Thursday, 27 July 2017

the HAES® files: A Tale of Two Worlds: HAES® and WLS

by Alida Finnie, MSc, RD, CDE

I’ve reached the moment in time for me to come out of the closet.  I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time and mustered the strength to reveal what feels like imbecility rather than courage.  Who knowingly puts themselves out there with the risk of being shunned in not just one but both worlds?  I worry to be seen as straddling the fence thereby offending both sides and risk being an outcast.  I worry “no man is an island” will ring deafeningly false in my case…

There are only a handful of people who know I align both as a Health at Every Size® (HAES®) dietitian and work at an assessment centre for bariatric (weight loss) surgery.  It feels like I’ve been hiding a filthy secret and it is petrifying to open up about it.  But I’ve now reached a point where I am as prepared as I ever will be to share my experience in my seemingly double life.

I’ve worked at a bariatric surgery assessment centre for about two years.  On some level I’ve always wanted to live in a world of acceptance because I feel like I have an anaphylactic reaction to conflict.  Paradoxically, I’ve also taken a deep dive into the HAES® paradigm and non-diet approach in the past two years.

I don’t yet fully understand why I decided to jump into arguably opposite worlds at approximately the same time but I will do my best to explain.  I’ve always believed I don’t have the right to assume I know what’s best for my clients because I simply do not live in their shoes.  I do my absolute best to answer my clients’ questions with unbiased information followed by a gentle introduction to ideas they may not be aware of to help inform their decision.  Because you don’t know what you don’t know, right?  I guess my hope is that by being in both worlds, I can help people find their own harmony within.

What I would give to see a shift in our culture to accept all bodies of all sizes, shades and abilities! I believe this is the best way to support every body’s well being.  I am painfully aware this is not yet the world we live in… but a girl can dream, right?

Until that day, because I live in a body that is privileged (Caucasian, relatively “small”, without physical disability and cisgender), I know I will never be able to understand the depths of pain others feel by living in the “wrong body” dictated by our unaccepting culture.  I can’t judge someone for wanting to fit into this world with whatever means they feel they need.  Although surgery is a trauma to the body, I guess I see living in this world with the wrong body as a trauma to the spirit.  Who am I to judge how someone decides to fit into this world?

Until we find that place of peace where all bodies are accepted, I will continue to support resilience for both those who choose HAES® and those who choose surgery in the best ways I know how.

In fact, I am starting to see these two worlds intersect, at least in small pockets.  I am privileged to be part of a social media group that helps people who’ve had or are considering bariatric surgery discover how to integrate Intuitive Eating (non-diet approach to eating) so they can live more engaged lives.  The goal of the group is not to promote surgery, but to provide a supportive arena for those with weight concerns to learn how to heal their relationship with food and their bodies – with or without surgery.

I find that group members are relieved to hear it is completely natural for the mind and body to rebel against rigid food rules and that bodies are naturally diverse in size.  There is in fact NOT something fundamentally wrong with them, as the sad myth of our saturated diet culture leads us to believe.  Being told their minds and bodies DO NOT have to be at war with one another is sadly something most members have never heard nor experienced.  I do my best to help this group as well as those I see in the clinic navigate between the significant level of structured eating required to prevent malnutrition and the flexibility of eating with body attunement (Intuitive Eating).

Although I have definitely not mastered how to pair these two worlds, I continue to seek out stories of the misunderstood in hopes they feel heard, in hopes they feel accepted, in hopes they feel a sense of belonging.  If they don’t feel a sense of belonging out in the world at large, then I hope they can find it in my office nook.  If they’ve really experienced progress, they start feeling a sense of harmony in the sacred space where their mind and body meet.  This inner strength will hopefully give them a shield against the harsh realities of weight stigma in our world.  Surgery or not, this sense of safety is what I dream of for all humans alike.


Alida Finnie, MSc, RD, CDE is a Registered Dietitian & Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor.  She is passionate about making peace with food and helping you do the same!  If you’re exhausted from pinging back and forth between food guilt and deprivation with constant body worry, she is here to help guide you back to Intuitive Eating.  She helps you learn all the strategies you need to eat with confidence and without dieting or food rules. You can connect with her at

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