Fat talk is a time-honoured tradition among women. We do it with our mothers, our best friends and colleagues. And while it can often be funny or silly or even therapeutic to joke about our spare tire, there is a downside too.
Fat talk is linked to low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. It may even perpetuate the vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting that plagues women of every size from 0 to 24.
This summer, it’s time to embrace a more positive body image.
Here are six tips for ending the muffin-top talk once and for all:
1. Irony alert: Fat talk keeps you fat.
Ever tried to put yourself in a good mood by telling yourself you’re miserable? Of course not, that would be silly. So, why do we try and fat-shame ourselves into losing weight or choosing a healthy lifestyle?
It’s a bitter pill to swallow but the only thing all that fat talk achieves is to make us feel worse about ourselves.
“[Fat talk] erodes self-esteem and a sense of wellbeing and makes it more likely that women will reach for a cupcake or cookie when they’re feeling bad about themselves,” says Jean Fain, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist and author of The Self-Compassion Diet.
2. Stop thinking you’re fat. You are capable of anything!
If you’ve spent most of your life struggling with your weight you may have convinced yourself that you’re a fat person and therefore not the kind of person who can wear a two-piece, run a 5K or work a pixie cut (fill in the blank however you choose).
This kind of thinking is a trap. To get out of it, stop thinking you’re fat and start thinking you’re “capable of anything,” says Katie Lowe, the blogger behind Fat Girl PhD.
“If you’ve built up a mental image of yourself as someone who, say, doesn’t have the self-control to stick to a healthy lifestyle, or doesn’t have the confidence to go after what they want, it can be incredibly difficult to shake that mentality — even though usually, the truth is completely the opposite,” offers Lowe.
Lowe knows how powerful such a shift in perspective can be. Heavy most of her life, she lost 150 pounds, a journey she catalogues on her blog by embracing her infinite capacity for metamorphosis rather than self-hatred.
To shed the weight, she ate a healthier diet and introduced regular physical activity into her lifestyle — and she still enjoys a chocolate bar when she feels like it.
3. Your mission: Figure out what “fat” really means to you.
Having a fat day — or year? It may be that you’re using the word fat to obscure a multitude of emotions.
“Fat is not a feeling,” explains Fain. Rather it’s a “code for all negative feelings”. Fain recommends this exercise for figuring out what’s really bugging you — other than your thighs. Ask yourself: if you couldn’t use the word fat to describe how you’re feeling, what other adjectives would you draw on? Make sure you use a word that describes an emotion.
For example, if you say you’re sad or bored, then consider how you might rectify that situation. “If you’re sad, what do sad people need? If you’re bored what do bored people need? Different things not just a diet,” says Fain.
4. Surprise! You will stop thinking you’re fat when you stop dieting.
You may think dieting is the cure for fat talk, but you’d be wrong. That restrictive detox cleanse you’re doing (again) is just another symptom of the problem.
“Diets don’t work. It’s been proven over and over again, in the lab and in life, but so many people keep trying to make them work,” says Fain.
The biggest problem with fad diets is that they’re a set up “for overeating if not bingeing.”
The connection between fat talk and fad diets is clear, says Fain, as one feeds the other and vice versa. People are “actually getting fatter and fatter every time they try and fail to stick to a diet.”
5. Your new mantra: Thin is not happy. Happy is not thin.
Fat isn’t an emotion and neither is thin.
“Thin is a physical thing. Happiness is emotional and being thin doesn’t guarantee happiness,” explains Fain.
Lowe concurs: “Happiness is something everyone should have, regardless of size, shape, or any other physical feature — and everyone has the right to possess it. That should be non-negotiable.”
Rather than focus on thinness, make health and happiness your priorities.
Lowe continues, “I’m happier when I’m eating clean and exercising regularly, because my mental health is very much tied into my physical wellbeing. Putting the right things into my body, and making sure it gets the chance to stretch, lift and run from time to time means I feel better.”
6. Finally: Be kind to yourself.
Conjure your inner Dalai Lama and silence your inner Anna Wintour next time you go bathing-suit shopping.
Choosing self-compassion over self-hatred doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook, says Fain, who believes that self-compassion can have a dramatic affect on one’s life. Instead it just means that “you’re taking care of yourself however you feel, whatever size you are, whatever shape you are, and that leads to all sorts of health and happiness.”
Taking care of yourself includes being as forgiving of yourself as you would be to your best friend — and as celebratory. It also includes eating well, getting sufficient physical activity, getting a good night’s sleep — see where all of this is going?
Cultivating self-compassion is an effective way to “generally feel better, look better, and eat better,” says Fain. “It’s like a cross between an anti-depressant and a diet pill without any of the negative side effects.”
Do you have a positive self-talk mantra? If so, share it with us in the comment section below.