In her book, The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are, Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D, Director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, explains that eliminating fat talk consists of two tasks.
One is to establish a fat-talk-free zone in your mind. The second is to establish a fat-talk-free zone in your environment.
According to Bulik, creating a fat-talk-free zone in your mind involves three steps.
1. Identify your fat talk. Start paying close attention to how often you fat-talk and the type of fat talk it is. As Bulik writes, “You can’t change your behavior if you don’t know what you need to change.”
2. Undo your fat talk. Every time you make a negative comment, respond with a “respectful one,” Bulik says. She suggests avoiding comments that focus on looks or trivial issues (e.g., what you or someone else is wearing).
The goal, she writes, “is to start to neutralize fat talk and to get you more accustomed to focusing on positive aspects of people and situations rather than searching for flaws.”
This might seem simple at first. But “You’re basically forcing more positive thoughts into your brain space to take over real estate that had previously been occupied by fat talk. You’re changing the character of your thought neighborhood — gentrifying your thought space with positive and more respectful reflections.”
Over time, with practice, pairing positive statements with negative remarks will become automatic, and you’ll become more resilient, Bulik says.
Here’s an example: You can replace, “My thighs are so wide when I sit down — man, do they spread” with “My legs are my workhorses and I am grateful for what they allow me to do.”
3. Make positive self-statements spontaneously. Compliment yourself regularly — not just as a response to negative comments, Bulik says.
Here’s an example:
My gardenia had a second bloom today. One lone flower decided just to unravel right in the middle of the bush. My nose let me experience the unexpected late-summer redolence that a single gardenia blossom produced. There are people who have no sense of smell. My nose let me smell that flower today…
Creating a fat-talk-free zone in your environment involves five steps. But Bulik notes that you can only do so much to help others eliminate their fat talk. If others don’t seem receptive to your attempts, just remember that you can revise your own reactions.
1. Identify who’s fat-talking and how. According to Bulik, listen to the people around you, and keep a written record (or a mental one) of “who is doling out what kind of fat talk and when.”
2. Tell them that they’re fat-talking. Figure out who you’d like to talk to about reducing their negative comments. If they’re bashing others, ask them how they’d feel if these comments were directed toward them.
3. Educate them about the types of fat talk. Gently point out when these individuals are engaging in fat talk. Also, according to Bulik, “Help them understand that it is no different from other kinds of prejudice or injustice, and encourage them to monitor their own thoughts in the same away you did.”
4. Don’t reinforce fat talk. Bulik says that if you want a child to stop fat-talking, the best thing to do is nothing. Just ignore it and move on to another topic. This will extinguish the fat-talk over time. “If you give it attention, you’ll be reinforcing it and increasing the likelihood that it will happen again,” she says.
5. Model fat-free talk. You can’t expect others to stop fat-talking if you’re bashing your body or making negative remarks about others’ bodies. Instead, Bulik encourages readers to “Model respectful comments and help [kids] develop a more positive relationship with their bodies that is not just focused on appearance.”
I want to leave you with a story that Bulik tells about her mom, who hated her “stubby legs.” Her mom went to see an acupuncturist for some knee pain, and blurted out that she loathed her legs.
This is how the acupuncturist responded:
As she retells the incident, this fifty-something Chinese man seemed almost personally wounded by her self-disrespectful comment. He looked at her in disbelief and asked how she could possibly say something so disrespectful about her own body. Had not her legs allowed her to walk many places around the world for over seventy years? Had not her legs provided her with the foundation for her body? Were not her legs an integral part of who she was as a person and all that she has accomplished? How can she possibly isolate a body part and distance herself from it by saying she hated it? “Ma’am,” he said, “you must treat all of your body parts with equal respect. They work hard for you, and you must show them gratitude in return.”
According to Bulik, this was a “defining moment” for her mom’s body esteem, and she hasn’t complained about her legs since. “Sometimes it takes this type of paradigmatic shift to eradicate fat talk and develop respectful body talk in your head,” she writes.
What has been your experience with fat talk? Do you think these tips are helpful? Do you have any suggestions for eliminating fat talk?
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Last reviewed: 13 Apr 2012