You Got Called Fat. Now What?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
During childhood, SparkPeople member Katie* endured all sorts of abuse about her weight. Eventually, she grew up, finished college, found a good job, got married and had children, her weight fluctuating throughout the years.
In the 1980s, Katie was carrying 260 pounds on her 5'2" frame. She knew she was very overweight, but tried her best to not care—or not think about—whether people were judging her. "As long as I didn't know their thoughts, I figured I was fine with it," she says.
But then came the day when she visited a hardware store with her husband. As they were talking to the owner about what they needed, the owner's wife struck up a conversation with Katie.
Suddenly, she said, "You have a lovely face."
At first, Katie felt gratified by what seemed to be a nice compliment. Just as she opened her mouth to thank the woman, there came the kicker: " why don't you lose that weight so everyone can see how pretty you are?"
Although the woman didn't use the word "fat" itself, the meaning was clear as a bell. Katie was shocked into silence, her mind reeling. She whispered to her husband, "We need to leave." Back in the car, Katie burst into tears and cried so hard that it took awhile for her to be able to explain to her husband what had happened.
"We never went to that store again, but it didn't make me feel better," she recalls.
Katie's experience was shocking and hurtful, but sadly, it wasn't unique. Every day, countless people are shamed, ridiculed and judged, either directly or indirectly, as a result of comments about their weight. No matter how determined and motivated someone is, a single spoken criticism can be enough to elicit crippling self-doubt and bring progress to a screeching halt.

How Hurtful Words Affect Weight Loss

Psychologist Dr. Kathryn Smerling notes that these types of comments can potentially have a lifetime effect on their target. "Hurtful comments could lead to eating disorders, and will definitely have an effect on someone's self-esteem," she says. "They may feel self-conscious, embarrassed and ashamed."’
In some cases, Dr. Smerling says, this type of criticism and judgment can cause people to internalize their feelings and eat more, using food as a source of comfort. Others may externalize by getting angry and lashing out at the person who has hurt them. Over time, they could react with feelings of self-loathing.
These types of hurtful experiences can bleed into other areas outside of weight loss, as well. "If you can't master weight loss, then perhaps you assume you're not great at anything else, like work or relationships," says Mike Dow, Psy.D., Ph.D., author of "Think, Act and Be Happy."
"The word 'fat' might seem like something you can't change; it leads to a feeling of hopelessness, and makes people feel like they just want to throw in the towel."
When Teresa (TEXASHSMOMOF3) received hurtful comments about her weight, they were often a trigger for emotional eating. "I smiled big, blinked back the tears and then ate something as soon as I could," she admits—the perpetuation of a vicious cycle.
Even if someone has made significant progress toward a goal, being called or referred to as "fat"—or even a more politically correct euphemism, like "heavyset," "husky" or "portly"—is enough to send them into a downward spiral and cause them to abandon their efforts.

But you don't have to let a three-letter word derail your progress. While you can't control people's comments, you can control how you react to them.

Healthier Ways to Respond to Hurtful Comments

1. Recognize that it stems from insecurity.

In high school, SparkPeople member KATBRUNNER recalls a time during gym class when she had to change into gym shorts. During class, an athletic boy looked at her bare legs with an air of disgust, said "She has absolutely no muscle definition," rolled his eyes and laughed with his friends.
"I just remember feeling so ashamed of myself," she shares. "I was already so self-conscious, but that made it so much worse. It has taken me over 25 years to get over that. Even now, I think there is part of that conversation that I still hold inside."
Over the years, though, Kat has come to realize that the boy's problem wasn't with her, but most likely with his own insecurities, as he often pointed out negative things about others to make himself feel better.
Kat's advice to anyone who experiences being referred to as "fat" is to reach deep within to find their confidence. "Know that your shape does not reflect the person you are and what you have to offer the world," she says. "Words hurt, there is no way around that, but when other people call you out for being overweight or fat, just realize that their issue is theirs, not yours. Their opinion is irrelevant."
During her lifelong battle with her weight, Debbie F., a member of SparkPeople’s Facebook group from Cincinnati, Ohio, has fielded countless negative comments from strangers, friends and family members. One of the most frustrating was "You're so pretty for a fat girl." There was a time when such words greatly bothered her, but eventually Debbie came to the conclusion that a person can change their physical appearance quite easily, but it's not so easy to change what's on the inside. "People who call others fat are truly ugly on the inside, and that's much worse than being called fat," she says. "I can change being fat."
2. Throw yourself into productive activities.

