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You may have heard the saying, “Fat is not a feeling.”

Technically, this is true. “Fat” is not an emotion like happy, sad, or angry. Rather, it’s a sentiment that reflects something deeper.

Dig beneath the surface of “I feel fat,” and you’ll likely find something that wasn’t evident on the surface. Maybe you feel lonely. Maybe you feel fear.

Maybe it’s more about a belief system that says you aren’t worthy of love/happiness/good things.

Given the fact that our minds and bodies are inextricably connected, it’s no wonder that inner feelings can show themselves within the framework of our cultural zeitgeist. Fat is vilified, so it comes to represent other negative things.

Yet another sad woman on the scale, saying, "Look! Look how disgustingly fat I am."

Yet another sad woman on the scale, saying, “Look! Look how disgustingly fat I am.”

Even though fat standing in for other things is culturally constructed, the real ramifications can be far-reaching.

In fact, one study* found that feeling fat had a greater impact on people’s health than their actual weight. Participants were asked about how many days out of the last 30 that their physical health wasn’t good. They were also asked about mental health, including stress, depression, and emotional problems.

By our current beliefs about weight and health, the people with a higher body mass index (BMI) should have had a higher number of “unhealthy” days than the people with a lower BMI. However, in this study, the people with the most unhealthy days weren’t the heaviest. Rather, it was those who thought they should lose the most weight. In other words, the greater the gap between actual weight and perceived ideal weight (the more weight they thought they should lose), the more unhealthy days.

Women were affected more than men. (No surprise there.) Non-Hispanic whites were affected more than other races/ethnicities.

This study supports the concept that the big picture may be more complex than we commonly believe. It’s not all about calories in vs. calories out, and that losing X number of pounds automatically makes you healthier.

Maybe there’s something to feeling fat after all.



*Muennig, P., Jia, H., Lee, R., and Lubetkin, E. (2008). I think therefore I am: Perceived ideal weight as a determinant of health. Research and Practice, 98(3), 501-506.

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