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Body Image

How to Understand the Thought of "Feeling Fat"

Why fixing your body won't fix your life.

Source: digitalskillet/Shutterstock

Individuals with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, food addiction, or emotional eating often see their bodies as separate from their lives (and never the twain shall meet). Like the separation of church and state. They don't realize that what they feel about their bodies is often directly related to what's happening in their lives or what has happened in their lives.

If you are struggling with food and body image issues, you may have said to yourself or friends, "I feel fat." For many people, "feeling fat" is a "feeling" that just comes out of the blue or is seen as being related to the number on the scale or whether or not you can fit into your skinny jeans.

But fat is not a feeling. If fat is not a feeling, then what does it mean when you are having a bad body image day or "feeling fat?" To answer that question, it's important to look deeper ... and to look not at your body, but at your life. When you look deeper, you may find that you're stressed about work or worried about a relationship or feeling bad about an event or that you're sad or overwhelmed or angry. It is these emotions/feelings along with the beliefs that can be attached to them that are then put onto your body.

Instead of feeling your feelings, you may realize when you take that deeper look, that "feeling fat" is a way of distracting your mind from the emotions that you don't want to feel or even acknowledge.

It's important to take your mind off your body and put your mind on your feelings. It's fine to distract yourself from your feelings now and then, but for many people, this distracting has become a way of life. What if every time you "feel fat" you were to ask yourself: What am I really feeling?

Feeling fat keeps you stuck in the diet mentality. When you continue to focus your attention on "what's wrong with my body" there is no way for you to actually solve the problems in your life that are causing you to feel sad, angry, overwhelmed, etc. You may think that losing weight or fixing your body will make you feel better. However, if it does, this is only temporary.

Fixing your body won't fix your life. Losing weight or fixing your body won't fix the problems you have at work. It won't help you change the core beliefs such as "I'm worthless" or "I'm not lovable" that came with you from previous experiences of childhood adversity. Losing weight won't actually make an abusive spouse change their behavior nor will it guarantee that no one will ever leave you.

To solve the problem, you have to know what the problem is.

The problem is not your body. Your body is the result of the problem, not the cause of the problem. The cause of the things you don't like about your body is a result of all the emotions you have been pushing down and the behaviors you've used to keep yourself from actually dealing with those emotions and those situations in your life.

When you use food to deal with your problems, it will have an effect on your body. But "fixing your body" won't solve your problems. It's important that you first become aware of what problems you are using food and body image dissatisfaction ("I feel fat") to distract yourself from. I invite you to explore that in the homework below:


1. List situations in your life that are stressful. Some examples might include:

  • Loneliness
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Relationship issues (relationship with parents, siblings, partner/spouse, friends)
  • Parenting concerns and fears
  • Financial
  • Other—add in any other stressful situations in your life right now

2. For each of these situations, make a list of behaviors you have around food that you are recognizing are a response to these life stressors. For example, I was laid off from work and have been worried about finding another job. Looking back, I've noticed that I've been eating lots of junk food "because it's cheaper" but really because I want to be comforted.

3. List one statement (affirmation) you can say to yourself the next time you "feel fat." For example: Today I create a stress-free world for myself when I let my thoughts come from the loving space of my own heart, where forgiveness and non-judgment emanate.

If you've been (unconsciously) using binge eating, emotional eating, or food addiction behaviors or body dissatisfaction as a way to deal with your stress, emotions or to deal with underlying childhood beliefs of unworthiness or unlovability, it is hard to change. But change is possible and it begins with being more aware of how you use food obsessions and body image thoughts to deal with problems in your life. This is the place to start your journey to recovery.

More from Carolyn C. Ross M.D., M.P.H.
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