“Fat” Is Not a Feeling

Facebook's now defunct "I feel fat" emoji

Facebook's now defunct "I feel fat" emoji

We’ve all heard it … and probably said it: “I feel so fat!” And until recently, you could even register this sentiment on Facebook with an “I feel fat” emoji.

Simply put, fat is not an emotion. It is an adjective and a noun. We can even use fatten as a verb. Fat is the stuff that stores energy in our bodies. It insulates and feeds the brain. It protects our organs.

In her book Shrill, Lindy West describes herself as fat. And she talks very candidly about the challenges she faces—not because she’s fat but because of our culture’s attitudes. By using the word fat to describe her body, she rewrites the narrative. She doesn’t feel fat; she is fat. And she’s not ashamed of it.

Sometimes the phrase is used when someone feels bigger than she normally does. After a big meal, the stomach might stick out a bit more and jeans may be tight. But, “my jeans are tight because I’ve eaten a lot the past few days” becomes distilled down to “I feel fat.” The tightness of the jeans triggers that inner twinge—the shame and vulnerability. “I feel so fat.” What is the story line attached to that sentence? “I’m a failure. I’m out of control. People will see my lack of discipline. No one will love me. I’m going to die alone.”

People of all sizes will say “I feel so fat.” In other words, “I’m too big,” “I take up too much space,” “I’m too much,” “I’m just too … too.”

There are deep and difficult feelings beneath the seemingly simple sentence. Exposure. Shame. And ultimately, those feelings run a lot deeper than the physical body. So when you find yourself uttering that sentence, find the emotion that you are experiencing. Where is the vulnerability? What do you worry is being revealed about you?

To cope with the discomfort, we often then go into “fix-it” mode. “I feel so fat—I better go workout!” “I feel so fat—no more carbs!” “I feel so fat—I need to get rid of what’s in my stomach--NOW!” The body becomes the villain—the entity that is causing the anxiety and despair. The body becomes the object of scorn and it needs to be controlled, tamed, vanquished. More shame is added to the festering shame pile.

But what if we rewrote the narrative? When you tell yourself “I feel so fat,” can you offer yourself kindness and compassion? When shame rises up through your belly and into your throat, can you take that as a sign that tenderness and self-care are needed—not more judgment or criticism.

I know—it runs against what our culture says. But what have you got to lose? If you already feel crappy, might as well try something else. So let the “I feel so fat” narrative become the cue for kindness and self-compassion. Rewrite your story.

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