Is HAES Columbusing* Holistic Health?

This week I found myself wondering if Health at Every Size® (HAES) was considered a new discovery when the Principles were trademarked. HAES recommends examining peoples’ behaviors and identities rather than only using weight and numbers as health markers. I employ HAES both as an offering to clients and community members to increase individual health literacy while examining fat oppression and thin privilege, and also as a movement to examine the medical industrial complex, and the junk we’re fed in this society about the worth of our bodies. Healthcare and wellness that take all of our identities, behaviors and beliefs into account while looking at the system in which we live rather than just using weight and numbers as health markers is how I would define holistic health**.

In my understanding, there are many different ways to approach healthcare that is not weight-based and is often culturally specific. There are many people in the U.S., usually people of color, who have been disenfranchised by the institution of Western medicine and who have relied on internal and community wisdom to determine their wellness. Additionally, there are millions of individuals who do not live in Western countries who have been in charge of their well being for centuries, though these approaches may not be available in a PubMed or Google Scholar search.

While I absolutely honor and appreciate my HAES community, I wonder if we Columbused holistic health in the context of Western society, and if this is one of the reasons the movement has stayed white, that is, except for me and a few others. HAES tends to be heavy on academia and the Principles and light on global and community context, though the organization that governs the Principle’s claims to be an international organization.

I wonder if trade marking holistic health erased the experiences of those who have come before us on this journey to define health on our own terms.

I think that the international community of folks who feel the agency and ability to decide what their bodies’ needs are is already large; I don’t want to build that. Presenting a trademarked set of Principles may not be to anyone’s benefit when talking with people about their own lived experience. I don’t expect to tell them they are doing HAES when, in fact, it may be me who is doing something that came long before me. I would like to validate the journeys of those who have come before me and those who are working along side me to filter the messages of their society and define individual wellness. I would also like to work within my capacity to increase the ability for people to access whatever they need to feel well, and I would like to invite others to join me.

Let’s listen to others’ wisdom. Let’s build community. There could not be a better time than now.

*Columbusing: When white people claim they have invented/discovered something that has been around for years, decades, even centuries. -Urban Dictionary

**I am not referring to alternative or complementary medicine here ________________________________________________________________________________

Jessica Wilson, MS RD is a dietitian in Oakland, CA.

Let’s chat more about this in the comments or at Sunday’s meeting of HAES’d and Confused. I look forward to the feedback!

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