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The Language of HAES

September 22, 2011

Trigger warning for dieting content.

I learned Diet as a sort of double major on my mother’s hip, along with English. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to eradicate it completely. When I find myself in the midst of an intense conversation in the language of Diet, my mind will probably always revert. It knows too well how to engage, what to say, how to process the information about fat grams, calories, carbs and sugar.

Think of it like this: imagine I stopped speaking English today and for years, decades even, didn’t speak a single word of my native language. My brain would probably adapt to my new language, French say. But if, even after all that time, someone suddenly started speaking to me in English, I would understand them even if I didn’t want to.

Conversely, if someone started speaking to me in French right now, I wouldn’t have a clue what they were saying beyond possibly being able to pick out a word or two that I’ve heard on TV.

Today I went out to lunch with two friends.

Sometime during the meal (as I ate a hamburger with blue cheese and mushrooms, and they shared about two cups of salad greens and half of a grilled cheese sandwich), one friend told us that she woke up starved. The other said she shouldn’t worry, that happens to everyone sometimes, even her.  In fact she was eating such a light lunch because she’d had two pieces of toast with cinnamon and sugar that morning.

And then my friend said she was proud of herself for not eating breakfast.

I said something like, “You’re proud of yourself for not eating when your body was telling you it was hungry?”

She kind of nodded and shared a surprised look with our other friend. As if I had suddenly started speaking in tongues.

I suppose, in a way, I had.

There was a time, not long ago, when I might have wished for her self-control, rather than voiced my opinion about ignoring hunger signals. Because I knew, without being told, that pride in not eating has nothing to do with anything except losing weight.

There was definitely a time when I would have joined my friends in their conversation about the Blood Type Diet, instead of ordering a hamburger, even though I have type A blood and beef is on my avoid list. I would have borrowed the book. Or stopped at the library. Or ordered it from Amazon when I got home. For research. All because a friend lost 17 pounds avoiding her avoid list.

So, when I opened my mouth and Health at Every Size® (HAES), my newish third language, came out, instead of Diet, it made sense that they were surprised. I would have been, if one of them had suddenly started speaking German or Greek, as if it made perfect sense. There was a sort of awkward pause after I started speaking HAES, a confusion that made sense because I think they literally had no idea what I was talking about.

I followed up with, “Hunger means your body needs fuel,” and left it at that.

I was happy to realize that when I expressed concern about my friend ignoring her hunger signals, I meant it. HAES started as a sort of fake-it-til-you-make-it deal for me. I’ve started to make it, not only intellectually, but emotionally as well. Instead of just repeating conjugations, I’ve started to internalize the language of HAES. I was able to be objective when others spoke Diet.

I was able to eat what I wanted (and needed) and not feel embarrassed or pressured into eating what someone else did. I was able to share my new language, and even though I’m not sure any of it made sense to my friends, I hope I at least made them curious.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2011 9:51 am

    Excellent piece! This is an ingenious way to look at the disconnect between HAES and dieting, and how people respond when they first hear that weight has little bearing on health or that hunger is not in and of itself a positive thing.

    Thank you for illustrating these points so vividly!


  2. September 22, 2011 10:37 am

    Very creatively constructed! When all else fails, fake it til you make it. It can work.

  3. Fab@54 permalink
    September 22, 2011 11:45 am

    Thank you for a wonderful and coherent ‘explanation’ as to how HAES can change our lives, our self-acceptance and our language.


  4. Lillian permalink
    September 25, 2011 11:46 am

    I was doing at OccupyWallStreet and they have food donation there. No diet talk allowed. They want to be sure all people are feed. They know that fat people can be malnutritioned, too.

  5. September 28, 2011 1:33 pm

    I don’t know if I’ll ever get the die-t mentality entirely out of my head, but I’m certainly trying! I find myself appalled that anyone would skip breakfast–not hating on the person, certainly, but appalled that this is how brainwashed so many of us are. Like you, I too would at one point admired such “won’t” power.

