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'Fat talk' may be counterproductive to weight management, psychologist says

Dr. Renee Engeln, a psychologist and body image researcher at Northwestern University, answers questions about the impact of “fat talk,” or a negative verbalization of your attitude toward your body.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: December 27, 2012

Engeln talks to mothers about the impact “fat talk” has on their daughters. Engaging in “fat talk” sends a message that it's OK to say mean things about your body. This kind of talk has the same impact on men. The difference is there's more emphasis on women's image in popular culture, she said.

“I do think women carry a heavier load because of this chronic emphasis on weight loss and being thin, but I think men suffer, too,” Engeln said.

What does it mean to take a positive approach to body image and weight loss?

One way to stop “fat talk” is to stop focusing on how you look, she said.

Instead, think about the power your body gives you to achieve great things, she said.

“Think about the strengths you have, the endurance you have, and when you think about weight management, which is a real issue for a lot of women, think about it in terms of becoming strong and healthy, instead of in terms of becoming less.”

What are the best ways to curb this bad habit?

Engeln said changing any habit is hard. She encourages women to do simple things, such as make a “fat talk” jar, placing $1 in it every time they catch themselves. Ending “fat talk” can be refreshing.

“There are a lot of women who are really ready to hear something different, who are ready to stop thinking about themselves as just a number on a scale and start thinking about all the power their body has and all the things it can do,” she said.

Engeln said women shouldn't ignore their health but rather should take a more positive approach to how they become healthier.

“We have years of medical science now saying weight matters,” Engeln said. “We want women to be strong and healthy, but the key issue here is there's no evidence that feeling bad about your body helps you be healthy.”

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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