you eat is slowly, savoring it, and then it’s done. You ate the cookie. The world did not fall apart. And you may or may not want another treat for the rest of the day (either option is to be seen without judgment). I have found that ever since I’ve given myself to permission to eat the things I want, I do not want to gorge, I do not feel restricted and do not overeat.
- I think we often don’t enjoy fruits and vegetables for the same reason we think we enjoy brownies, white flour foods — the moral ascriptions mess with our ability to actually feel what these foods do to our bodies. If fruits and vegetables are “good” and constantly shoved down our throats by thin-privileged and elitist “professionals” like Jillita, we may be less likely to enjoy them, ya know? It’s like telling a kid that going to bed early is good for them – sure, it is, but nothing is enjoyable when it’s tied to restriction and dictatorship-like relationships. However, if I try fruits and vegetables on my own terms and allow myself to feel how they affect me, I may (or may not) decide that I actually feel well when I eat them and, hell, I may realize how truly delicious some of them are.
- Your body wants and needs nutrition. There is no way you could survive off of white flour and brownies for more than a short while unless you were accustomed to not listening to your body and/or TESTING how your body reacts to/with other foods. I think one of the things we forget to do that is VITAL to our health is being curious and testing out different foods and how they affect our bodies. We can get in diet ruts where all we eat is refined food for a thousand VALID reasons; however, because we’re so quick to judge and be judged by what we eat, many of us just start tuning out and continue to do what we’re doing even if it’s not working. And, some people simply do not know that what they are doing is not working because they can’t remember what it feels like to feel good and to treat themselves well. We have to encourage curiosity and empowerment. I think people should try new foods and practice listening to their bodies so that they can actually gauge what make them feel good instead of doing what someone else says and, worse, doing what is supposedly good for weight-loss.
Here are some other fears Jillita has & my responses:
“What if a person is overweight because they’re frequently hungry? Instead of taking a [HAES] pledge, why not find out why you’re always hungry? There can be a medical reason for this (e.g., hypoglycemia).”
First things first – let’s acknowledge that “overweight” does not equate to unhealthy. In fact, if you look at data on BMI, people who are “overweight” live longer than underweight BMI. Additionally, people who are “overweight” or “obese” via BMI, and metabolically healthy, live longer than “normal weight” people who have metabolic risk factors [paraphrased from Rebecca Scritchfield RD]. Now that we understand this question is not based on health issues, we can address it for what it is. So, let’s say someone is in fact overweight because they are frequently hungry – if she or he were to subscribe to HAES’ tenets, this would not preclude them from addressing their true hunger. In fact, intuitive eating is all about addressing where our hunger truly comes from. In many cases, “food addictions” are based on psychological dependencies which develop from dieting and body dissatisfaction rather than from an actual physiological dependency. The HAES model advocates self-acceptance and non-judgment, which would set the stage for this individual to get over eating as a means to coping with her/his body-hate. And, if the overeating were due to a medical issue – how would subscribing to body-acceptance prevent her from finding out this issue? What we see with many people who are deemed overweight or obese is that they avoid going to the doctor because doctor visits often result in feelings of body-shame and prescriptions for diets. It is FACT that many doctors view their fat patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant” (Rebecca M. Puhl and Chelsea A. Heuer The Stigma of Obesity – A Review and Update). When people are empowered by HAES, they are probably more likely to seek the treatment they deserve and to find doctors who treat them with respect and from an evidence-based standpoint, rather than from fear and disgust.
“What if satisfaction isn’t attained until 1,200 calories at one sitting have been devoured, even slowly? This problem goes back to the issues of the first tenet…Eating the wrong foods, for instance, can make it difficult to achieve satisfaction until after a large volume of food has been eaten.”
Ah, here she goes with the moralization of foods which is actually partially RESPONSIBLE for people gorging. And, my question is “so what if a person eats 1200 calories in one sitting?” What if a person really does not feel satisfied until he or she eats 1200 calories in one sitting? For some, it takes a while to hear, listen to, and understand the body’s hunger and satiation cues. If it takes 1200 calories in a meal one day to feel satisfied, this is not inherently problematic! This does not mean that it will take 1200 calories EACH meal to feel satisfied. The nature of the human body is that sometime it needs more food (pregnancy, PMS, you just ran a marathon, ETC) and sometimes it needs less. The point is to take judgment out of the equation and to start listening. Trying to listen to your body while also being judgmental is like trying to walk a tight rope when you have a hoard of hecklers below you throwing shit up at you. It ain’t gonna happen.
“People will make all sorts of excuses to get out of wisely interpreting a tenet when it comes to eating, and will end up taking a suggestion too literally. ‘Enjoy your food’ for some will mean eat mostly junk food.”
This is code for – you cannot trust yourself! You need to trust someone like ME and for just 3 monthly payments of $9.95, I can show you how to be just like me…
People will make all sorts of excuses for all sorts of shit. It’s no one’s job to try to change people who do not want to change.
Telling people to enjoy their food will not encourage people to eat mostly junk food. That’s like saying telling people to enjoy sex will make them cheat on their spouses. Enjoying your food can only translate into a deeper feeling of satisfaction. It goes back to my brownie example — allowing myself to truly taste and enjoy the brownie without feelings of judgment and guilt clouding my experience meant I felt satisfied with that brownie. It did not lead me to eat a brownie for every meal, or to gorge, or to do anything but actually enjoy myself.
“HAES preaches intuitive eating. But that’s the problem! Eating intuitively has led to a lot of excess body fat and/or medical problems like heart disease and high blood pressure.”
What? I don’t even know where to begin with this bullshit. First, again, “excess” body fat is not inherently BAD. We need body FAT. There is no study to show that eating intuitively has anything to do with medical problems, so I think Jillita believes intuitive eating to be some sort of free-for-all diet where the person binges on ding-dongs and butter all the while smoking, refusing to exercise, standing in the middle of oncoming traffic and playing with matches in a gas-filled room.
Jillita seems to also have forgotten that we are more than just our bodies. She has forgotten that how we feel about ourselves is one of the most, if not THE MOST, important factors influencing how we live our lives and treat ourselves. If we believe the world to deem us a cancer based on how we look, do you think we feel encouraged to treat ourselves well? To actually take the time to listen to the bodies that we deem a disgusting burden? No. I’d wager that it’s BODY HATE that fuels unhealthful behaviors and, unfortunately, Jillita is a contributor to this.
The Cranky One