Instead of dwelling on negative comments, Dr. Dow suggests redirecting your focus to something you're good at, or something productive that you've been meaning to get done. "This will help you to take your mind off the rumination so you can move on as quickly as possible," he notes. This can be anything you enjoy that will add a positive element to your life, whether it's finishing a painting you've been working on, clearing out a junk drawer or making an overdue phone call.
To take it a step further, Dr. Dow suggests reminding yourself of three things you do well and three positive things you’ve done for your health.  
Dr. Smerling suggests burning off that negative energy through a physical outlet, such as going for a run, meditating or doing yoga—anything that benefits the body while also calming the mind.
3. (Try to) brush it off.

Throughout her more than 20 years of being overweight, Dawn (PENNYLANE15) has been called "fat" to her face a handful of times. "It always seems like 'fat' is the worst thing a person can be—but when did it become such an awful word?" she asks. "It's always said with disgust or laughter and makes it seem like you're a bad person because you're not skinny. Fat doesn't always mean unhealthy and lazy, but to people who aren't fat, that's all they see."
Over time, Dawn has realized that the best way to deal with being called fat was to try her hardest to brush it off. "Your first instinct is to insult back, whether it's to the person who called you fat, or [by] agreeing with them and therefore insulting yourself," she says. "Don't give them that power to control your image."
Whenever someone tried to throw an insult Dawn's way, she would ignore them and mentally remind herself both that "fat" isn't a personality trait and she has so many other admirable characteristics.
4. Use it as a motivator.

When DIANEDOESSMILES saw a doctor for her chronic back pain, his response was, "It's because you're fat and your stomach is where you carry the weight. That's why your back hurts." Diane explained to him that her back had been hurting since a car accident a few years prior, before she was overweight, but he continued to insist that the extra pounds were to blame.

Although the doctor's comments made Diane angry, they also motivated her to prove him wrong. She has vowed to visit the doctor again after she has reached her goal weight. "We can turn hurtful words into motivational ones," Diane says.
SparkPeople member AUTUMN C is no stranger to hurtful comments about her weight. "One side of my family is thin and they are not so tolerant of the other side of my family, which tends to have a weight problem all around," she says.
Although Autumn believes no one should be subject to cruelty or allow someone else's words to make them feel inferior, she does think that being called "fat" can serve as a springboard to make a change. "If you are overweight, you must be willing to admit that; if you are not, you cannot fix it," she says. "Obesity or even being overweight is not healthy—not socially, emotionally or physically."
Now, when someone mentions that Autumn is overweight, she responds with, "Perhaps…but I'm working on that."
Teresa agrees that the bluntness of those types of comments can help to propel forward progress. "The word 'fat' stings. It hurts. It's embarrassing," Teresa says. "But you have to ask yourself: Is it true?"
In her case, Teresa felt it was. At 321 pounds, she was at the heaviest weight of her life. "I hated my life, but felt at a loss to make the change," she says. In her case, the hurtful words were the not-so-gentle nudge she needed to take action.
"The next time someone calls you 'fat,' don't let your emotions take control," Teresa suggests. "Stop, be objective and think about it. Are you fat? If so, then find the courage to do something about it. Find a group of like-minded people, reach out, ask for support, ask for help. Don't let that word destroy you—let it change you and make you better."
5. Learn to accept your body in every state.

Although it may seem like losing weight is the ultimate "comeback" to hurtful comments, clinical counselor Lisa Bahar points out that hitting your goal weight won't magically erase the emotional impact of being called fat.
"The goal in this area is body acceptance and self-love, no matter what the weight is—unless there is a medical necessity to lose for health-related concerns," she says. "The individual has to be their own nurturer, accepting of themselves and their body before they can change it."

Ironically, when a person reaches a state of self-care and self-love, Bahar has noticed that destructive activities, like binging and emotional eating, tend to decrease.
"The process may require that the individual seek out therapy and end destructive relationships, along with eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep and reducing mood-altering substances," she says.
6. Turn to a supportive community.

