Women Rugby

An Open Letter To The HAES Community

posted on: December 04, 2018. posted in: Weight loss, Sport

Dear HAES followers

Some of you may have had the opportunity to witness an ongoing debate that keeps occurring on our fan page, between Rebelfit and HAES practitioners / followers.

I think a good place to start is where all human beings should start when they have a difference of opinion.

By asking...

What do we have in common?

What ideas do we share?

What makes us alike...

Rather than different?

Well, I'd say that we are 90% peas-in-pod, sharing the same world view that obesity shouldn't be stigmatised, that obesity is not the "disease" it is being made out to be, and that obesity stigma and fat shaming are actually doing more harm than good.

We're on the same page so far, right?

In our respective worlds we're both working equally hard to promote body positivity, encouraging the world to embrace marginalised bodies, and in particular bigger, heavier bodies as healthy.

This is something I've known from my career and study over the last 15 years.

You can be big and healthy.

You can be big and fit.

Health is not a size, and health can be aspired to and worked towards at every size. Even at what has been deemed "morbid obesity".

If you've seen or followed my page I regularly get drawn into debates with with people who claim otherwise, and who are desperately clinging on to diet culture and the belief that it is right to shame bigger people.

Rebelfit defends the rights of bigger people.

And I know HAES followers do too.

We have so much in common!

When I first stumbled across Linda Bacon's book "Health At Every Size" I was blown away. I shared a video of hers with the title "Rebel Crush 😍" and encouraged followers of our page to read her book too.

Not long after that Linda Bacon shared one of our posts "When Girls Gain Weight: Tips For Parents" on Twitter and I thanked her for sharing.

What followed next was massively disappointing.

She responded...

"In retrospect, I regret sharing. Not onboard with promo of beach bodies and weight loss messaging on your website."

What then followed was a discussion that led me to realise she doesn't understand the difference between "weight loss" and "fat loss", certainly not in the context of sports performance. And since that discussion Rebelfit has had numerous debates with HAES followers along similar lines.

Rebelfit talking about "fat loss".

HAES followers thinking we're talking about "weight loss".

They are not the same thing.

And anyone involved in fitness / sport / sports science / sports nutrition will have a basic appreciation of the difference.

HAES followers do not.

And this is massively problematic.

Not least because you're attacking people in the fitness industry (like Rebelfit) and making enemies of people who are actually on your side.

The debate that took place on our page the other day led to one of your own followers to message us to say...

"Hi- you did an amazing job defending your position against those crazy HAES maniacs. I am a dietetic intern and it saddens and amazes me how many members of my future career field have bought into the extremist HAES agenda. Your points were not only perfectly reasonable, they are also objectively true. I want to apologize on behalf of these women because I swear, they are living in a giant echo chamber. I’m a member of their HAES group solely to gauge how insane they’re becoming. Please keep doing what you’re doing and know that there are some normal, sane, and supportive dietitians out here who support you 100%!! It drives me crazy because it’s gotten to a point where they cannot see any other perspective than their own! I hope you can continue to educate people and make positive differences in their lives!"

That's pretty damning.

I actually want HAES to grow and develop and become this huge movement because I know that the body positive movement is a massively important thing.

But you're shooting yourselves in the foot by ignoring the contexts in which fat loss is safe, controlled, and actually a really positive thing.

Probably because as a group you don't understand the difference between "weight loss" and "fat loss", so hopefully the following will help.


Imagine looking at one group of people talking about spending £200 on gambling, and another group of people talking about spending £200 on investment, and assuming they're talking about the same thing because they're both spending £200.

Right now, you already know that gambling is very risky, dangerous and has caused untold pain and misery to millions of lives. But you also appreciate that investment comes with its own risks, but they are nothing in comparison to gambling.

If you were teaching someone about the difference you might say something like...

"Both gambling and investing are spending money with the aim of creating more money, but whilst gambling is relying on chance, investment is relying on controlled risk. This makes investment generally much safer and better!"

And this is why very few people gamble successfully, whereas millions of people worldwide invest successfully.

Many of us are investing right now in our properties, in our shares and in other financial products. So how would you feel if someone came along and tried to shame you for promoting gambling?

"It's shocking that you're gambling your life away! You should be ashamed of yourself for promoting gambling culture! It's damaging millions of people!"

You might respond...

"I'm sorry you're confused. Investing in a mortgage is not the same thing as gambling at a casino. The risks involved are very different! Yes, mortgages have their risks and some people get burned by their mortgage providers, but overall the risks aren't anything like playing Black Jack!"

