Why “Feeling Fat” has nothing to do with size

By Alexandra Caspero on October 11, 2017

Hi friends! Can I tell you how happy it makes me to be able to share this guest post about feeling fat while I’m on maternity leave? I’m blown away by how incredibly smart, giving and caring my friends are to send these over while I snuggle up with the babe. Today’s post is a gem, a wonderful reminder from my good friend Rachael. You know Rach as 1/3 of the Joyful Eating, Nourished Life team. She’s my favorite southern gal and I am constantly plotting ways to kidnap her larger-than-life dogs. Enjoy!


Hi guys! I’m Rachael, private practice dietitian in Columbia, SC and blogger at The Joy of Eating, formerly Avocado A Day Nutrition. Alex and I met a few years back, quickly bonded over our similar approaches to eating and nutrition, and together with our fellow non-diet RD friend Anne, launched Joyful Eating, Nourished Life. Thankful to Alex for having me on her blog while she’s enjoying some time bonding with her little intuitive eater!

A few weeks ago, while I was getting ready for a social event, I looked in my full-length mirror to check if my outfit matched. When I looked, I noticed that the slight roundness of my belly was a bit more visible in the shirt I was wearing, and that some of my stomach was slightly hanging over the top of my jeans. It wasn’t anything abnormal, and most days I would just look in the mirror and know that’s just what my body looks like, no judgment. But that day, an old voice inside my head chirped up.

“I feel fat,” I heard myself say out loud to my husband, seeking reassurance.

Hearing myself snapped me back into reality. For one, I’m objectively a thin person. But even if I weren’t, I don’t find larger bodies unattractive, bad, or wrong. I’ve put a lot of work into challenging societies’ standards of beauty, and in fact earlier that day, I had caught myself feeling envious looking at a picture of one of my favorite plus size yogis on instagram. It had been awhile since I had heard that critical voice directed at any body, let alone my own body.

I am sure almost everyone reading this has had days where they’ve “felt fat.” You glance at your body in the mirror coming out of the shower and don’t like what you see. You see a picture on Facebook of a thin, fit friend in a bathing suit. You notice your thighs rubbing together in a pair of shorts. All of a sudden, you’re awash with shame and insecurity.

Even though “feeling fat” is triggered by something body related, it really has nothing to do with size.

Weight is a normative discontent, meaning most people (men and women) are unhappy with their size, no matter what size they actually are. I am friends with and have worked with many people who are “overweight” or “obese” according to the BMI scale (which I’m not a fan of, but that’s another story!) and are happy with their body. I’ve also worked with and know thin people who spend most of their days consumed by thoughts of body dissatisfaction and feeling fat.

Your perception of your body can change drastically in just hours. Have you ever left the house, plagued with feelings of “fat”, only to get a compliment on your appearance? You’re not feeling fat anymore, but did your body change? Nope. Clearly, feeling fat isn’t dictated by your size.

If you need another illustration, imagine two people who are the exact same weight and size. One has lost weight, and the other has gained. If they’re both buying into society’s messages about weight and value, the one who has gained weight is “feeling fat,” but the one who has lost weight is feeling confident. But they’re both the exact same size.

Friends, it’s all about perception, not reality.

Fat isn’t a feeling just like thin isn’t a feeling. Fat is part of your body, and everyone’s elses. No one says “I feel brunette.” They say “I have brown hair.” You do not feel fat. You have fat.

When you catch yourself saying or thinking “I feel fat,” it’s important to pause and ask yourself what else is going on. If you’ve spent a long time suppressing your emotions, you might find it helpful to pause for a few deep breaths, or try journaling or a short meditation. This way, you can label your feelings accurately and their root cause accurately.

I feel unappreciated by my spouse.

I feel lonely because my friends haven’t called me in awhile.

I feel scared about things happening in the world.

I feel anxious about a test I feel unprepared for.

I feel shame for eating to a point where I felt uncomfortably full.

That day I caught myself expressing that I was feeling fat, it (shockingly) had nothing to do with my size. I was going somewhere with a lot of people who were younger and trendier, and didn’t want to feel like the mom of the group. My stomach was also bothering me because I’d had a crazy day and ate really irregularly, so the physical pain was adding to the emotional pain. I had also just been in a really emotional session with a client, and being a highly sensitive person, soaked up some of their energy.

When you inaccurately label negative feelings as “fat,” you’ll try to fix it with dieting and restriction. But eating a bland salad for lunch isn’t going to make you feel appreciated by your spouse. Starting Whole 30 won’t make your friends pick up the phone. Losing weight won’t help you ace a test. By calling what we’re feeling “fat”, we end up focusing on the wrong thing.

Let’s start calling things what they are. I feel sad. I feel shame. I feel inadequate. I feel unloved. Let’s get to the root of what’s going on. 

P.S. While I used the phrase “feeling fat” in this article, I think it’s really important to get the phrase “I feel fat” out of our vocabulary. It perpetuates fat stigma and the idea that being fat is bad or wrong, when we know there’s a wide range of body types that naturally exist.

Check out more inspiration for a life well-nourished on Rachael’s blog, The Joy of Eating. Connect with her on instagram, where she overshares insta-stories of her big fluffy dogs, or Facebook, where she shares more intuitive eating inspiration.

Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

(6 comments) leave a comment

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    1. Mo
      June 26, 2019 AT 7:33 pm

      Thank you for this.

    2. Alyssa
      October 16, 2017 AT 6:11 am

      Thank you for this- this message is SO important and one that needs to be talked about more. Happy to have stumbled across your blog! xoxo

    3. Freda
      October 11, 2017 AT 4:20 pm

      I certainly lòok at what else is going on in my head when this pops up.i have thought this when going out and I try on some clothes that perhaps don’t do anything for me but I just have that thought
      I feel fat.
      Better to go and by something with a friend who can safely advise you if the cut and colour of the outfit suits .

    4. Amber @ Bloom Nutrition Therapy
      October 11, 2017 AT 11:58 am

      This is so good! I really like the comparison of realizing that “feeling fat” can just as easily be someone else’s “feeling confident” if for some reason they’ve lost weight, but both people are the same size. I think this really shows how arbitrary the idea is and that it’s really about perspective. We can change our own perspective and strive to be more objective of the fat we have on our body. It DOES take practice!

    5. Kaleigh @ Lively Table
      October 11, 2017 AT 7:29 am

      Wow, Rachel! What a powerful message, and so well written, as always!

    6. Kori
      October 11, 2017 AT 6:28 am

      Thank you for this! I believe most of the times I’ve ever thought or uttered that phrase is when my stomach is upset from IBS. It can really mess with my head, and when I see my stomach become bloated and uncomfortable, I feel unlike myself. So while it’s difficult, I will try to, in those moments, not concentrate on the physical discomfort and will attempt to work through it. It is both amazing and sad how much perception can change our reality.