In college, I studied emotion—anger, sadness, happiness, disgust and the like. I did not study a feeling called fat, because fat is not an emotion.
First, let's understand what an emotion is. Science tells us that the experience of emotion is indicated by an arousal of the nervous system (particularly the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system) demonstrated in physological, cognitive and motivational responses.
Each different emotion is discrete, measurable, and physologically distinct. Emotions communicate on both an internal (feeling) level and external (expressing) level. And, though short-lived, emotions have a high intensity threshold, designed to promote a functional response. Because they promote survival, emotions were (are) evolutionarily selected for, and these selections appear cross-culturally.
Fat is none of these things.
Fat is adipose tissue designed to store energy, protect major organs and insulate the body. Adipose tissue has an endocrine function of communicating hunger cues to the brain.
Beyond that though, fat does not feel! You feel.
Cut the "Feeling Fat" Talk
Since fat is not a feeling, why have we normalized "feeling fat"? I find it hard to believe that it is only rhetoric. Take a moment: Notice the (your!) "feeling fat" talk. Every time you call attention to your body in a negative (or positive) way, what kind of validation are you looking for?
It's important that we become willing to question what feeling fat really means. We deserve to care for our bodies and feel our feelings!
So, what does feeling fat actually mean to you? When you find yourself in negative body-talk land, what are you actually trying to express? Disappointment? Insecurity? Loneliness?
Harder still, notice what you might be sitting with if you were not fixated on fat. In my own experience, I often feel "fat" when I feel unnourished in another way. Then, I play the fat-talk card seeking attention, or, as an excuse to not practice good self-care. So, now my is practice not doing fat. I practice feeling.
Is That YOU Under Your Fat Scapegoat?
Fat has become a cultural harping point, but it's not an accurate description of our emotional tenor. We need to get close to the feelings (and love them!) under the fat. This is how we heal.
Truth: Every time you feign that you just "feel fat" you do yourself the disservice of meeting our own needs. Fat gets scapegoated for the tenuous emotions we don't yet know how to sit with and speak about, and fat becomes a placeholder for inter-personal conflicts we've yet to reconcile. Why feel unloved or angry when you can feel fat?!
You cannot feel fat. So, take off the fat scapegoat. Give yourself the time to look deeply at your needs and honor them! It does not take long to notice that fat is not actually the problem. And, yes, sometimes fat might be a symptom of what is showing up for you, but, only focusing on fat is not an effective (or kind!) strategy in self-care.
So, the next time you feel fat, play this game: pick a synonym. What do you feel? And, then, offer your feelings some love!