Outfit Post: Why fat is not a feeling

The other day my husband and I found ourselves in a rip-roaring fight on the phone. He said hurtful things; I countered back with a few digs of my own. Eventually, we realized our fight was getting us nowhere, and we hung up.

Later that evening, as I sat working on a blog post and chewing on the argument, I began to ruminate on everything Id eaten that day. Suddenly, I could feel my thighs expand. My stomach felt bloated and bulging. And my arms, oh good God, how could I have worn a sleeveless shirt with flabby arms like these? I am so, so fat, I decided. I feel fat and gross and disgusting and OH GOD I FEEL TOO FAT TO EVER LEAVE THE HOUSE AGAIN.

I find myself thinking "I feel fat" at least a few times a week. After a twenty battle-year with an eating disorder, my self-esteem is pretty much welded to my body image. When I feel good about myself, when I like who I am, I feel “skinny”. When I make a mistake, when I’m not 100% perfect, I feel “fat”.

Do you ever wonder why it is that you can wake up feeling good about your appearance, but by the end of the day feel certain that you have gained twenty pounds? Sometimes it doesn’t even take all day for the shift in mindset - it can seem to happen in an instant. But usually there's a precipitating event, something that triggered such self-critical thoughts about your body.

One explanation for our reliance on "I feel fat" is that we might not know how to identify feelings other than “fat.”Our culture discourages us from complaining, or otherwise expressing dissatisfaction with aspects of our lives other than our body image. Because of this we may not be comfortable identifying and articulating our feelings. Considering that we learn at a young age that complaining about our bodies is socially acceptable and even encouraged, we may not have a lot of practice identifying feelings other than "fat."

Dr. Stacy Nye a specialist in the field of eating disorders describes this, “Saying I feel fat can often be a common denominator for a variety of powerful forces, especially dysphoric moods.”(Dysphoric = an emotional state characterized by anxiety, depression, or unease.) “The problem comes when a person is unable to decipher these moods and they get condensed into a final common denominator – feeling fat” Says Dr. Nye.

In addition, we might have been so unhappy about our appearance for so long that we see it as the cause of all problems. The explanation for the state of our life might be, "Of course I'm unhappy - I'm so fat." Body dissatisfaction becomes the explanation for the problems in our lives. Though destructive, this narrative may be rooted in an attempt at self-preservation. Our psyches tend to steer us toward things we can tolerate, and away from those which are messy, overwhelming, or threatening. Proclaiming "I feel fat" becomes so routine, so part of our daily monologue, that we aren't even aware of how often we say it.

When I find myself stewing in negative vitriol about my body, I try to step back and take stock. What am I really feeling? Could there be more going on than dissatisfaction with my body? Has something happened to agitate me?

How often do you find yourself complaining that you "feel fat"? Do you find yourself using these words after a stressful event? Or is "I feel fat" part of your routine, everyday dialogue?

Thrifted white sleeveless top; thrifted vintage skirt; Old Navy flip flops; Buffalo Exchange vintage bag; Dolly Python leather cuff


  1. Feeling "fat" definitely presents itself when something else has gone wrong in my life. I can totally relate. It is one of the first things that comes to mind when I find dissatisfaction with my job, my relationship, etc...It is really annoying, but a feeling that no matter how hard I try to suppress it, it never really goes away.

    I always love your posts, they are so honest and real! BTW cute shirt (:

  2. " Do you find yourself using these words after a stressful event? " -- If eating two whole Cadbury Dairy Milk bars can be called a stressful event, then yes!

  3. "Our culture discourages us from complaining, or otherwise expressing dissatisfaction with aspects of our lives other than our body image."

    This is so true. Even though I grew up in an environment that encouraged saying only positive things about body image, I still see this contradiction and I don't understand. So many other things can be changed and "complaining" is often the first step to figuring out how to make that change. Why is it that changeable things are too personal to talk about, but body image, which is more or less unchangeable and is very personal, is considered acceptable to discuss?

  4. Such an honest post, thank you. Having "felt fat" most of my younger life I have had these same thoughts. We all have the right to feel "angry", "miserable", "frustrated" et al without "fat" entering in at all.

    You look beautiful in your maxi + crop top. It's a great summer formula : >

  5. There's a whole book about this phenomenon -- "Fat is Not a Feeling." I forgot who wrote it, but I found it very helpful at examining my own perspective on that issue.

    The older I get, the more easily I find it to identify those negative non-sequiturs (I made a mistake here, therefore I am fat and ugly). Doing something about them, however, is a whole nother issue. The only method I've found to get rid of the "uglies" is to immerse myself in something that doesn't involve my body. Reading is good, hanging out with my friends, working on a craft project, etc. It's helpful to remember that to some extent, you are not your body.

  6. I'm with Wendy B! I ate half a tub of Haagan Dasz yesterday (then found out it was National Ice Cream day, hooray an excuse!) and felt sooo fat. Bleurgh.

  7. For me the catch phrase isn't fat but rather "I'm a failure." This destructive mnemonic has come to reflect all the messy and unsorted emotions I'm feeling about my life, my body, my health, everything is viewed through this prism of success. If I gain weight I'm a failure, if I don't do all my housework, I'm a failure. And yes it has become alarmingly easy to say failure rather than to dig at the root of the problem.
    Hope you and hubby reconciled :-)

  8. Seriously, I've worked really hard to speak positive things to myself. Sometimes I can feel the self criticism start and I'll try to nip it in the bud. As much as we write and "preach" about accepting and loving ourselves, we all still have moments where we pick apart our thighs, stomach, etc....I think you've hit on something though. It's the FEELINGS that need to be identified and dealt with; NOT the knee jerk "I'm fat" response to seemingly any stressor. Great post! ~Serene

  9. I rarely give voice to the fat thought. I went to bed last night feeling fat (actually I was tired and had spent hours on the internet in a poor posture). Magically, I woke up "thin, again."

  10. Fantastic post! I can really relate to this. "Fat", to me, is an incredibly unattractive word and I think it reflects more of an unattractiveness than an actual size, which really makes sense when you consider the mental reasons why we might think the word of ourselves. It's never easy to overcome the feeling, but being aware of why we're doing it might make the battle a little easier.


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