April 13, 2011 Marion MacDonald

New Study Highlights the Dangers of "Fat Talk"

A new study confirms that the overwhelming majority — 93 percent — of college-age women engage in "fat talk". "Fat talk" includes everyday exchanges between women that are intended to reassure each other, but may actually contribute to women's dissatisfaction with their bodies.

Examples of Fat Talk

"Look at this fat."

"Oh my God. There's no fat there. Look at mine."

"Don't be ridiculous. You're a size 2."

"I need to lose 10 pounds."

Researchers interviewed 186 female undergraduates at a Midwestern college. Only 9% of them were overweight. The results were published in the March issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly. Rachel Salk, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the study's lead author.

The study suggests that "fat talk" is a way of seeking reassurance about appearance. When women make disparaging remarks about their appearances, they hope their friends will say it's not true. However, the study results suggest the opposite: The more college women talked about how fat they are, the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with their bodies.

"Fat talk has very little to do with being overweight," Salk says. "But it has real, measurable negative consequences."

10 Ways to Stop Fat Talk

Check out these suggestions for stopping fat talk from PsychCentral:

  1. Become aware of your fat talk. Sometimes, we don’t even realize how often we talk negatively about our bodies to others.
  2. Think about other things you can talk about. There are so many other topics you can talk about with your friends – fulfilling topics that get at the important stuff.
  3. How does fat talk make you feel? Consider how talking negatively about yourself impacts you. Again, remember that words have a power over us, whether you notice this or not.
  4. What’s behind your fat talk? A negative body image may reveal deeper wounds, so fat talk may be your clue to start working on these deeper issues.
  5. Think about the triggers. What precipitates the fat talk? Is it a friend’s comments about herself? Your own negative beliefs? Looking at a woman’s magazine? Criticism from a family member? Once you can identify the triggers, you can work through them.
  6. Make it a positive game. If you make a negative comment about your body or your friends do about theirs, decide that everyone will list off three attributes they love about themselves right on the spot. This automatically turns the conversation into something positive.
  7. Stop. While your fat talk might decrease tremendously, a comment might slip out from time to time. That's OK. Just because you make a comment doesn't mean that you can't stop the conversation before it truly starts. So try to stop it.
  8. Discuss fat talk with friends. Ask your friends why they fat talk. How does it make them feel? Why do they feel the need to engage in it? What do they really mean? What would they rather talk about that’s meaningful and healthy? Have an honest conversation about where their fat talk comes from and how all of you can stop it.
  9. Spread the word, especially to kids, teens and college students. If you have a younger sister, a child of your own, a niece or nephew, spread the positivity to them and really wherever you can. Try not to engage in fat talk in front of them, and if you do, explain the negative implications.
  10. Cultivate a healthy body image. Fat talk is often an extension of a negative body image. For tips on improving body image, see 20 Ways to Love Your Body.