When “feeling fat” is a red flag

As most of us know by now, Facebook has removed the “feeling fat” Emoji, as of March 11, 2015. At least 16,000 protestors signed an online petition asserting that “fat is not a feeling” and Facebook responded with this message:

“We’ve heard from our community that listing “feeling fat” as an option for status updates could reinforce negative body image, particularly for people struggling with eating disorders. So we’re going to remove “feeling fat” from the list of options. We’ll continue to listen to feedback as we think about ways to help people express themselves on Facebook,” a spokesperson for the social network said in an email. 


Since the petition started, there has understandably been mixed reactions; many say that fat really IS a feeling. Some people claim that they feel fat because they literally ARE fat. Many others share they “feel fat” when they are bloated or stuffed.


The majority of those who supported the petition seem to have shared my journey of having eating disorders or body image struggles. We have been taught by psychologists that “fat is not a feeling” and there is a reason it’s been hounded into us so much.  I can only speak for myself  as someone who would be labeled as “thin privileged” that for me “feeling fat” was never about being fat. I used to think being fat was something to be feared and I am not the only one. According to this article, fat prejudice can start at a very early age. A 2010 study found that 3- to 5-year-old girls were more likely to choose a thin or average-sized Candyland piece than a fat one, making disparaging statements about the rejected piece like, “She is fat. I don’t want to be that one.

Fat was a bad word for me. Therefore, when I was feeling horrible about myself but didn’t quite know how to express it, I used the word “fat” in place of true feelings such as “lonely, sad or angry”.  I was emaciated yet when I felt out of control, I said I was feeling fat.

It may appear so far that I am writing this blog post to convince you that fat is not a feeling.  I am not going to do that. Honestly, I am tired of the conversation and in the end, it does not matter who “wins”.  I know that many of us, HAVE felt fat because that was the perception in our mind. Even if our mind is playing tricks on us, our feeling still need to be validated.  Besides, a friend of mine could try to convince me all day that she is feeling fat but if all I do is argue with her, how does that really change anything for the better?

I am much more interested in how this phrase is affecting someone’s life. It may be harmless, or it may be a red flag.

I think what we need to do at this point is first of all, check ourselves to notice if we have any fat prejudices. Is fat a bad word for us?   Secondly, if we are Moms, how do we talk about our body in front of our children? Are we inadvertently encouraging negative body image?

And finally, what are some red flags we can be on the look out for, when others say they are “feeling fat”?   


What concerns me as a Mom, is making sure we watch our own language around our children; this means observing for ourselves how we use the word “fat.”   If we say we “feel fat” and our young children are around, how will they perceive what we are saying?  If we are just feeling full from dinner and then say  “I am feeling fat”,  with a scowl on our face, will they read between the lines and assume that “fat” is bad?  Do we also talk about how we don’t like our bodies or share with our children that we are going on a diet?  Before long, they may connect the dots and assume this: 1. Fat is bad. I never want to be fat. 2. Overeating is bad because then I will feel fat.  3. Maybe I should go on a diet too so I won’t be or feel fat. Again– we can’t always keep ourselves from feeling this way. But we can watch what we say in front of our children.


I know that sometimes we are just having a bad day. We may feel bloated because we are on our period.  Or maybe Thanksgiving is the only time that we ever say (or just think to ourselves) that we feel fat, because we just stuffed ourselves with delicious food.


However, sometimes the seemingly harmless phrase could actually be a cry for help.


feeling fat blog post


Here are some red flags to look out for when people who are close to us, say they are “feeling fat”.


1. Do they say they feel fat on a daily basis?  Or at least most days of the week?

2. Do they tend to restrict their food?  It does no matter weather they are thin, average size or fat. If anyone says they feel fat but then decides to go on a diet or fast to make up for feeling that way, that is a red flag. Remember, eating disorders happen to people of all sizes.

3. Do they seem to exercise out of punishment, not enjoyment?

4. Do they have an obsession with weighing themselves?

5. Do they seem to be overly concerned about having a flat stomach?

6.  Do they avoid social situations because they are feeling fat? Do they seem to withdraw from people in general?

7. Do they follow “thinspo” or “fitspo” pages on social media?

8. Are they a perfectionist?


If you can say “yes” to many of the questions on this list (not just one question, although #1 by itself is something to look out for), I would say that “feeling fat”, for this person may be a lot deeper than a simple Facebook status.   Many of these could be signs of an eating disorder, or at the very least a preoccupation with body image and dieting.

In this case, please don’t take this controversial phrase lightly, as counseling or some other type of support may be needed.

However, I am guessing that many of my readers are here not because of eating disorder concerns, but they do truly dislike their body. Perhaps YOU are reading this and you know you don’t have an eating disorder, but you are tired of “feeling fat.”  Maybe you are a new mom who just had a baby, and like me, you noticed your stomach resembles a 5 month pregnancy when you feel bloated, so you find yourself thinking you “feel fat”. Maybe because of feeling this way, you are so caught up in the dieting world that you forgot to just simply live and enjoy your body and what it can do for you.

As a Body Image Coach, I work with women to put out the fire of negative thoughts that keep us from enjoying our life. I support women to learn to love and accept their body, as well as know how to practice gentle self-care.  I coach them on how to approach their food so that guilt is not brought to the table and they can practice Mindful (Intuitive) Eating and enjoy their food (even if we feel stuffed at times).

We can’t just snap our fingers and make ourselves stop “feeling fat”– whether fat really is a feeling or not. But we can learn to challenge our thinking to see if we are really struggling with something deeper.  We can talk with our children about fat-shaming and how fat is just a normal part of our bodies.  And we can find support for when “I’m feeling fat” is actually a desperate cry for help.


Talk with me if you would like to learn more about my services.  www.mcgarrywellness.org

Kellie McGarry

Nourished and New

Body Image Coach



Disclaimer:  My blog and coaching services are not to replace professional, medical advice.  If you feel you have a serious eating disorder, please talk with your Doctor.



One thought on “When “feeling fat” is a red flag

  1. Really great article, Kellie!! And many of the red flags, I use to see in myself as well. I think the words we use, esp. to describe our body really impacts the way we feel about ourselves. Words have incredible power. Really great point in saying that “I feel fat” is often a cover for other feelings. So very true!

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