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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: "...so 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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JANET552 9/26/2018
My stepmother made it her mission to let me know I was fat, homely and stupid. It took me a long time to get over that. Words can be so hurtful. Report
SUNSHINE4747 9/26/2018
Thank you for this blog. I haven't had someone out and call me fat specifically but rather... as I carry my weight in my stomach... ask me if I was pregnant. I'm actually infertile and did want a baby but wasn't in the cards. So whenever a coworker asked me that ... hey when are you expecting... I always felt a double whammy-
hey you're fat and you look pregnant but can't have kids.
I even went to HR as I was mortified as one coworker (whom I didn't have that close of a relationship with) asked me TWICE! HR didn't help me- told me not to be so sensitive.

People don't think before they speak. Again, I appreciate your words. Thank you. Report
EO4WELLNESS 9/26/2018
In some cultures this would be an insult, whereas in others it is a compliment. In today's multi-cultural world it is silly to get offended about cultural differences. Report
97MONTY 9/26/2018
Thank you Report
AMYRCMK 9/26/2018
Thank you Report
There is a huge difference between being called fat and having someone respectfully have a conversation about health and weight.

I've never been a small person - 5'9" with a heavy bone structure, broad shoulders, and the physical strength to match. Even at my most svelte in high school, when, looking back at those pictures, I can tell I was toned and conventionally attractive, I weighed about 190 - more than the BMI tables indicated, so I was constantly told by medical people that I was overweight (never mind that I ran 5 days a week, biked on the weekends, lifted weights 3 days a week, and participated in at least one sport every season).

I feel more comfortable in men's jackets because women's don't have the width in the shoulder for me to move my arms freely when running/biking. I still lift both of my kids daily - one is nearly 100lb (healthy weight for his age/height).

I'm almost the same weight I was when I got married (about 20lb over my goal weight of 190lb), but my body is a completely different shape after 2 kids. I can run farther, bike faster, and swim longer than I could in my early 20s, but I have this soft, squishy tummy that my daughter loves for snuggling.

One of my daughter's friends, whose mother is quite focused on physical appearance, asked me almost daily for about 3 weeks "why is your stomach so big?" (she was 7 at the time). She always seemed a bit puzzled when my response was just a calm "That's just how my body is shaped. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and this is mine." I kind of wonder if maybe there was some self-body-shaming going on at home, since most kids her age barely register anything about me physically other than that I'm tall and strong enough to still pick up my 10-year-old. Eventually she stopped asking the question.

I've had doctors try to blame ridiculous things on my weight, like chronic tendonitis in my shoulder. MY SHOULDER. How exactly would that be affected by weight, pray tell?

I also had a doctor try to pressure me into following a particular diet right after I shared with her how what I was doing (whole foods, high fiber, 1/3:1/3:1/3 ratio for carb:fat:protein) had helped me lose nearly 15lb since the previous appointment. I ended up writing her a pretty detailed letter on where her conversation went completely off the rails of medicine and into pressuring, and switching to a different primary care doc in the same practice. Report
LIS193 9/26/2018
Thank you Report
JSIELKE1944 9/26/2018
I still do Aikido, so people don't usually insult me. Report
PICKIE98 9/26/2018