  6. The Carny permalink
    September 28, 2011 2:04 pm

    “Hunger means your body needs fuel”

    Not always and just because your body says something does not mean it’s actually needed.

    As an example if it’s a slow day for me I can eat once around 3 PM and be set for the day. Regardless of what my body tells me.
    However if I’m working (and around here work always means hours of physical labour) I’ll eat a big meal around 5 AM and I’ll eat another around noon because it being noon only means 12 more hours of work till I get to sleep.

    So in short your body is not the best judge of things. Your brain is. If you are hungry and nothing is going on it costs little to skip a meal. And if you have a lot of work ahead of you you eat during your downtime even if your body is telling you different.

    • Fab@54 permalink
      September 28, 2011 4:40 pm

      I have to respectfully disagree with that. The brain is what tells us to eat because we’re sad, or happy, or because something smells or looks too good to resist, regardless if we are truly “hungry” or not … our body gives us hunger pangs and pains because it needs fuel/food to run on and to absorb the acids in the stomach that may be building up because it’s been empty to long.

      • The Carny permalink
        September 28, 2011 7:43 pm

        The body is a great indicator on many things but the mind is as well.

        I know I personally can function on little to no food for days at a time if I need to because I have before as have the men I work with.

        With little activity one meal a day is all I need since the fuel is just refilling a car that isn’t running.

        However if I’m doing a 24-hour chopping spree I can crush back enough food to make jaws drop…and I use every last bit of that energy to do what I need to do.

        If I am not going to use any energy gleaned from food I can afford to not eat if I don’t want to.

        The brain tells us to eat for many reasons not all of which are good or healthy.

        In addition the hunger pangs are only temporary and may be the result of eating out of the norm. I used to be able to knock back double whoppers with gusto and when I altered my diet to eating less I got hunger pangs as well while my body ajusted.
        I was still getting all the nutrition I needed but it was in smaller portions with less extra crap.

    • September 30, 2011 10:11 am

      There’s a big difference between saying that hunger doesn’t always indicate the need for fuel and saying that, “I know I personally can function on little to no food for days at a time if I need to.” If you are relying on your brain to tell you that the hunger pangs you feel aren’t true hunger with this sort of dietary choice, then I find your proposition even more implausible. Maybe you are okay with such severe caloric restriction, but any doctor will tell you that people need a consistent supply of calories to function effectively. If you are obeying your brain’s definition of hunger, rather than your body’s, and going extended periods without food (less than 800 calories a day is considered starvation), then your body will begin to burn lean muscle for fuel. You can’t bypass that fact.

      If you are not eating for extended periods of time and ignoring your hunger pangs by convincing yourself that it’s “fake” hunger, then you are doing damage to your body and your brain is getting in the way of your health.


      • The Carny permalink
        October 1, 2011 12:42 pm

        Okay this made me chuckle a little bit.

        I can get hunger pangs if I’m Bored. I’ve long since stopped depending on what my body tells me because it lies. If I ate according to my hunger pangs there would be no point in even leaving the house.

        I’ve been operating this way for years. Day in day out several times a week. If I had to do it every day it would be a bad idea (for more than just the reasons outlined) but 3 or 4 times a week is doable.

        At least it hasn’t killed me yet. Time will tell. But if the past is any indication I can pull it off if I keep my current pace.

        • October 1, 2011 4:13 pm

          Trigger warning for discussion of caloric intake.

          I’m not surprised your own hunger pangs are so unreliable considering the pattern of eating you’ve outlined. If you get out of the natural breakfast, lunch and dinner rhythm, then, yeah, your body is probably confused as all hell as to when its next meal is coming. Your body’s hunger mechanisms are self-sustaining… they don’t care what your brain thinks. They register your nutritional intake on a cellular level and your leptin levels (which regulate hunger) respond according to what your body is lacking. Simply telling yourself that your hunger is fake does not nullify the underlying message your body is sending. You’ve simply decided that the hunger signals you receive are fake and therefore deny your body what it is requesting. When you finally do listen to your body then, yeah, binging is probably a real danger because the dam has broken and your body finally has access to what it’s been demanding for so long.

