The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” has been proven false time after time again.
It turns out that the terms you use to refer to yourself may also impact your mental and emotional health, according to a recent survey directed by a group of students from the University of Arizona at Tucson..
“Fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat,” was what I repeated to myself over and over throughout my decade long struggle with obesity. “I’m fat and cannot do anything about it,” I’d tell John or one of my close friends. “Fatty,” would run through my mind when I struggled to fasten a seat belt or squeeze through a tightly packed room.
I distinctly remember standing in front of my mirror looking at myself thinking, “How did I get to be so fat.” I’d squeeze my stomach and think, “Fat.” I’d look at pictures like this and instead of seeing a loving husband and darling children, I’d focus on my huge hips and overhanging abdomen.
Being morbidly obese is never easy. Our bodies are not designed to carry double the weight that is healthy for our frame and age. Our joints are affected, we often feel out of breath after short bouts of exertion, and the health risks are real and scary.
The small study showed that the people who engage in “fat talk” – or the types of conversations I had with myself often tended to be more depressed and less happy with their own appearance.
That’s no surprise to me. I did feel horrible about my appearance. I stopped trying to look nice when I went out and threw on the first piece of clothing my hand touched rather than considering whether the dress was clean, wrinkle free, or even remotely flattering. The dissatisfaction with my body spilled over into how I talked about myself to John and others. I never had anything positive to say about my appearance.
If someone said, “You have nice green eyes,” I’d shrug. Inside I’d think, “Too bad they are swallowed by fat cheeks and ugly glasses.”
I was probably somewhat depressed during those years as well. I did all the right things that a young mom is supposed to do, but there was a lot of joy missing from my life.
The researchers also studied whether internal “fat talk” had more of an impact on depression and body dissatisfaction or whether “fat talk” they heard in the media had more of an impact. Interestingly, internal “fat talk” seems to be much more damaging than media exposure to “fat talk.”
There’s no easy answer for this one. I know that self-love is an important component of the healing process, but quite frankly, it can be hard to stop those “fatty” messages that so many of us play over and over.
One technique that I found helpful when I fell into that trap during my weight loss year was to mentally stop myself every time I began uttering the “fat” phrases. I reminded myself that yes, I was overweight, but I also had good qualities.
My weight did not define who I was. My attitude and actions defined who I was.
If you struggle with this, I’d encourage you to replace those “fat talk” messages with positive thinking. Find a phrase, a poem, a bible verse, a quotation or something that you can repeat to yourself to remember that you are not defined by your weight.