My sisters called me only that, growing up. Report
SPINECCO 9/26/2018
This is a great Blog. Thanks. Report
COLLEENMC1 9/26/2018
some people make such hurtful statements to strangers and friends ... thank goodness the great majority of people still recognize each other's dignity and respect their privacy when the shamers or bulliers are at their worst it takes great restraint to not reply in kind because Report
SHARKBAIT15 9/26/2018
I think the word fat is kind of the same reason why they won't use Voldemort's name in Harry Potter. It definitely has a bad connotation, and people shouldn't necessarily be fat shaming anyone, but I also know I have talked about myself being fat. And my best friend would tell, no, your not fat and say something positive. I would say, I appreciate that, but I am fat. For those of us that are "FAT" we need to accept that word, and we need to use it as our motivation. On the flip side, I was called fat my entire life, by my parents, by kids at school.... I got so used to being called fat, that when I finally looked at pictures of me as a kid, I realized that while I weighed more than other kids my age, if I hadn't accepted my fate, I would have grown into a healthy adult... Instead, I embraced being fat, and lost control of my eating, and now I am here at 34 with 200 pounds to lose. So, if someone calls you fat, ask yourself two questions. 1. Do these people care about me, and 2. Am I actually fat? Don't look in the mirror, use a scale, do some research, talk to a doctor. Fat is a terrible word, but sometimes we need to accept the truth, instead of hide from it, but more importantly, know and care about yourself enough to know if you need to do something about it. Report
LIZZIE138 9/26/2018
I worked in a dental office and had a great rapport with most of my regulars. But one day one of my favorites said to me “You’re so kind & caring with such a beautiful face, if only you’d lose weight you’d be happier.” Well I felt like I’d been slapped in that beautiful face. All that comment did to me was make me even more self conscious than I already was & I backed off being so friendly to that man.
I knew it he didn’t mean to offend me consciously but it did change how I dealt with people for awhile. Do people really think that we don’t already know we’re fat and why do they feel the need to remind us of the fact? Report
MIXTMETA4 9/26/2018
I haven't been exposed to many comments like that; the intention of the comment would matter to me. I know that I'm fat. I try to talk about it candidly. Unfortunately, my body bears witness to my struggle in life. Everyone has something; it's just not all as evident as mine. I learned that my husband's family comments on each other's weight gain as a show of love and concern; they try to keep each other in check. They can be very insulting, but they do it with humor and love. My Dr. called me fat, but he is also fat and used himself as an example. Sometimes people think they are helping. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I'm older, 59, and not so insecure anymore. Report
If I valued random people's unsolicited opinions, being called fat might bother me. I mostly just feel sorry for them that their lives are so empty that they have to insult random people to try and fill the gaping holes in their souls. Report
REDROBIN47 9/26/2018
It's dead wrong to judge others. And it can cause pain. People should look at their own faults and work on those and learn to love their neighbors. The world would be a better place. Report
CECTARR 9/26/2018
40 years later it still makes me feel bad Report
AZMOMXTWO 9/26/2018
thank you Report
TZIMM2 9/26/2018
There are no circumstances where a comment should be made about a person's weight. It does not define who that person is. It's a rude thing to say. However, that presents a question. When or how does a person decide that its time to lose extra weight?.... whether its for health or appearance. Its a fine line to navigate when you are dealing with truly good intentions. Report
EMGERBER 9/26/2018
I would be very hurt if I was told I was fat. No one has the right to talk that way to another person. I would also motivate me to lose weight but it would be for all the wrong reasons and I would be obsessive about losing my weight. Report
NEPTUNE1939 9/26/2018
TY Report
GKOCHER2 9/26/2018
When I was about 270 I got called fat after challenging some ladies who had cut into a long grocery store line. It ended there but when I got home I asked myself what part had I played in this whole thing. I didn't regret the challenge but did regret being fat, not just being called fat. Thus my journey began. For me it was a motivating sting. Report
PIKA1319 9/26/2018
sorry the truth hurts... "How Would You React If Someone Called You Fat" - honestly wouldn't care because it's simply the truth, and a fact. If I felt like being a B, come back with something like "well, you're ugly, at least I can diet", LOL Report
You just have to ignore ignorant people. Report
RAPUNZEL53 9/26/2018
Thanks. Report
I'm with the people in your article who were able to turn it from (often unintentional) words of hurt...into words of motivation. If we are honest with ourselves first and foremost on this Journey, we know there is a truth in their words. That's why many of us are here on Spark!! The truth will not hurt us if we have already accepted it "as is", and are making an honest effort to change ourselves. We have a plan, and are taking positive steps towards our goals. It doesn't matter that we haven't reached them just yet. It is really a Lifelong Journey--not a destination. Therein lies our power....and no one can take that away. Report
RAPIDRAIN 9/25/2018
I was with a friend who was on the heavy side, when a "fat" comment was made. I deflected the rude comment, which I knew was directed at my friend. I looked the person in the eyes and said, "I might be fat, unlike your ugly face, my condition is not forever." Then turned my back and walked away. It lessened the sting for my friend, and hopefully helped the rude person to think before opening his mouth. Don't think you have to be a victim because of rude comments. You can choose to listen to the rudeness or tell the comment maker how rude and hurtful the words were. Some people do not engage the brain before opening their mouth. Report
