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May 19, 2010 / Katie

Here’s to your imperfect health!

Greta Poretsky has written a beautiful piece about the value of imperfect health. Or perhaps, rather, the value of acknowledging, accepting, and perhaps even celebrating the imperfect health of the glorious gift that is our body.

Poretsky tells us of a client who tried to cease her habit of staying up late to work on a novel she was writing:

Sure, staying up too late all the time can mess with cortisol, but not staying up when she was dying to write was messing with her soul.

Health isn’t about being “perfect” with food or exercise or herbs. Health is about balancing those things with your desires. It’s about nourishing your spirit as well as your body.

I have been thinking lately about the idea that how we define the “health” in the HAES has a huge impact on our actual HAES practices. If we interpret it as purely physical health, and believe that that should trump other forms of health (emotional, spiritual, mental, relational, etc.) then in actuality this turns out to be unhealthy. The concept of “being in good health” is not—or at least, shouldn’t be—one more way that we beat ourselves up over being imperfect.

A sense of health that is more holistic than perfectionistic recognizes that we live in a wonderfully messy, imperfect world in which we must make decisions weighing a number of factors. Sometimes the best—most healthy—option for us is something others would “tut tut” us for, like skipping the gym or eating a doughnut or missing some sleep. Perhaps ironically, being in good holistic health actually means acknowledging that our bodies are imperfect, that we can never make them perfect or be in perfect health, and ultimately that there are no “perfect” choices.

Furthermore, “health” should not be something that only people who are physically free of sickness, disability, or pain can attain. Having diabetes or a weak knee or cancer does not mean that by definition you can’t be healthy. If the word “health” is to have any meaning to us whatsoever, it has to be inclusive of all, and more about things like balance, a sense of wholeness, finding ways to live vibrantly.

This idea of an imperfect health that accepts ourselves where we are, honors ourselves, and truly loves ourselves—mind, body, heart, and soul—is a conception of the health in HAES that I can really get behind.

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15 Comments

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  1. natalie / May 19 2010 3:52 pm

    Hi, I’d like to read this article by Greta Poretsky, but the link doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and I can’t find her via search engine. Could you point me in the right direction? Thanks! (I found you on Fat Fu’s sidebar, btw.)

  2. Katie / May 19 2010 3:58 pm

    oops, fixed! Thanks for letting me know!

  3. natalie / May 19 2010 4:06 pm

    wow that was fast! thanks!

  4. Anna / May 19 2010 4:48 pm

    Awesome! I remember reading on someone’s blog that if you hoenstly felt the only thing that would destress you was to eat a massive amount of chocolate, go for it. I believe the relief from not stressing about what I eat anymore is doing me more good than the better eating itself.

    And yeah, I’ve been there with the “staying up late to write” thing.

  5. Frances / May 19 2010 5:20 pm

    “Health isn’t about being “perfect” with food or exercise or herbs. Health is about balancing those things with your desires.”

    YESSSSSS.

  6. Kate / May 19 2010 7:07 pm

    I love this post. When I got sick is when I FINALLY stopped trying to make myself perfect, not only healthwise, but in all aspects of life. At first I justified decisions like taking a nap or skipping exercising, or even not making by dinner with my illness, then over time I realized even that was pretty counterproductive, and you don’t have to be sick to need a nap or an afternoon just crashed in front of the tv.

    I also noticed that my stress levels SKYROCKETED and my overall health dropped precipitiously when I first quit smoking because smoking was such a relief valve for me. It took me almost a year to level out, I was so fixated on the benefits of not smoking that I didn’t realize how detrimental the short term anxiety would be.

  7. Miriam Heddy / May 20 2010 7:02 am

    I suspect that part of the reason that the FA movement is struggling with this element of HAES (the “H” part) and there are so many posts about “good fatties” and “bad fatties” is because we haven’t yet grappled with the ways in which health is, especially for women, conflated with the ever-shifting and impossible to meet goalposts of acceptable aesthetic presentation.

    If we’re fat and we say to someone, “But I’m healthy,” the response is invariably likely to be, “Well, sure, if you only look at your numbers. But you’re young. Wait ’till you’re forty.” If we say, “Well, I’m trying,” we hear, “But you’re not trying enough/you’re eating too much. You don’t know how hard you have to work/what a real portion size looks like.”

    We’re taught, again and again, not to trust our bodies or our own observations, and instead to internalize another’s gaze.

    And we’re held to an impossible standard because if the standard were something we could meet, we wouldn’t spend endless amounts of money trying to reach it.

  8. fivehundredpoundpeep / Jul 7 2010 5:27 pm

    HAES I do not agree with. One cannot be healthy at near 700lbs or in the 500s. Now I know I am the rare extremity. But this is the hole in the logic against the title HEALTH AT ANY SIZE> It is unrealistic past a certain weight, say over 300, or when mobility gets constrained.

    • Frances / Jul 7 2010 6:45 pm

      You’re misunderstood what HAES is. It’s not health at ANY size, it’s health at EVERY size – a significant difference.

      The Fat Nutritionist has written an excellent post on explaining what HAES is and what HAES isn’t: http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/health-at-every-size-choice-or-coercion/. The bits you should pay particular attention to are:

      ““Health At Every Size” means health at every size for the population, not necessarily the individual.”

      “Health at every size, as I have said approximately 7,386 times on this journal, does not mean that one individual can be healthy at every size. Cause you can’t. You’ve got a basic range, and the range may shift a bit during different stages of life, but you cannot run up and down the huge spectrum of possible body weights, like a pianist running his hands over the keys from lowest to highest, and expect to be perfectly healthy at each step.”

      “Thing is, there are extremely fat and healthy people out there. That’s how the fucking bell curve works. No, YOU cannot be healthy at every size. But WE can.”

      • Frances / Jul 7 2010 6:46 pm

        Sorry, that first word should be ‘you’ve’ not ‘you’re’.

      • Katie / Jul 7 2010 7:22 pm

        I had not heard this distinction on the HAES/Health at ANY Size and that is really helpful, thank you!!

    • GiniLiz / Mar 10 2011 10:48 pm

      I like what was once pointed out to me in a professional circle: HAES is a prescription for doctors. In the same circle, somebody pointed out that she always includes a comma. HAES calls for focusing on health, at every size. I like the inclusion of the comma. It isn’t saying “every person can be healthy at any size.” It is saying “every person can pursue health at every size.” If we view health as a trajectory, not a destination, then it becomes a moot point. A “healthy weight” is a weird concept if health is a trajectory instead of a static state. Health can be seen as a direction one is facing and moving, toward vitality and wellbeing, and then we can say that Health at Every Size is a paradigm that all – especially health practitioners – can endorse.

      • GiniLiz / Mar 10 2011 10:53 pm

        Oh, and for the record, maybe there is a person out there for whom remaining at 700 pounds and caring for themselves in ways other than pursuing weight loss is the healthiest thing they can do for themselves. *shrugs* They may be caring for their mental health, focusing on adhering to a complicated medication schedule for a prolonged illness, participating in what movement their body most needs, etc. Things a random thin person you see on the street may not be doing at all. So yes, they too can benefit from all of us taking a Health at Every Size perspective. We are often very very limited in what we see and count as legitimately “healthy.”

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