Mind & Body

An open letter to anyone who’s having a ‘fat day’

There are no official statistics around how many of us grapple with “fat days”, but ask your friends and we bet most do. So, how do you know if it’s a simple case of eating too much or a telltale sign of an unhealthy body image?

I know you have “fat days”, so many of us do.

You step out of the shower, water still dripping down your back, and stand in front of the mirror. You see your breasts sagging, your stomach rolling like waves and your thighs 10 times the size of those cookie-cutters on Instagram.

You might be a healthy weight, underweight or overweight – every body is different – each of us, at various ages, carries weight differently. You tell yourself you’re fat because you do look fat, don’t you? But deep down you know you’re not. Yet, you still feel shame, hate and disgust for your body.

As we grapple with living in our COVID-world, as many break-free from being housebound for months, I’ve noticed more women talking about their weight. Comments like, “Ugh! I’ve put on COVID-kilos” or “I ate too much in lockdown”. When the reality is, they’re not overweight.

Are you someone who regularly gets lost in this self-loathing? Maybe it’s once a month or yearly. It’s easy to slip into a state of neuroticism, isn’t it? You can’t fit into your favourite denim shorts or the ribbed singlet tops in Zara and so the negative self-talk cycle begins and you get cranky at the self-obsessive nonsense.

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Beware of the triggers

The simple fact is, being disparaging about our bodies is part of our culture. In a recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, Canadian researchers described “feeling fat as the sensation of being overweight that does not entirely correlate with one’s actual weight…occurring amidst Western internalised thin ideals and weight stigma.”

Woven into the fabric of society (media, on social, in our conversations) are messages reminding us that self-worth is all about appearance – if we’re thinner, prettier and better, we’ll be good enough, valued and acknowledged.

“The term ‘fat days’ often perpetuates the notion that being fat is negative in itself and that it equates to feeling bad or unworthy,” says Butterfly clinician Amelia Trinick. “If you find yourself talking about fatness in a negative light, either about yourself or someone else, it might indicate that you’re experiencing some internalised body dissatisfaction messages.”

Lyndi Cohen, dietitian, nutritionist and founder of Back to Basics app, says feeling fat is a result of feeling guilty. “Feeling fat isn’t a representation of what you weigh. Think back to when you weighed much less, yet still found flaws with your body. Hating your body has nothing to do with your actual body and everything to do with your confidence.”

Aside from standing in front of the mirror, other body image triggers can include seeing a photo of yourself you don’t like, or catching yourself in the reflection and hating what you see. The flippant comment from your mum or aunt Flora – “Gee, you put on pork in winter” – don’t help.

There are other reasons, too, that make actual physiological sense – bloating, PMS or drinking a lot of water. You might have eaten a humongous meal and feeling bloated is your body’s way of digesting the extra food.

Your “I’m having a fat day” tool kit

Next time you start the destructive self-talk, remind yourself that just like it’s perfectly normal to feel sad, you won’t feel confident every day either. “Feeling fat is not an indication of the worthiness of your body,” says Cohen. “You don’t need to look perfect from every angle in every photo you take for social media – there are more important things than micromanaging how you look.” Our bodies shift and change throughout our lives – through our 20s, 30s, childbirth and beyond. It’s more important to maintain a healthy weight, and if you have skin rolling over your undies and bits hanging over your sports bra…we all do!

Trinick suggests thinking about other feelings that you’re experiencing to describe your emotional state. “If we are dissatisfied with our bodies, or experience fatphobia, we can easily turn to unhealthy behaviours such as restrictive dieting or over-exercise, bingeing, or fractured relationships with food,” she warns. “For some, these behaviours coupled with negative thoughts around their body could easily develop into an eating disorder.”

Switch off social media or block out outside influences that make you feel like you’re not good enough. “It’s a long overdue change – for us to finally love our bodies rather than hate them,” says Dr Nikki Stamp, author of Pretty Unhealthy, Why our obsession with looking healthy is making us sick. “To finally think critically about the vast information we are fed and to change our focus from looking good to actually, truly being healthy.”

Finally, if your negative body self-talk is becoming more regular, make an appointment with a psychologist. “You don’t have to live with this feeling all the time,” says Cohen. “Many people experience body dysmorphia and it can impact your wellbeing.” So dear reader, tonight step out of the shower, walk past the mirror and remind yourself what a beautiful, wondrous, strong body you have…just as it looks right now.

If you need someone to talk to, try the Butterfly National Helpline: 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673)

Felicity Harley’s book, Balance & Other B.S: How to hold it together when you’re doing it all is out now. Follow her on Instagram for more.