A “Fat Talk”-Free Campus: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

COMMENTARY BY: NEHA VERMA

From “Do these jeans make me look fat?” to “You look great, have you lost a few pounds?” most of us have, at some point or another, made casual comments about body weight to our friends and family members.

Psychiatrists refer to these and similar comments as “fat talk.”  While “fat talk” statements connect body weight to a person’s value and self-worth, they are generally not made with bad intentions.

“Fat talk” tends to be common on college campuses.  College students are constantly meeting new people and trying to make good first impressions, often causing them to focus on their appearances more than ever before.

It is no surprise, then, that eating disorders are especially prevalent on college campuses.   Ninety-five percent of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 26.  As many as ten percent of college women suffer from a clinical or nearly clinical eating disorder, and thirty-three percent of college women suffer from disordered eating habits.

Despite the common misconception that they are not particularly dangerous or deadly, eating disorders are actually the most fatal psychiatric illness.  The prevalence of eating disorders is astounding when we consider that one out of ten patients with an eating disorder will eventually die from it.

In discussing eating disorders, we often show a sense of detachment.  We look at the statistics and point fingers at images of skinny women in the media, but do not evaluate our own behavior or wonder if the roots of the problem lie closer to home.

However, the reality is that our words may be contributing to the problem of eating disorders even more than the media images we tend to blame.  Psychiatrists have found that patients can often trace their eating disorders back to one simple “fat talk” comment from a friend or family member.

This is not to diminish the complexity of eating disorders, or claim that one casual comment could cause a friend to develop anorexia.

It simply means that for someone who is already at risk of developing an eating disorder, a few simple words can do more damage than we may realize.

When you’re walking through the Quad on a sunny day with a group of friends and you gesture to someone tanning and whisper, “She does not need to be wearing a bikini,” it might seem harmless because the woman you’re talking about isn’t in earshot.  But what kind of message does this “fat talk” send to your friends?  While they may be laughing, perhaps they are also looking down at their own bodies, wondering if they, too, are being judged.

Starting today, in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, let’s try to be more mindful about the way we talk about others and ourselves.  Let’s try to be part of the solution to one of the most serious health issues facing college students.  Let’s love our bodies, and encourage our peers to do the same.

Starting today, let’s make our campus “fat talk”-free.

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