What I mean when I say “I feel fat”

I feel fat today by matter via Flickr

I’m having a fat day.

Or rather, a fat week. Fat fortnight? It’s been a while.  I’ve slid up a jeans size about a month earlier than usual – winter hibernation does tend to stretch the wardrobe after all – and everything about my body feels…off.

I just feel  fat.

But can I say this to anyone at all, ever? Hell to the no. If those words escape my lips or fingers, it gets me jumped all over in a number of ways: loving, patronizing, condescending, jealous, feminist, fatist, HAES-ist. Seems like everybody’s got a comeback.

You’re not fat – you’ve got such a great figure.
You’re not fat – you wear single-digit clothes.
You could work out more or eat less.
You’re being too hard on yourself.
You’re turning “fat” into a dirty word.
You’re supporting the oppression of male gaze.
You’re not fat enough to be our ally.

In the past, I readily accepted this sort of chastisement as reassurance and/or as correcting my straight-sized privilege. But it wasn’t until very recently that I realized what we actually have here is a failure to communicate. I’m getting alternately soothed and attacked because the words aren’t translating.  It’s like I’m a Norwegian in a British tobacco shop; I think I’m asking for a pack of smokes, but I actually said, “My hovercraft is full of eels.”  What?  Exactly.

Let me ‘splain.

Three simple words – “I feel fat” – is a true statement of my current emotions. Not a factual statement about the physical state of my meatform.

I said it repeatedly when I was under the evil sway of ED, hovering around 120lbs and working out five days a week. I said it when I weighed my heaviest – on my wedding day. Actual appearance, measurements, and, hell, reality, has nothing to do with the utterance of that phrase.  It’s a cognitive and emotional dissonance between how my body feels to me when everything’s in sync and when it’s gone wrong.

Feel. That’s the key. I feel  fat.

When I’ve got my shit together, I can tell.  

Regardless of how much the scale says I weigh, my body fits me.  My skin holds me perfectly, my muscles slide easily, my energy is stable, my food cravings are clean. I feel strong, vibrant, confident. We’re one unit – body and Self. I breeze through the day knowing this little critter I get to run around in is happy and healthy, whatever my pants size.

Sometimes the harmony breaks down, though.  

The system isn’t perfect – I have a sweet tooth, don’t like to exercise, and can’t say “no” to relatives offering food as a show of love. That mis-care of my godpod adds up, and I get bloated, dehydrated, sluggish, and depressive. A divide forms. Suddenly, I’m not a person, I’m a Self in someone else’s body. Like trying to dance to music that’s constantly and randomly lagging – I’m familiar with the tune, but the flow is gone.

“I feel fat” is not a demonization of fatness.

I’m not equating being fat with badness – that’s just wrong, ignorant, and hateful.  It’s also a whole other conversation that I’m not touching on here because I could fill a book.  The phrase is an apt one, though – the psychological sensation of being abruptly two sizes bigger is disorienting and angstifying.

The trouble is the difference between intention and reception. When I say, “I feel fat,” what most people hear is, “Please reassure me that I’m pretty enough for your standards,” or on the other end of the spectrum, “I want you to feel bad about your body because I feel bad about mine.” And what I really mean is, “My body and I aren’t getting along today” or “I feel crappy because I ate too many rolls and drank too much wine.”

Saying, “I feel fat” is the sadly inaccurate verbal translation for the untranslatable feeling of separation between “I fit in my body” and “something feels wrong.”

It’s incredible to me that I’m at this place where there’s a difference. For the better part of a decade, those three little words held all my self-hatred and perceived unworthiness. They’re why I looked into liposuction at 22 and helped me starve myself.  They made it easy to poison my body with laxatives and dangerous weight-loss drugs.

To be standing here at nearly-age 29 and be able to say, with every grain of truth, that my “fat days” are a passing emotional blip is giving me choked-up chills. It is such a relief.

It’s one of my dearest wishes that those still stuck in that place where “I feel fat” is a cry for help or a scathing self-admonition can find this place, too. To understand the discrepancy between emotional reaction and physical reality.

But it’s one day at a time, remembering that your body is a holy vehicle, that you get to choose your thoughts, that the ungainly feelings are temporary, that a scale isn’t the arbiter of health or awesomeness.

Fatness – of any definition- is no cause for self-hate.

