A study released in early October in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that genetics could cause some women, more than others, to feel pressures to be thin and fall victim to body dissatisfaction. During “Fat Talk” Free Week (October 22-28, 2012) and beyond, Eating Recovery Center, an international center providing comprehensive treatment for eating disorders, urges women and men alike to take a conscious break from weight-focused criticism of themselves and others, to minimize the potentially negative impact these comments could have on body image, self-esteem and the development of eating disorders.
While the fact that genes can influence body type is widely understood, Eating Recovery Center cites this recent study as further evidence demonstrating that genetics can additionally influence the degree to which individuals identify with a thin ideal. Even innocently intended phrases such as “I‘m having a ‘fat’ day,” or “You look great, have you lost weight?” can be internalized by people who are more genetically sensitive to comments and perceived judgments about body shape and size. “Fat talk” can be particularly impactful for children and teenagers, a population whose fragile self-images contend with powerful social pressures to be thin, including media messages and bullying.
“Every day, we are on the receiving end of a barrage of messages that encourage us to be thin – television commercials glamorizing disordered eating thoughts, social media posts describing new weight loss tools, comments from gossip magazines about celebrity weight gain, and even simple, self-deprecating comments from our friends and families,” explains Julie Holland, MHS, CEDS, chief marketing officer of Eating Recovery Center. “Under this steady pressure, it is not uncommon to internalize a thin ideology, engrain it in our thought processes and behaviors around food and body image and even impress these same ideals on our loved ones.”
To help men, women and children fight “fat talk” and promote positive body image and self-esteem in themselves and others, Eating Recovery Center offers these five recommendations:
1. Focus on what your body can do for you, rather than what it looks like. Take stock of the day-to-day activities your body helps you enjoy, regardless of what it looks like.
2. Do away with self-destructive behaviors. Overly critical comments about weight or size can wreak havoc on your body image and the body image of others.
3. Be aware of the comments you make about others. The next time you remark on a celebrity’s weight gain, remember that others can perceive this as a judgment about weight gain in general and they may even relate your comment to themselves.
4. Compliment yourself. Instilling a positive body image starts with the messages you develop about yourself. Make a practice out of complimenting yourself several times a day.
5. Be a critical consumer of media. Remind yourself and others that the images portrayed in the media are often unrealistic, and that body shapes and sizes are often digitally altered and impossible to achieve.
“While ‘fat talk’ rarely causes eating disorders, curbing this negative dialogue can be a powerful anecdote against the uncontrollable and external risk factors associated with eating disorders,” explains Holland. “If a loved one’s ‘fat talk’ accompanies significant weight loss, over-exercising or other concerning disordered eating behaviors, it is important to intervene early and seek an assessment from a qualified eating disorders professional.”