And if in your attempts to educate them on the difference they clung even more strongly to the belief that you're a gambling promoter, you might just have to conclude they'll never understand the difference and give up trying to explain it to them.

Well I'm not giving up just yet.

You ready?

"Weight Loss" (gambling) vs "Fat Loss" (investing)


Weight Loss.

When someone engages in "weight loss" their goal is a total reduction in body weight and body size through caloric restriction. Eating less. Burning more. To force a caloric deficit that results in pounds lost on the scales and inches lost on the body.

And whether these pounds lost are from fat, muscle, fluids or faeces doesn't matter and isn't ever considered. Any loss on the scales is seen as a good thing and celebrated, which inevitably leads to abuse of the weight loss process (e.g. through starvation, laxatives and dehydration).

For most people weight loss, and the celebration of weight loss, is driven by diet culture. A culture based on a belief that...

slimmer / lighter = healthier

slimmer / lighter = sexier

slimmer / lighter = better

This diet culture is driven in large part by our fashion, food and slimming industries, who set to profit from society believing...

bigger / heavier = unhealthier

bigger / heavier = uglier

bigger / heavier = worse

This belief system isn't just cruel and damaging to anyone of a bigger / heavier size. It's also just plain wrong. Factually. Scientifically. There is no real evidence to prove or support it. Worse that that, all the evidence suggests that 95% of dieters regain the weight, and 40% become even heavier as a result of it.

Rebelfit works hard to warn people against weight loss.

And if you want to see the evidence against weight loss then the best source I can direct you to is Linda Bacon's book, which I'm pretty sure you've read already.

It lays out how we've got obesity so wrong, and how you really can aspire to and achieve health at every size. It's also probably why you're so anti-weight-loss, which is why you keep storming the Rebelfit fan page whenever we talk about "fat loss".


Fat Loss.

Sounds a bit like "weight loss" doesn't it?

It's that annoying English language of ours that makes subjects that are actually completely different from one another sound remarkably similar.

A bit like "masturbation" and "mastication", which I highly recommend you never, ever confuse unless you want to do serious damage to yourself and others.

And that's exactly my point about "weight loss" and "fat loss", it's too easily confused, and this confusion leads to no end of damage. And this is why education around the difference is absolutely key.

This debate wouldn't be happening if weight loss was called....

"body weight reduction through chronic forced starvation"

And fat loss was called...

"body composition change through chronic adaptation"

Because whilst weight loss is restricting calories to lose total bodyweight (pounds on the scale), fat loss isn't about restricting calories at all. Often you have to raise your calories and eat more to achieve fat loss successfully and sustainably.

Fat loss is a natural process where your body maintains or even gains muscle mass, whilst also seeing a reduction in fat mass. Something which often results in very little difference being seen on the scale.

For example.

If Jenny was sedentary and as a consequence of that sedentary lifestyle she lost a lot of muscle mass, whilst gaining a lot of fat mass, her stats might look like this...

100lbs fat mass
100lbs lean mass
= 50% bodyfat

So her total weight is 200lbs, and of those 200lbs 50% / 100lbs of it is fat mass (fat stored under her skin, around her organs and between her muscles), and the other 50% / 100lbs is lean mass (everything that's not fat, including muscle, bone, organs, tissues, fluids etc).

But if Jenny decided to take on a sport, such as rugby, just being on that rugby pitch will force her body to start adapting and changing to the demands of the sport.

Even with no change in her nutrition or eating habits, her body will respond to the challenge of running, driving, tacking, rucking, mauling and generally putting her body through things her body isn't used to doing.

And the result is that her body will ADAPT, it will build muscle and lose body fat, resulting in what we call "fat loss".

Sounds a bit like "weight loss", doesn't it?

Annoying. I know.

It's that masturbation, mastication thing again.

But we're talking about FAT LOSS, the loss of bodyfat whilst maintaining or gaining muscle mass. Not to be confused with WEIGHT LOSS, the loss of total bodyweight through deprivation and starvation.

So in time, and with lots of her life spent on the demanding environment that is the rugby pitch, her stats might change to...

80lbs fat mass
120lbs lean mass
= 40% bodyfat

She's lost 20lbs of fat.

She's gained 20lbs of muscle.

So her weight is the same.

This isn't "weight loss".

This is "fat loss".

