• Tue, Mar 27 2012

What ‘Fat Talk’ Does To Your Mental Health

Some people may think self-deprecating humor is amusing, but according to new research, all of those “I’m so fat,” and “I need to work out more,” statements may be destroying not only your body image, but your mental health as well.

Conducted by the University of Arizona, the first study included 33 female and 24 male undergraduate students who were asked to answer a series of online questionnaires over three weeks about their bodies. Topics included: body satisfaction, perceived pressure from society to be thin, level of depression and self-esteem, and how often they or their friends engaged in fat talk.

The results revealed that engaging in “fat talk” (the negative talk about one’s own body or others’ bodies) is related to lower body image and higher levels of depression. Not surprising, the more often someone engaged in fat talk, the lower that person’s body satisfaction and the higher the level of depression tended to be.

Study researcher, Analisa Arroyo, a communications student at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said that a lot of this fat talk revolves around how much we think we should weigh:

These results suggest that expressing weight-related concerns, which is common especially among women, has negative effects.

Examples of fat talk included comments about what the respondents’ eating and exercise habits should be (“I should watch what I eat”), fears of becoming overweight (“I’d really hate to get fat”), perception of their own weight and shape (“I’m so fat”), and comparisons with other people in these areas (“I wish I could eat as healthy as some of my friends do.”)

A second confirmed this and revealed something surprising too. It involved 85 women and 26 men and attempted to analyze the fat talk voiced by participants and what they heard from others. Those with low body satisfaction engaged in more fat talk, and fat talk significantly predicted increased depression. However, hearing fat talk was neither a cause nor a consequence of body weight and mental health issues, the researchers said. Meaning, what we say to ourselves about our bodies is impactful, but what others say isn’t.

This is interesting because we’ve heard so much about the negative influence of the media on our body image, and Arroyo agreed that this was contradictory to other media effects research:

It is the act of engaging in fat talk, rather than passively being exposed to it, that has these negative effects.

Either way, it’s still another good reason to ditch the fat talk.

Photo: Thinkstock


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  • Hanna Brooks Olsen

    Yay! Ditch the fat talk!

  • Annette Vela

    I think the media is what prompts all the fat talk…telling us we should be thinner, work out more, eat better. If it wasn’t thrown in our face every second of every day, we might be able to think of other things to say.

  • Josh

    It’s as if people don’t want their bodies. The way they talk to them. You wouldn’t talk to someone you wanted that way. Perhaps you need to break up with your body and see other people.

    Only your body isn’t so negative, so it would probably find someone pretty quick. That pesky negative mind of yours on the other hand, might be a bit harder to match up.

  • Ashli

    But isn’t it possible that the relationship is inverse – that lower body image and higher levels of depression CAUSE people to engage in “fat talk?” People talk about what’s on their mind a lot, and if “fat” is on their mind a lot (as it would be if they had low body image and/or depression), they might make comments about it to people – this “fat talk.”

    I’m suspicious of the idea that the fat talk is causing the lower body image and higher levels of depression, and not the other way around. But maybe I’m misunderstanding the article.

  • muhammed idris

    D fact is dat wat u sy most surely b urs,thanks, very intrested articles

  • Michael

    It only brings you down and does more harm than good. Think positive and start telling yourself that you deserve to lose weight. These negative comments definitely do more harm than good in the long run. Treat your body right!

    Help Yourself Now!

  • Tina