Published October 26, 2015
Making negative statements about your body, such as "I'm so fat," and "I need to work out more," may be deleterious to your body image and mental health, a new study finds.
The results show engaging in "fat talk" — the ritualistic conversations about one's own body or others' bodies — predicts lower satisfaction with one's body and higher levels of depression, the researchers say.
"These results suggest that expressing weight-related concerns, which is common especially among women, has negative effects," said study researcher, Analisa Arroyo, a communications student at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
In one study, 33 women and 24 men, all undergraduate students, answered a series of online questionnaires administered over three weeks. Participants responded to questions about their body satisfaction and perceived pressure from society to be thin, level of depression and self-esteem, and how often they or their friends engaged in fat talk.
Examples of fat talk included comments about what the respondents' eating and exercise habits should be ("I should watch what I eat"), fears of becoming overweight ("I'd really hate to get fat"), perception of their own weight and shape ("I'm so fat"), and comparisons with other people in these areas ("I wish I could eat as healthy as some of my friends do.")
The more often someone engaged in fat talk, the lower that person's body satisfaction and the higher the level of depression after three weeks, the researchers said.
A second, larger study surveyed 85 women and 26 men over a two-week period. This study was designed to distinguish between the fat talk voiced by participants and what they heard from others.
Low body satisfaction significantly predicted more fat talk from the respondents themselves. In addition, fat talk from the participants significantly predicted increased depression over time and greater perceived pressure to be thin. However, hearing fat talk was neither a cause nor a consequence of body weight and mental health issues, the researchers said.
Arroyo said the researchers found the latter finding interesting because it contradicts published media effects research, which shows exposure to messages in the media can affect individuals' body image. "Interpersonally, however, this is not happening," Arroyo said. "It is the act of engaging in fat talk, rather than passively being exposed to it, that has these negative effects," she said.