=========+++++++++=========

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because, frankly, I’m afraid of the backlash. But, telling your story isn’t all sunshine and kitten farts, so I’m publishing it. This is a heavily-charged conversation that is fraught with accusations, misunderstanding, and fear. Let’s have none of that. Instead, I want to hear your take on why you say “I feel fat” and what it means to you. Share your stories and offer your opinions – but any input should follow the Don’t Be That Guy rule (or I will delete and/or close the comments).

34 thoughts on “What I mean when I say “I feel fat”

  1. I really enjoyed reading the meaning behind “I feel fat” I understood it to mean a disconnected feeling between mind and body. So instead of saying “I feel fat” could you just say my head and body are unplugged today. Speaking as a person of size, when I hear people who look physically healthy. On target weight say they feel fat, it really makes the world tilt. For the masses of very inconsiderate people out there who have no idea how being a person of size feels they rally for people like you and demonize people in my shoes. It just seems like more failure to communicate. Feeling fat is when you body is physically heavy and as a person you are fat. So if you are not fat, please do not dip into the language and struggling world of fat people. I used to be a healthy weight and yes I felt fat on some days because my pants were tight from too many beers and late night snack. But I knew it was a matter of cutting back and upping my water intake to feel like myself again. Never did I announce I felt fat because I had friends struggling with weight and eating disorders. I just knew that was unfair and insensitive of me to announce that when in reality it was not true. I guess now when I hear someone use that terminology I look at them and try to assess are they really that down on themselves, are they trying to engage me in a healthy eating conversation or are they looking for reassurance. So if you are feeling some sort of disconnect between body and mind say that. Leave the fat out of it. Because if you are not fat, you have no room to say it and furthering the failure to communicate.

    • Thanks for popping in and sharing your thoughts on this, Janet! I'm glad to have as many people of size on the conversation as possible; I super appreciate your perspective.

      We (not just me, but other people who use "I feel fat" as an inaccurate shorthand for that body-mind disconnect) definitely could and still can use other words to describe the stress we're feeling. The point I'm trying to make in this article and the followup comments is that the phrase is a stepping stone headed in the right direction but not the end of the road by a long shot. It's vital that we learn new, more accurate ways to express ourselves – in all formats, not just when discussing our bodies. Many people, including myself, have a lot of unlearning to do when it comes to talking shit about their bodies, whether to themselves or out loud to others. That sort of thing doesn't come quickly or easily, but it does come with enough time and care.

      But I do have two points of contention, which I will do my best to express in as a compassionate way as possible.

      First, as for not having the *right* to say "I feel fat," that's where things get a little dicey for me. I'm one of those folks who believe you can say anything you want, but you have to take the consequences for it. Just as I've said my piece in this article and comments and taken what's come, anyone should be able to have that opportunity. Taking away a person's right to speak on a subject – any subject – is not only an invalidation of their thoughts/feelings, but it also robs the world of another story that could further insight into the topic. We have the right to say what we want, but we must endure the outcome of it, as well. Rights come with responsibilities. And it's not anyone else's place to take that right away.

      Second: You never know someone's past or what they're struggling with right now. You didn't know, for example, that I used to have a nearly 40-inch waist at 5ft 4in., that I used to tickle the border of obesity, and that I crash dieted, laxatived, and over-exercised my way down to the bone. We never know someone's struggle. Does that give anyone the right to belittle another person? Never. But assuming that a straight-sized person doesn't know the obstacles faced by a fat person, based on their size, is just as uncompassionate as a straight-sized person assuming a fat person is lazy. Restricting language in a discussion of understanding to only those whom you think know what it's like does a disservice to the discussion. We need as many supportive voice as possible – not just those who are fat at this moment.

      Again, Janet, I'm sincerely thankful that you've come here and shared your thoughts and feelings on this incredibly sensitive and heavily-charged topic. It's a hard thing to talk about, especially publicly, and I'm glad you did. As I mentioned in my discussion with Jadelyn, I'm not terribly good at expressing everything I think/feel in words (an embarrassment for a writer to admit), and so please do let me know if anything is unclear or comes off as hurtful. I would never want you to think of this as an attack or invalidation of your own experience. <3

  2. So unbelievably true. There are days when I look at my size 18 in the mirror and think, "I feel skinny." And those are the days that I am confident and feel like I can wear anything in my closet. Then there are the days that I feel fat. And nothing is good enough to wear. So I end up in sweat pants. It's a feeling that can't be understood by anyone who has never felt it. There were times when I was significantly thinner and thought I felt fat. Spot on. Thanks.