When someone's hurtful comments threaten to derail your motivation, seek out those who are supportive of your goals, accept you at any weight and reinforce your efforts with consistently positive messages. At SparkPeople, our community offers unconditional support and positivity.
When KATHYJO56 was called fat, she said it hurt, but she initially felt like she deserved it. "Now I know that I didn't," she says. "I just needed some loving help. I got that here on SparkPeople."
*Name has been changed or withheld per member's request

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MICHELLE270 3/21/2021
Teresa’s response was my favorite; “I know, I am working on it.” I feel like it takes away the power from the fat shamers who lash out at people like me to hurt us. I’ll never understand why denigrating some else is so enjoyable to some people but it happens and I just have to learn to deal with it. Report
EVIE4NOW 12/26/2020
It does help to reread this. Thanks Report
ERIN_POSCH 10/4/2020
thanks for sharing Report
ROCKY512 8/9/2020
Spaek People is the best blog about weight loss , i read it practically every day . I'm also happy that i was able to find because it not only allowed me to los weight , but also to maintain a great figure , i hope it will help others !!
JAY713 6/30/2020
thanks for this amazing article you are a inspiration to us all Heres a great way i found to lose weight i hope it it some others Report
Let's have a reality check....option #2 says to "brush it off", #3 says to use it as a "motivator'. Can't have it both ways. Report
For some of us people calling you fat did not motivate me to lose weight at all because it only deepened the wound i had for being insecure and not liking or understanding why my body was so different but it was my love for fashion and the need to dress in more fitting clothes that drove me to losing 50 pounds in only 2 months of continuous exercise from YouTube and and this supplement here that changed my life especially my diet and my weight loss. Report
Tough, tough, tough journey. Report
Do something about it!!! Report
Thank you for sharing this story. Report
Thanks. Report
Several months ago while at a funeral viewing I was hit smack in the face with a fat comment from childhood. A much older cousin by 20 years saw me along with 2 of my sisters. One sister asked this woman if she remembered us and could name us. When she reached me she said, "Oh, yeah. You were the short fat one." Shocked I was and I promptly turned away and ignored her. Even at age 82 some people never learn to be kind. I will say though her comments brought back the hurt and pain over the years from comments people have made. It does not rule over me at this time in my life. Report
At one time years ago coworkers assumed I was pregnant. I realized I was over eating and not exercising. Now I am much more aware of what I eat and ways to stay active. Report
People are mean some times. Report
I don't give anyone that kind of power of one can "make me feel bad about anything. I can feel bad about something all by myself Report
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And when I say “I feel bad,” it’s just “I’m not especially happy about it.” And that’s all it means. It’s a temporary state of being and it’s getting better. That’s good enough. Report
Nobody can make me feel bad without my cooperation. Im doing the best I can day to day. Their opinion of me is none of my business. Report
I feel bad about being fat, but it’s no one else’s job to help me lie to myself about it. Report
It's amazing to me that people think that telling you , you are fat is newsworthy. Really? Is that the best you got?! What is the point? People don't need to say everything they are thinking. Using kind words and good manners are always in style. Either build people up, or shut up. Report
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Telling someone they are fat isn't shaming or being a bully. It is stating a fact just like commenting on hair color. If you are hurt by it then that's your problem & shows there are deeper issues. Hiding behind the weight won't help & I hope SP is helping you get a handle on it, including encouraging you to have further dialogue with professionals: Counselors, psychologists, & psychiatrists if necessary. There are plenty of obese people who are in denial about why they became fat. It isn't all about the food industry & TV ads - personal daily choices matter. Report
I didn’t find the post helpful. It recommended labeling these inappropriate commenters as being awful, insecure people, but that’s equally judgmental and thoughtless isn’t it? If you need to lose, lose. Separate wheat and chaff. Take what is useful and leave behind what is painful and unhelpful. Emotional responses instead of logical ones are the root of the problem. Report
I think we have all been on the receiving end of nasty comments. One of the best comebacks is why are you being nasty? Do NOT enter my personal space with something that is none of your business. Report
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As I get older, I try to be more emotionally detached from other people’s nastiness about anything. When I was overweight, I got plenty of nasty remarks but they didn’t motivate me to lose weight. Close family who were overweight developed serious health problems which may or may not have been weight-related. I lost the weight after their crises to give myself a better chance of staying healthy. Report
I'm reminded of Churchill's remark to Lady Astor after she made cutting remarks about his being drunk at a gathering. So, I may be fat but given time I'll be healthier. However, rude people will ever be ugly and that kind of ugly is bone-deep.
In fact, some folks here at SparkPeople resemble that remark. Report
"If you are overweight, you must be willing to admit that; if you are not, you cannot fix it," she says. "Obesity or even being overweight is not healthy—not socially, emotionally or physically."

