October 29, 2012 Heather Purdin

Friends Don't Let Friends Fat-Talk!

Fat TalkEmphasizing a ban on criticizing both one's own body and the bodies of others, this year's slogan for national Fat Talk Free Week was, "Friends don't let friends fat talk!"   It's a simple, straight-forward message, applicable even for the youngest of people.

Children and body image trends

Eating and body image disorders are far too complex to pinpoint a sole cause. However, our cultural disdain for "fat" or "heavy" people coupled with an overvalued desire for thinness contribute to the self-rejection that occurs within the psyche of those suffering with disordered eating. Popularly referred to as "fat-talk," negative and pejorative messages about food, size, weight, and shape undeniably add a layer of complication to the eating disorders equation.

About 50% of 11-13 year old girls consider themselves overweight, with 80% admitting to weight loss attempts by age 13. (Keep in mind these are developing children who are engaged in a fight against their very nature to grow!) These attitudes do not arise out of thin air, and they were likely formulating long before they were outwardly expressed. Even elementary students are extremely impressionable and attentive to cultural ideals regarding body image. With upwards of 42% of 1st – 3rd graders wanting to be thinner and 80% of 10 year olds terrified of becoming fat, the body dissatisfaction phenomenon as an undeniable epidemic.

A study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality revealed that between 1999 and 2006 hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119%. In response, there is a growing demand for eating disorder programs that cater to the special needs of young children and adolescents (learn more about Mirasol Teen, our integrative program for adolescents).

Internalizing messages of beauty, health, fashion, and fitness from family, peers, and the media, these sensitive souls are keen observers of the world unfolding around them. Ridicule and rejection are noted, sorted, and filed away for future consideration. Even witnessing an act of such bullying can be enough to convince a child to alter behavior in effort to avoid becoming the next victim.

Fat-Talk Trauma

Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me

 ...is one of childhood's most misleading nursery rhymes! Most of us have felt the pain of words becoming piercing weapons at some point along the way. Yet, there really is little rhyme or reason to what sticks and what stones.


 "You are eating me out of house and home." – Directed to a 10 year old by an extended family member

"Do you really think you should be eating that?" – Directed to a 14 year old by her father who did not think she needed dessert.

"That lady is disgusting. I can't believe she's drinking soda." – Expressed by a weight-concerned mother and overheard by her 8 year old, already body conscious, daughter.

"Your jeans are so tight they're practically painted on..." – Communicated friend to friend, age 13.

Unfortunately, it does not take much for words to do great damage. Most of the time, there is little premeditative thought put into fat-talk. While it may quickly spill off the tongue, the ramifications can linger for years.

There are several multi-million dollar industries that thrive off of our insecurities. In a ladder climbing society, we are naturally sold on the need to improve.

We have available a pill, plan, or product to better almost everyTHING.

As has been said before, good enough is nearly an inconceivable notion.

Ideas to Combat Fat-Talk

Society is often written and referred to as something outside of ourselves. However, we all play a critical, collective role in the development of the social environment we share.

The first step in combatting self-talk is to start with ourselves. Pledge to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around food, fitness, body image, and self-concept. With increased awareness, you will slowly begin to think before you speak. Once you begin to master the challenge of silencing the negativity, you can begin to restructure or challenge any remaining thoughts that may continue to privately rummage through your mind. Without judgment, acknowledge when you are "fat-thinking" and add a bit of compassion so you can observe the mind doing what it does best, which is to think. We don't have to believe everything we think and we certainly do not have to act on it. If you are really committed to this new discipline, you can begin repeating mantra's and affirmations to counter undesired thoughts.

When you are in the presence of young and impressionable people, attempt to role model what you wish had been role modeled to you. Not only will you feel fulfilled as you make a positive contribution to another life, you may also find yourself healing lingering wounds from your own childhood experiences with fat-talk trauma.

And always remember, "Friends don't let friends fat-talk!"