Here’s how I incorporate four of HAES’ most important principles into my work as a trainer and an athlete. But these reminders aren’t just for fitness professionals. They’re important reminders for anyone who wants to shift their mindset around movement, body image, and health.
1. Anyone who trains is an athlete, regardless of their body size.
The principle of weight inclusivity is a fundamental reason I was finally able to embrace fitness in a sustainable way. It started with that running coach, who for the first time in my life, trained and coached me without ever mentioning my size, the need to burn calories, or any other weight- or body-related language. This resonated with me deeply because she was seeing me as an athlete in the making, rather than a fat person trying to get my shit together, which is often how it felt I was being seen. I realized that I could live an athletic life not for the caloric expenditure but because it made me feel kickass, powerful, and alive. I could turn my energy and focus toward my athletic goals and let go of the obsessive energy around counting calories, how much I exercised, and what I could eat as a result. This freed up an enormous amount of mental real estate.
When I was finally free of thinking there was something pathologically wrong with my body, I wanted everyone to know about it and experience it. This is something that I now, in turn, try to do with the people I train. I see them as athletes, train them that way, and encourage them to think of themselves that way. In many cases I might be the very first person or trainer to relate to them this way, as my running coach was for me.
2. There’s no one way to pursue wellness.
The principle of “respectful care” is core to HAES and my own philosophy. By recognizing that not everyone has the same access to resources, I can understand and serve my clients, meeting them where they are in the moment. I can better understand what might help them pursue wellbeing on their terms, within their means, and within their accessibility.
I was drawn to a model that fosters an individualized approach to health because it allowed me to break out of the mold of what I believed health was: thin, hungry, and controlled. Similarly, when I work with clients I really want to get to know them and understand their big picture so that we can devise, together, a workable plan. It’s not about prescribing goals and ways of achieving them. It’s about understanding each individual client, their goals, and what wellness means and looks like to them.
3. The role of fitness is not to “burn off” the food you eat.
One philosophy I’ve embraced as an athlete and trainer (and person) is the idea of eating for wellbeing—hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure—versus for weight loss. I am not a registered dietitian so I don’t coach people specifically around their diet and nutrition but because most of the people who work with me are done with dieting but often still struggling with shifting old thinking patterns around food and fitness, one of the things I do is coach them to think differently about food as it relates to fitness. In my practice, there’s no such thing as “deserving” or “being allowed” to eat certain foods because you exercised.
This is very deep work because we have been so conditioned to use this type of language.
4. Choose a way to exercise that you actually like
I love the HAES model because it calls for joyful, life-enhancing movement. This is so important because for many people, fitness has been a punitive, negative experience. I’ve had people share their fitness trauma dating back to elementary school, where they felt like they didn’t belong and were pushed beyond their limits. This created a disconnect for them from physical movement. The HAES-informed model asks people to revisit fitness in a joyful way. There’s no “right” way to move and no one way to be more active. But that’s a truth that can be difficult to keep in mind when we’re all wading through so much messaging about the “best” way to exercise.
After many years of struggling to find something that works, HAES has allowed me and thousands of women to reclaim health and movement in a way that aligns for them for the long-term.
Louise Green is a plus-size trainer, founder of the fitness program Body Exchange, and author of Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have. Follow: Instagram @LouiseGreen_BigFitGirl, Twitter @Bigfitgirl, Facebook @louisegreen.bigfitgirl