What do you reply to, “Am I fat?”

Last updated on July 20th, 2020

When your child wails, 'Am I fat?', 'Will you make me fat?', and grabs at their skin as though they want to tear off a slice of their tummy, what do you say?

It depends. Lots of possibilities, some helpful, some less so.

So much so that in my book in its current form, I devoted seven pages to it! As I was writing those pages I checked drafts with lots of lovely people, so I'm very happy with. Lots in Chapter 14 of my book. More on prevention, as you wonder about your other children, in Chapter 11.

Am I fat? what to say - eating disorder

And then, I produced a whole lot of short audios on the subject for my Bitesize collection. This is to give parents lots of options when at various stages of the recovery journey, their child wants to engage in fat talk.

Before that I had also discussed this in the podcast here.

Am I fat - anorexia - reply

Body image and how we talk about it with our children

This particular conversation is one of many in a series of podcasts I highly recommend: The Full Bloom Project. These podcasts are produced by two certified FBT therapists, Zoë Bisbing and Leslie Bloch. They work with adolescents with eating disorders 'to provide research-informed resources for parents who want to promote self-esteem and positive body image in their children at all ages'.

On the question of prevention

There's a bit that's missing in the podcast, where I question the prevention angle. I wouldn't like to create unrealistic expectations — that you can prevent anorexia by taking care of the way you talk about bodies and food. Plenty of us have raised our kids with a lot of care around that, and they still got anorexia. The Body Project, a well-validated body acceptance program in schools (which uses 'body dissonance' as mentioned in the podcast), has not shown a preventive effect on anorexia.

Still, there can only be benefits from us becoming even more aware of how we talk about body shape, given the toxic environment we live in.

2 Replies to “What do you reply to, “Am I fat?””

  1. That's great to hear, Anna! From what you say, it should always be made super-clear that along with validation, we also must emphasize "and at the same time, this is what we need to do". Eva

  2. Loved the podcast! I like how they synthesized the EFFT approach of validating the child’s upset during early stages but then pivoting to: but this is was we need to do and then following through, and yes, sometimes saying we’re not having that conversation. In my experience too much validation left us going in circles so I found it hard to reconcile the recommendation to offer extra validation in EFFT and still move forward. They really addressed that in a way that made sense and reflected the approach our family finally settled on through trial and error.

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