And it has happened not because Jenny has been exposed to diet culture and the demands of society telling her she needs to be slimmer / lighter.

It has happened because her body has naturally adapted to the environment of the rugby pitch, building up pounds of muscle to aid her in running, driving, tackling, rucking and mauling. Whilst also shedding pounds of fat to fuel all that strenuous exercise, as well as make her a better adapted machine for sprinting around the rugby pitch.

So instantly you should be able to see a difference between "weight loss" as something that is forced through diet culture, deprivation and starvation...

Whilst "fat loss" is something that occurs naturally as a result of adaptation. In this case Jenny's body adapting to the very physical demands of the rugby pitch.


Performance Fat Loss.

Now sports scientists have realised that there is a physique that is optimal for the rugby pitch. Women's rugby in this country is on the verge of becoming a fully professional sport (and about bloody time too!), so let's imagine a scenario where Jenny get's really good at it and wants to go fully professional.

How can she optimise her training, her nutrition and her performance in a way that makes her the best rugby player she can possibly be?

Fat loss.

Yes. I know.

It sounds a lot like weight loss.

It's really annoying.

But it's not weight loss.

Jenny doesn't want to lose weight because she's a forward and she wants as much weight as she can carry efficiently to help her in the scrum.

So sports scientists have realised that her performance can be increased through fat loss. In fact, this one study into female rugby players found that...

"Total body fat was negatively correlated with all performance measures... the findings of this study suggest that some players may benefit from reducing their total body fat."

So Jenny's rugby coach isn't asking her to train for fat loss because she is fat phobic or part of diet culture. She's asking Jenny to train for fat loss because the evidence is clear - it can improve performance.

And this is why we saw a dramatic shift in the male rugby player's physique when their sport went professional. Far less bodyfat and far more muscle, all as a result of sports nutrition and training plans aimed at performance fat loss, not weight loss.


So Rebelfit regularly talks about "fat loss" in relation to sport and performance.

And in storm the HAES crew shouting...

"How dare you talk about weight loss! That's diet culture! Shame on you!"

Is optimising your body composition for your sport part of diet culture?


It's nothing to do with diet culture and everything to do with...

a) Natural adaptation, and

b) Performance.

And all the evidence you need to understand this comes from the fact that lots of rugby players train for "fat gain" too! Adding a bit of extra weight, mass and padding to your body can be massively performance enhancing. Particularly for forwards who play a much more physical game than backs.

So if Jenny's friend Claire wanted to play rugby, and she came to me with the following stats....

20lbs fat mass
100lbs lean mass
= 16.6% bodyfat

I would say "you're too light and too lean" and recommend she ramp up her calorie intake, start lifting weights up, and engage in a sports nutrition / training plan aimed at gaining both fat and muscle to optimise her performance. Adding 20lbs of fat and 20lbs of muscle and moving her composition to something more like...

40lbs fat mass
120lbs lean mass
= 25% bodyfat

And those extra 20lbs of muscle will give her strength and power, whilst those extra 20lbs of fat will give her weight and padding. She's 40lbs heavier but she's fitter, she's stronger, she's even better adapted to the rugby pitch.

Is this diet culture?


This is sports science.

And sports nutrition.

This is "fat gain" and "fat loss", "muscle gain" and "muscle loss", which can be stimulated through different nutrition and training approaches to optimise your body composition for your chosen sport.

These are natural adaptations, that are brought to life through well planned, well designed sports nutrition and training programmes.

But even in the absence of a training plan, fat loss occurs naturally in many sporting environments, from the basketball court, to the the tennis court, to the swimming pool and to the gym.

I'm pretty sure that if Linda Bacon herself fell in love with a sport, let's say basketball, then her engagement in that sport three times a week would naturally result in fat loss.

It's nothing to do with diet culture.

It's everything to do with running, jumping and spending hours fatiguing her body on a basketball court, and it ADAPTING to the basketball court through fat loss.

And this is why you don't see plus size professional basketball players. It's not that they've been excluded from the sport. It's because if they engaged in the sport for long enough to become professional, they would adapt to the sport, experience fat loss and become lean like everyone else on a professional basketball court.

This isn't diet culture.

This isn't weight loss.

This is adaptation.

HAES needs to stop confusing the process of adapting to sport with the process of starving yourself to lose pounds on the scales.

Sport and Slimming World are not the same thing!


p.s. All responses welcome! We enjoy and encourage open debate and discussion so please feel free to get involved.

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