[NBC Fitness Friday Segment] “Fat Talk.” Compelling but dangerous…

written by john c ashworth

We are all well aware of the role that body image plays in our every day lives. And how a negative body image can cause psychological disorders for both men and women, and young boys and girls. In fact, Leigh Mills herself reported on a gut wrenching story to this affect about three years ago. A young women's life almost destroyed by this disease.

On a lighter note, today's Fitness Friday topic, "Fat Talk. Complling, but dangerous..." reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where George's girlfriend is engaging not in fat talk, but in self deprecating talk about her body image because of her big nose. While everyone else in the room is working hard to reinforce the fact that she is very pretty, Kramer blurts out, "You're just as good looking as all those other women, you just need a nose job."

Unfortunately for the rest of us, being so blunt is often a much more difficult endeavor. As a long time fitness coach I can tell you that the balance between a women in denial about her weight and the health affects on her body, and my attempts to increase her awareness and help her change her behavior is extremely difficult.

Fat Talk

In a recent New York Times article the concept of 'Fat Talk' was discussed, and identified as "the body-denigrating conversation between girls and women. It’s a bonding ritual that women describe as “contagious,” aggravating poor body image and even setting the stage for eating disorders. In spite of this, however, I'll bet you can relate to it, and that you have probably engaged in it. I know I have.

A personal example I have is a women I worked with many years ago who was in the middle of raising three young boys, and suddenly found herself very heavy, out of shape, and not feeling very good about her body. She was engaging in the act of fat talk on a regular basis. Using almost any opportunity to make some self deprecating joke about her body and her weight. Her body image was gone, and she was obviously using fat talk as a coping mechanism. Finally, one day, following one of her comments, the dietician on the team said to her, "Stop! That's enough. This is not good for you!"

The dietician was exactly right. This kind of coping mechanism, though tempting and even effective in the short run, can worsen your body image over time.

In the same New York Times article quoted above, the author pointed out that "Some researchers have found that fat talk is so embedded among women that it often reflects not how the speaker actually feels about her body but how she is expected to feel about it. And while research shows that most women neither enjoy nor admire fat talk, it compels them. In one study, 93 percent of college women admitted to engaging in it."

In this same study in spite of the association between fat talk and a negative self image, over half of the participants reported that they believe fat talk makes them feel better about their bodies.

The problem is that while it might make you feel better in the moment, it can lead to even more dissatisfaction with your body over time. And poor self image, and body image, can lead to a variety of psychological problems including eating disorders.

Even more interesting is that the most common response to fat talk by one friend was for normal weight friends to tell her that she wasn't fat. All of which leads to a back-and-forth conversation where healthy weight peers deny the other is fat while claiming to be fat themselves.  All having the potential to reinforce a women's body-related distress.

The Solution?

Change the subject.

If you or your peers find yourself engaging in this behavior, the best thing you can do is simply change the subject. Because putting a stop to fat talk is difficult. As quoted in the same New York Times article I've been mentioning, Dr. Alexandra Corning, a research associate professor in psychology at the University of Notre Dame, who has studied this subject, says that trying to get people to stop engaging in fat talk by telling them to stop is difficult because in part because it feels airless and scripted and seems to offer the responder no avenue to change the dynamic without threatening the relationship.

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About the Author
John Ashworth is a salesman, writer, Dad and full time Bohemian Athlete. aka Johnny Renaissance.

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