TOMORROW-C 9/25/2018
Thanks for sharing this. Report
1CRAZYDOG 9/25/2018
This is fantastic. Thank you! Report
KITTYHAWK1949 9/25/2018
thanks for sharing. Report
97MONTY 9/25/2018
I tend to tune out rude people Report
MAGGIE008 9/25/2018
I have the reverse problem. I like being heavy it makes me somewhat invisible. when I lose weight and start getting compliments I panic and start eating or worse bingeing . Intellectually I know it to be a consequence of childhood sexual abuse. Still I have trouble getting it under control. than as I see the scale going up I am in some ways relieved and in other ways depressed that I allowed someone to have that power over me. Report
BOOKNUT52 9/25/2018
I don't know why people do this. Indeed, your weight is only one part of who you are as a person and not even a very important part, although it affects you. I work with groups of children, and when they say mean things about others, I say, "but he/she is very kind and helpful (or another true thing about the teased child) and does not try to hurt the feelings of others." In other words, look at yourself and stop trying to make others feel bad...The commenters are just revealing their own personal defects. Report
JIACOLO 9/23/2018
People can be so critical and cruel! Report
KHALIA2 9/23/2018
It wouldn't bother me a bit because I am not fat. I am sure I would have many concerns id I were "fat". Report
BIKE4HEALTH 9/23/2018
I would say thanks for sharing... Report
I would smack my belly and tell them "My wife likes me fat" Report
KATHYJO56 9/21/2018
I think every person who has ever had a weight problem or knows somebody with a weight problem (and that is everybody), should read this article. Report
BELLAMEMAW 9/20/2018
OMG - I love this. Thank you for posting this. I was Fat Pat most of my childhood and those wounds linger to this day. I AM THE one that calls myself 'fat' from time-to-time. No one else; it's the voice in my head. I'm working on it and I'm MUCH better about loving myself and loving my body regardless of the size tag or scale measurement. I'm going to read this over and over and over again to soak it all in and then continue on my positive, self-loving affirmations. Report
PWILLOW1 9/19/2018
NANCYPAT1 9/19/2018
I can't tell you how many times someone who should know better TRIED to get shame me, but I have learned quickly to respond in a kind but no nonsense way AND when the person is someone I am paying for something, especially a doctor or dentist, I no longer will patronize them or their companies. I will also let them know exactly why I no longer use their services. People like that are being paid to serve ME, not the other way around. Report
NANCYPAT1 9/19/2018
I can't tell you how many times someone who should know better TRIED to get shame me, but I have learned quickly to respond in a kind but no nonsense way AND when the person is someone I am paying for something, especially a doctor or dentist, I no longer will patronize them or their companies. I will also let them know exactly why I no longer use their services. People like that are being paid to serve ME, not the other way around. Report
NANCYPAT1 9/19/2018
I can't tell you how many times someone who should know better TRIED to get shame me, but I have learned quickly to respond in a kind but no nonsense way AND when the person is someone I am paying for something, especially a doctor or dentist, I no longer will patronize them or their companies. I will also let them know exactly why I no longer use their services. People like that are being paid to serve ME, not the other way around. Report
VFAITHFUL1 9/18/2018
Sometimes I have ignored. Sometimes i have retaliated. Sometimes I have eaten more. Sometimes I stopped eating. I lost track of how often it happened to me. Family, strangers, classmates. Report
-POOKIE- 9/18/2018
Accepting somebody calling me a "fat B****" as yes, thats exactly what I am right now, removed the power a bully had over me. Report
Last October my dentist commented on my weight. When I said I did water-walking, she looked at me and asked if I felt "funny" looking the way I did in a swimming suit. I haven't had one on since. But I did use it as a motivator, found a lymphodema specialist who helped me with the swelling in my legs. A doc referred me to a weight loss specialist, who is the best doc I've ever had. Since then I've lost 42 pounds and still working on it. But I do resent that dentist who was so hurtful with her words. Intellectually I know that she was concerned about my health, but she fat-shamed me. It wasn't kind. Report
1SUZIQ11 9/17/2018
I remember a time about 10 years ago when I was strolling through a movie store and a group of high school aged boys saw me and moo-ed at me. I was there with a new boyfriend and was mortified. I wanted to disappear, to hide. To this day the thought of that night upsets me. Report
I have been called "fat" in childhood and as an adult. I ask "Why should it matter to you whether I am or not?" If I do not verbalize this to the person calling me "fat" I think it to myself. I try to use logic to rationalize why someone might say that to me. I agree with the writer that insecurity on the part of the speaker plays a role. I feel empathy for the person who called me "fat". It would not help me change my behavior. Regarding childhood I made peace with this long ago and now forgive. Report
JSMIMI8 9/17/2018
I am wondering how I differentiate between accepting and acquiescing. I may be here today, but that's not where I want to be. I don't care what others think about my appearance, I have other more important qualities. I do care what I think. So maybe I need a little help figuring this one out. Report
ALUKOWSKY 9/17/2018
How would I react?

I'm not fat any more, but a year and 1/2 earlier, I would have felt ashamed and defensive even though I knew it was true. Very few people like hearing criticism even if it's justified.

Obesity made me look older and unattractive, but I wasn't ready to do anything about it until I was READY. I had to own that; comments made by others would not have induced me to make a change until I found my own motivation. Report
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