This is the best and ONLY advice you need from this article. Sorry the truth hurts... Fat is bad and must be corrected, period. Doesn't mean you have to be model-thin or athlete-fit, just not FAT for your height/body frame. Report
words can be like an arrow. aimed straight at your heart and rip you into shreds without even blinking an eye. My own mother was tiny and small and hated food. My father thought I should be tiny like her . was not as small and made to feel like a huge person. I thought I was fat when I was really not big at all just not as small as her . married at 121. thinking it was over four hundred but never really saw my body size. now its 63 years later and I wish I were that small again. no, I am not four hundred lbs but am heavier then I would like to be my mom words can still be heard in my head over and over. I tried to never do that to my daughter. she is just herself. I hope it if ever gave her anything I gave her that Report
I was called all sorts of names by my mother. I went into therapy and learned through a technique of de-sensitizing against name calling. No one can call me any kind of name now. It is just a word- it does not have to be weapon. I was glad that I got this therapy when I was in college. It changed my life and made me a stronger person. Report
thank you Report
I appreciate Dr Jason Fung's (author of The Obesity Code) empathy for the obese-- those who profit from it have lied to us since the 1970s, and look at the epidemic of obesity. I highly recommend his podcasts, books, FB page (IDM Intensive Dietary Management) for the "truth" - changed my life, and the lives of many! Report
Nice article to remind someone like me that you are not the only one in this world that this has happened to. I have had family, friends, coworkers and strangers all call me fat in one form or another. I finally got the mind set that even them saying those things didnt change the reason I was put on this earth. Therefore it doesn't matter what they say. I have a purpose for being here higher than them making comments. I have since lost 120 lbs and still going. How I feel physically and mentally is so up there that someone can call me fat again and I brush it off like a grain of salt because I know I have come along way and no one is stopping me now Report
Very sad that people are bullied for any reason Report
Yes, words DO hurt - ALOT! I've been fighting this weight battle for over 50 years and it never gets easier. Thanks for a great article. Report
This was a great read, thank you. As someone who struggles to maintain a healthy weight, but who has never been truly overweight or obese, I find it very difficult to know how to support someone who is (overweight or obese) apart from taking an interest and listening to them. I work with 5 other women who are all overweight/obese (for various reasons) and I sometimes feel personally uncomfortable about being smaller! I agree, too with @SCRAMBLJONES that comments (assumptions) about people being slim can also be damaging! Report
Great tips, other people can and do say very hurtful things. Once the words are out of their mouth it is over and done for them but for the other person it has a huge impact. Report
Never allow anyone to insult you or make you feel bad!!! Awesome article!!! Report
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Wonderful article Report
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Good read. I've been called fat by close family members. It hurts more because they are family. I'm working on my body for MY health, not for attention or pleasure for others. Report
Good read Report
It is hard to know what to say about words that stab, some people take them to heart and it rules their lives, others have the ability to shrug them off and understand where they come from. Allowing another person to think they can rule my life is not my way, my mother always told me I was fat and she was skinny when she was a child, just a look in the mirror told me I was not fat or even chubby, being a size 8-10 in high school and college. I have to admit I never really believed what she said because she was on she chubby side wearing size 18. The final blow to sizes was when I got married in her “skinny” wedding gown after having to have it taken in 2”. I have to admit I never had a good relationship with my mother, I always felt she was constantly lying to me in so many cases, and the truth has come out over the years that she was in fact lying. I can not really have much feeling for her even now in her advanced stage of dementia, but I also never let her mean thoughts rule my life.
At an early stage in life I allowed my self-esteem to plummet when I was called fat. It didn't bother me nearly as much to be called fat by strangers as it did when the remarks came from family and people I respected. Even now, very close to healthy weight, I have deep scars. I bring this up to encourage others to not let remarks and even the memory of them to sink your self-worth. Report
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