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  4. I think "feeling fat" is also related to the expectations we have for our bodies, which can be rooted in all sorts of things.

    (Trigger warning: use of numbers involving weight below.)

    In my case, I have a BMI of about 26. I wear straight sizes. I don't get mooed at, or anything similar. But I don't feel great about my weight right now in part because I don't feel like my body is meant to be this weight. I know that genetically, I should have a BMI of about 19-20. I've had about 30 pounds of medication-induced weight gain, 10 in 2003-2004 and 20 in 2009-2011. On the other hand, the fact that I know the weight gain isn't my fault is very freeing. Even though I'm not thrilled about the weight gain, at least I don't feel guilty for it, which helps a lot. I'm also aware of the data showing that people in the 25-29.9 BMI range actually have lower death rates than people in the 18.5-24.9 range, which also helps me feel better about my weight.

    Anyway, I think that a lot of my emotions around my weight are determined by what I expect of myself. I'd like to be smaller like other young women in my family, but I also realize that I couldn't realistically prevent medication-induced weight gain. I suspect that this is also a factor in whether people feel "fat" generally–if their bodies are out of step with the way they think their bodies should be, they feel "fat".

  5. I love this post. As someone who is overweight, I have days where I feel "fatter" than others. I even have skinny days. This just puts into words for me what is really going on for me. I definitely feel fatter on those days when I have not taken care of myself, when days have passed and what I've put into my body is giving me a definite signal that something is wrong. And then there are days that I feel slimmer, usually on the days when I am feeling good in general, when what I am eating is for the most part healthy. The scale is the same on both of those occasions. I've tested it! I so get this. thank you.

  6. Yes. Oh, so much yes. I too feel this way some days, and I want to express said frustration – like a ‘bad hair day’ or something similar, but I can’t, because people take it every way but as an expression of my current feeling about my current state of body. I am not looking for reassurance. I am not telling anyone else how they look or how they should feel about how they look. If I say it, its because I need to release that emotion into the wind, to let it go – and maybe, if I need anything at all from others, just a bit of sympathy and support of the “I know, it’ll pass” variety.
    Its not just I feel fat, though it is a very touchy subject due to the unfair demonization of fatness. Its other expressions as well, which don’t quite manage to convey what I actually mean.
    So thank you for putting this into words. Maybe the next time I want to say I feel fat, I will, and point any responses to this blog post for clarification. :)

    • Yes! That’s an excellent point – this sort of expression doesn’t just apply to feeling fat. It can apply to just about anything. Not every time someone complains is intended to get a reaction/reassurance; sometimes you just need to let the emotion out there. It’s true that it can easily be heard in a way you don’t intend, but it’s good to be aware of that possible interpretation.

  7. So, I missed out on a fun night with my husband and friends tonight, because I was “feeling fat.” We had plans to meet our friend’s goats, eat pizza, drink beer and just hang out in the sunshine.(Very rare.) Strangely enough, I could not find even a pair of jeans or t-shirt that I felt comfortable enough in to be seen in. Yes, even by goats! The sun is out now and I cannot hide my “fat days” behind baggy sweatshirts. My husband says I look great in everything, which I know is his way of saying, “C’mon, nobody cares if you feel fat, we have to pick up Dan in 10 minutes, hurry up.” So, here I sit…alone…while my husband and friends have a fun time without me. I feel so lame that I would let a silly emotional “fat day” get the best of me.

    • Oh, sweetie, I know that feeling so well. I’ve definitely missed out on my share of fun stuff because I couldn’t stop telling myself all the hurtful things that come up in those situations. You’re not alone in that.

      But two things caught my attention, and I wanted to touch very briefly on them, in hopes that it will help.

      In relationships, it can be really easy to dismiss or over-analyse our partner’s compliments and praise because we’re so familiar with each other. It’s a habit that feeds into self-hate cycles. Generally speaking, though, it’s much more helpful for us both to trust our partner’s words and accept their praise, even when we don’t see it. It sounds like your husband is trying to support you, not shame or rush you. <3

      Also: one thing I’ve learned after years of fighting disordered eating is that the biggest loss is always turning down chances to connect with people because my Evil Auctioneer is in high gear. The physical and mental discomfort of a “fat day” is awful, for sure, but the regret that comes with missing out on life by staying home is much worse. As I said to a friend with social anxiety + body issues once, ” Sometimes you just have to tell yourself, ‘Imma go out,’ and just go.” <3

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