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How Thinking Fat Can Make You Fat

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I was intrigued to read this the other day, sent in by a very lovely reader:

Teenagers who think they are overweight, even if they aren’t, are far more likely to grow up to be obese, researchers warned today.

They say that obsession with body image as a teen can influence our weight when we are older far more than previously thought.

‘Perceiving themselves as fat even though they are not may actually cause normal weight children to become obese as adults,’ says Koenraad Cuypers, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where the study was carried out.

Source: Daily Mail

Now… I’m pretty sure I’ve been getting at this point for a while. Here, for instance, and here, and here. Feeling bad about yourself is a vicious circle, particularly if you’re inclined to eat emotionally – because you feel fat, so you eat, and you get fat, so you feel fat, so you eat… You get the point. That’s why I’m constantly harping on about body image and learning to ‘love yourself’ – because for all the cheesiness that that sort of attitude entails, it’s true. The better you feel about yourself, the better you’ll be placed to take control and live a better, healthier life.

However, it can’t just be me that read that article and remembered the taunting from the kids at school, or the feeling that I didn’t look like anyone I saw on TV (unless you count Courtney Cox wearing a fat suit to play teenage Monica in Friends… Which I really hope you don’t.) It wasn’t easy when I was a teenager, and it’s not getting any easier for today’s generation. They’ve got access to a whole new realm of snarking and thinspiration online that I’m really, really glad I didn’t have to deal with at 13.

What’s depressing is that I’m living proof of this study. When I look back at pictures of myself as a teenager, I’m surprised that I had so little confidence in myself. Not just surprised – I’m annoyed, because I managed to think myself fat. I’m absolutely certain that if I hadn’t convinced myself I was overweight, I wouldn’t have done all the things I thought fat people do – like eat ice cream alone on a Friday night. Or take an extra slice of pizza just because it was there. Or choose chocolate and a Friends-a-thon over a walk in the hills.

Nope, I really think that if I’d just been able to look at myself, at 16, in my dress for my high school leaver’s ball (which I’ve recently fit into again – so I can’t have been any bigger than I am now) as curvy, rather than fat, I don’t think I’d have struggled so much with my weight later on. I at least wouldn’t have excused certain behaviours as being OK simply because they fit the stereotype I was living up to; and I’d almost certainly have dealt with certain things better later on.

The thing about this study, though, is it’s kind of telling about pretty much all of us who’ve struggled with our weight at some time or another. Because when you’re overweight, it’s not unusual to consider yourself a ‘failure’ – watch any weight-loss programme, read a lot of diet blogs, and you’ll spot that word flying around a hell of a lot. And the trouble is – if you think you’re a failure when you start out, it’s so much easier to stop yourself succeeding because the excuse is already there.

“I’m a failure. I’m a fat, ugly failure.”

How many times have you heard those words? Or even said them yourself?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a teenager, or an adult - if you think you’re going to fail, you will. I refer you once again to the fact that I’ve been pretty convinced all along I’d be Beyonce when I was done – so a major part of my success has been my conviction that I would, eventually, succeed. But I don’t feel like that all the time. Some days – a lot of days, in fact – I’ve woken up, looked at myself in the mirror, and unleashed seventeen furies of hell on my poor, unsuspecting reflection.

I still do, sometimes. It’s called being human.

What it’s not called, though, is a-really-good-excuse-to-find-yourself-a-fry-up-and-cry-into-your-baked-beans.

Nope – you have to get past it. Drag yourself kicking and screaming past it, if you must. Pretty much everyone’s inner voice is mean sometimes, and if – like me – part of the reason for your weight gain was because it was just easier to “fail” – because that’s what you thought was expected of you – then it’s not difficult to let that inner voice tell you to quit once you’re on the right track.

Because the thing is… If you can think yourself fat, then you can think yourself fit. I know ‘mind over matter’ is a total cliche – but whereas at first, I’d stop lifting weights when I felt tired, or I’d get off the treadmill after 15 minutes, now I know that I can push myself as far as I need to go. I can do an extra push-up. I can do as many, in fact, as I have to do. The moment it clicked in my mind that actually, if I looked at it as something I could do, rather than something I couldn’t, I’d see better results – well, that was a revelation. And since then, my fitness has improved exponentially.

That was only about three months ago, by the way.

Same with food – I can live above a curry house (I’m not even kidding – the owner is my landlord) without buying my dinner there every night. I can walk past the delicious shelf of junk food in the office at work and not grab a handful of whatever’s there each way.

The sort of success I’ve had is something that’s encapsulated by the programme I’ve been following. I eat like a healthy person, and I exercise like a fit person, and the results speak for themselves. I’m getting a healthy, fit body because I’m training my body into thinking that’s just how it’s going to be. No argument there.

And if it works on a physical level, then it works psychologically too. I’m thinking myself into a healthy mindset, and I’m thinking like someone who succeeds at losing 115lbs. Seems to be working, right?

It’s a choice, and you can choose to succeed. So for God’s sake – stop thinking yourself fat. Stop thinking yourself ill, miserable, whatever, in fact – because it’s all in your head.

Go think yourself gorgeous, instead. I promise it works.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Absolutely! 30 August, 2012

    I’m finally back to my high school weight, which has been my goal weight for the last few years as I struggled through the dark, lonely road of bulimia. While I was never particularly “fat,” I hated the way I looked and thought for a long time that I could get back to looking like that without giving up my sinister habit – even though it was probably killing me. It wasn’t until I really broke away from my eating disorder that I began to lose weight and get fit, and now I’m back to my high school weight.

    And guess what? It doesn’t seem thin enough. I blamed myself for not recognizing back then how good I looked, and now that I’m not only that size but more physically capable of doing the things I love, I’m afraid that I don’t know how to be content with my weight. I still feel fat, and for the first time in months I’m finding myself bingeing on foods my body can’t even properly handle. It’s scary to realize that even though I’ve changed my behavior, I haven’t fully changed the way I think about myself. But I’m trying. And I think I’m going to be okay.

    • comment avatar fatgirlphd 31 August, 2012

      Congratulations – you’ve done an amazing job of getting through your eating disorder, as it’s an incredibly difficult thing to fight, so I salute you. It’s a long road to being able to appreciate your body, and to see yourself as ‘okay’ or even ‘gorgeous’ (which I’m sure you are) but the fact that you’ve acknowledged the issue, and that you feel like you’re making progress is fantastic.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story – and best of luck for the future! Here’s to you :)

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