          You believe this is true because you haven’t died yet, and odds are you won’t die. Unless you have anorexia, it is extremely difficult to starve yourself to death without some sort of accompanying mental disorder. You probably push your body as far as it can go before finally giving in and binging. Regardless, it does not sound like a healthy pattern, IMHO.

          Yet, at the same time, we support bodily autonomy and however you want to run your body is your business. Nobody is judging your behavior, especially not me. I’m simply sharing what I know about the metabolic system, which works the exact same way in every body (with minor differences in the strength of the response due to genetic variation). So, you can say whatever you believe about the way the human body responds to hunger, but unless you have some kind of clinical research to back up your assertions, then it’s difficult for me to believe that your opinion is anecdotal and based on your own unique perspective.

          There is nothing in the literature to support the belief that a body can subsist on one meal a day without it having a detrimental impact on your health or your metabolism. Just out of curiosity, and obviously don’t have to answer if you’re not comfortable, but when you only eat one meal a day because you’re in “idle” mode, how many calories would you say you consume?


          • The Carny permalink
            October 1, 2011 5:49 pm

            “If you get out of the natural breakfast, lunch and dinner rhythm, then, yeah, your body is probably confused as all hell as to when its next meal is coming.”

            Can’t be helped. I eat when everyone else eats and work when they work. By the time regular breakfast rolls around I’m in a truck heading to the work site.

            By the time the traditional 3rd meal time is rolling around we’re rushing to get it done so we can have time to sleep before our real jobs drag us out of bed.

            Clinical research is a fine thing…within reason.

            You can give me clinical research on how my diet may be harmful but then I look at myself and those around me and notice that we’re going strong so I must take it with a grain of salt. It may not be for everybody everyday (never everyday) but it’s hardly a big deal.

            I don’t look at calories. Just the contents of my plate.

  7. vesta44 permalink
    September 28, 2011 10:28 pm

    The Carny – I have to disagree with you as well. When my stomach growls and says “I’m hungry, feed me”, if I ignore it, yes, the hunger pangs go away after a while. But you know what happens later on if I don’t eat? I get a migraine headache from hell that no amount of medication will make go away. The only thing that will make that migraine go away is eating, and if I haven’t eaten in 8 or 9 hours, it will take a lot of protein and carbs to get rid of that migraine. And it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting on my ass all day in front of the computer doing data entry or working all day long cleaning house, doing laundry, etc when I ignore my hunger. No matter how much or how little I’m doing, if I don’t eat when my stomach tells me I’m hungry, I’m going to have a migraine headache.
    So while what you stated may be true for you specifically, it’s not necessarily true for everyone else. You cannot take what is specific to you and apply it to the population in general.

    • The Carny permalink
      September 28, 2011 10:55 pm

      I never did. I provided an example for why my body doesn’t always know what’s best. You are different as is everyone else to the point where one signal is not in any way universal.

      Our bodies lie to us. Hunger can come about as a result of stress, boredom and yes legit need. It falls to our brains to decide which one it is.

      So the mentallity of obeying body signals is fine so long as one does not get tunnel vision about it. Our bodies don’t have filters. They don’t filter need from want.

      • Fab@54 permalink
        September 29, 2011 7:48 am

        Well I agree with your statement: “Our bodies don’t have filters. They don’t filter need from want.” That’s right, the BRAIN filters that.

        So yes, when the body cries out for food (physical pangs and pains), it’s up to the BRAIN to decide why you’re “hungry” and what’s best to eat to satisfy that want/need (whichever it may be).
        It’s the BRAIN that lies, its the BRAIN that limits one’s understanding of why you’re eating — or not eating; or if your “need to eat” is really a “want to eat”, or the other way around — but the body doesn’t do the lying, the brain does.

        IMO, REAL “hunger” is a need to eat, with symptoms coming from the body itself. The desire to eat for other reasons, or to eat certain things (sweets, salty, junk, etc) comes from the brain, not the body. That’s why people who are truly and literally starving, can and do eat the most vile, normally unappealing things imaginable, just to feed their bodies…. The brain is being ignored at that point.

