Body Image, Eating Disorders and Overcoming “Fat Talk”

Cute girl flipping a tire


By leaps, the most remarkable movement I have seen in the 12 years since I threw away the corporate blazer for athletic gear? Women want to get strong. Training isn’t merely a tool to get skinny or look better in your jeans or bathing suit. It is a means to get strong. I personally believe the Crossfit movement significantly helped create this reality. Strength became within reach and women with muscles have become “cool” not “bulky”.  And, we are no longer just on the treadmill or spin class but right next to the boys in the rack section of the gym.


young woman on a weightlifting session - crossfit workout.


While this movement to “get strong” is gaining popularity among all age groups, sadly as a society, we are still choked with “fat talk” and negative body image. The fashion industry, fitness magazines and the media continue to idolize extremely thin bodies. Look at any mannequin and you see what I’m talking about. Heck, it’s everywhere you look. The preponderance of eating disorders is high.




In a video produced by sorority Delta Delta Delta’s BodyImage3D Initiative, the authors reported 54% of women would rather get hit by a truck than be fat (the original 1994 survey was conducted by Esquire Magazine). Delta Delta Delta and The Center for Living, Learning, and Leading collaborated with partners and sponsors to raise public awareness about the campaign “End Fat Talk.” It is worth your 3:00 minutes.

Some of the stats below from the video are startling:

  • In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men have suffered from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS. That is more than breast cancer.
  • Almost nine times more people died from eating disorders in 2012 than from breast cancer (300,000 versus 34,000)
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, many eating disorder cases go unreported. Their website claims, “…many individuals struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating attitudes and behaviors, and the best known contributor to the development of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is body dissatisfaction. By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape, 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming fat. This concern endures through life. (Smolak, 2011)

There are more, yet you get the point.

I would rather get hit by a truck than be fat ….yet can’t we all understand why?

In a Ted Talk viewed by over 250,000 people, Renee Engeln, a Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University discusses the amount of time her students talked about, thought about and obsess over how they look. She dons the condition “beauty sickness.” Symptoms include learning the perfect pose for photos, worrying about pimples, cellulite, and other physical image concerns. Yet #1 among their concerns as women was their worry about their size, weight and body image.

As a graduate student working with undergrads, what she saw among her female students was “alarming”. She asked her advisor if she could study this phenomenon more. Her advisor told her that smart women know better and not to waste her time.

Engeln says her advisor was right: women do know better. Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter that they know all about Photoshop, and that many of the images they see in magazines and movies are unhealthily skinny.

Dr. Carla Rice is a global consultant on women’s body image issues. She has over 20 year’s experience as a clinician, project director, researcher and media consultant on body image and eating problems. Dr. Rice defines body image in the following way:

  • Body image is the inner picture of outer appearance — it is a person’s perception of their body.
  • Body image includes how you feel about your body; messages you have received from others; and the social value placed on your looks and abilities.
  • Body image is not static but develops in interactions and changes throughout our lives.




Psychology Professor at Trinity University, Carolyn Becker helped found the Reflections Body Image Program with Stop Fat Talk. She says, “It’s like a car. Imagine you have one you hate. How do you treat it? Terribly. But when you have a car you love how do you treat it? Much better. When we hate our bodies we treat them badly. When we care about them we treat them with respect.” Becker maintains that when we are dissatisfied with our bodies, we treat them badly, eating less fruits and vegetables and do not get adequate exercise.




So what is the answer to ridding yourself of fat talk? I wrote a piece about the effects of our inner dialogue on our well-being. Perhaps explore your own thoughts and the words you use to describe yourself – to you!

Engeln offers a few helpful hints who suffer from fat talk:

  1. Change your investment strategy – or spend time and energy on things that are more lasting.
  2. Avoid reading magazines if they make you feel badly about your own body.
  3. View your body as a tool to explore the world.
  4. Instead of focusing on the size of your thighs, focus on the strength of them – our Fitness on the Run personal favorite.
  5. Think about your arms as the things that bring things you love close to you NOT jiggly, dimpled and fat.

The next time you look in the mirror, believe that a strong, independent and beautiful woman is staring back at you. List those things you love about your appearance. We all have them: so list them and say them aloud for the most important person listening – – – you.

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