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How To Spot ‘Fat Talk’ So You Can Stop It

“Fat talk is a plague,” writes Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D, Director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, in her book, The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are.

“It is insidious and ubiquitous. We barely know it’s coming out of our mouths, yet it is all around us. Fat talk destroys women and girls.”

I completely agree. Fat talk is dangerous.

We become what we talk about both inside our minds and outside with others. And if these others are impressionable young girls or teens, then we teach them that this kind of language is perfectly OK. And they simply continue the vicious cycle.

According to Bulik, fat talk* goes beyond comments like “Does this make me look fat?” or “My butt is too big.”

Instead, she says that “It is much broader and sometimes more subtle and insidious.” And the more subtle and insidious the fat talk, the harder it is for us to recognize — and reduce.

It’s becomes a natural part of our speech, a natural part of our internal dialogue.

That’s why Bulik breaks down the various categories of fat talk in her book. Because once we can truly see what fat talk looks like, we can stop the tireless cycle and eventually have it dissipate altogether.

Bulik features 12 types of fat talk. (I was definitely surprised to learn that there are so many!) Below are the first six types.

1. Generic Fat Talk

Bulik says that this is the most common type of fat talk. It’s the type we often hear about — and perhaps say too often.

Examples from the book: “I hate my [insert body part here].” “I need to lose ten pounds.”

2. Compliment-Fishing Fat Talk

When we fish for compliments, we’re basically looking for the “but you’re not fat” comment, according to Bulik.

Example: “I look like a whale in this dress.”

3. Comparative Fat Talk

This is when people commiserate over their bodies as a group. According to Bulik, “The thought process behind this type of fat talk is ‘How dare you complain, I have it so much worse — my fat is worse than your fat!”

Examples: “You think you’re fat? Look at me!”

4. Can’t-Take-a-Compliment Fat Talk

This happens when someone compliments you and you’re just not having it. Taking a compliment might be especially tough if your negative thoughts are deeply ingrained , so it’s just hard for you to believe the good stuff. Or you assume that the person is just trying to be polite, Bulik says.

Example: Someone tells you that you look stunning. And you respond with: “Thank God for Spanx.”

5. Competitive Fat Talk

Some people just can’t stop talking about what they eat or how much they exercise. According to Bulik, this emerges when people are either being overly or covertly competitive with each other.

Examples: “All I have for lunch every day is a salad with dressing on the side.” “I exercise seven days a week.”

6. Silent Fat Talk

Bulik describes this as “the delicate dance that happens when a bunch of women have a meal together.” Rather than figuring out what your taste buds are craving and what nutritional needs you have, you focus on what others are ordering. And you let their decisions guide yours.

Tomorrow I’ll share the remaining six types of fat talk. ¬†Then on Friday, I’ll reveal Bulik’s advice on eliminating fat talk altogether.

* I don’t like the term “fat talk,” because it still paints “fat” in a negative light. I’d rather we used a more precise term like “body-bashing talk.” But I’m using “fat talk” here because the author does so in her book, and it’s a widely used term in general.

Do you fat-talk? Which categories from above are especially problematic for you?  

How To Spot ‘Fat Talk’ So You Can Stop It

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). How To Spot ‘Fat Talk’ So You Can Stop It. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Apr 2012
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