        • The Carny permalink
          October 1, 2011 12:49 pm

          Okay then I’ll ask you.

          Lets say just for the sake of argument you have been splitting wood from 6 till noon.

          Now let’s say you eat your meal which consists of 2 fried eggs, 2 slices of ham, a lot of bacon (never get enough bacon :P), a chicken fried steak with homemade gravy, some cheddar grits, 2 slices of fresh-baked bread with homemade butter, and a large glass of tea so sweet you feel your dentist shake.

          Now let’s say about an hour after that you feel a hunger pang.

          Is that real?

          • Fab@54 permalink
            October 1, 2011 6:10 pm

            I honestly can’t answer that… Why? because *to me*, (and I’m saying this without judgement of any sort) that seems like an enormous amount of food to consume in one meal/sitting.
            I’m serious, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much at one time. Ever.

            And yes, for various reasons, I have gone one or two days running on one meal a day. And that meal was most likely a bit more than I’d eat at one time if I was eating 2-3 meals a day or more. But I seriously doubt it would be as much as that meal you described.

            I’m not an expert, and I don’t even try to pretend I am… but if you can consume that meal and about an hour later you feel hunger pangs?
            It could be that your body is so out of sync because of the extreme famine / feast routine it’s been going through, that its (physical) hunger trigger is going off without real “need”, just to prepare for the next famine phase.

            So I would have to conclude in layman’s terms, that No, that is not “real” hunger — that is a haywire trigger going off. So i will concede to you that the body is not always right (which I believe is the point you’re trying to make, right?).

            BUT… if you don’t put your body through that extreme feast / famine routine, your body WOULD BE regulated normally, and WOULD BE “right” in its alerting you to “real” hunger. What you’re doing is throwing the whole operation outs wack.

            Just thought of this— Could it be because your meal was carb-loaded, or perhaps had large amounts of sugar in it? Certain calories are burned and/or absorbed faster than others, aren’t they? (that’s not rhetorical)

            I could be wrong, I know this. But that’s my guess/answer to your question.

  8. Fab@54 permalink
    September 29, 2011 8:30 am

    BTW “Carny”… it’s been proven that the body continually adjusts (slowly, but surely) to the limiting of food intake. So while you may THINK your body is not hungry, just because you’ve trained it to go 10, 12, 14 hrs between eating each day, in actuality if you keep that up your body simply SLOWS its metabolism to compensate.

    This is why it’s always better to eat several smaller meals per day, than one or two average size meals ** IF the goal is to lose weight ** because the body compensates and just hangs on to it all longer. And also, the fact that you’re not doing anything activity wise, doesn’t mean your body stops processing food. Your body works 24/7, even while you’re sleeping, which is why it’s a myth that “eating anything after 6-7 PM is bad for you”, etc.

  9. The Carny permalink
    October 1, 2011 10:31 pm

    No Strip-O-Text.

    The point is to load up on the kind of foods that yield energy output.

    And it’s not famine to feast. More famine to standard meal fort me.

    If I’m vegging one meal is enough. Standard workday is different.

  10. Mulberry permalink
    October 4, 2011 4:39 pm

    Carny, I find your posts interesting. Hunger that is not extreme is not one-size-fits-all. Check out the blog JustMaintaining: it’s got some interesting discussions on different kinds of feeling hungry, from just-a little-snack to ravenous. One poster claims to feel much healthier (and not deprived) if she restricts her intake to certain categories of food, but if she partakes of a different category, hunger erupts and she grits her teeth and waits until it subsides. From her experience, satisfying that type of hunger is not what makes her feel best.
    There are those who come by and say, “Program X worked for me; it’ll work for you too!”. I don’t like those preachy types and I appreciate that’s not what you’re doing. It would be enlightening to discuss the nuances of hunger if only it were not made out to be such a huge moral issue for fat and not-so-fat and terrified-of-fat people.
    Generlizations don’t work well with human beings, nevertheless finding patterns can be instructive.

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