Self-Fulfilling Fat Prophecy

Feeling Fat, Though You Aren’t, Often Makes You Fat

A recent study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology adds to an existing pile of evidence that if you are normal weight but see yourself as overweight, you are much more likely to become overweight. So, the next time you're in a fitting room at the mall and a friend does the ol' "I'm so fat" thing, you might want to let her know that if she keeps saying that, it might in fact turn out to be true. 

Researchers surveyed normal-weight teenagers to see if they felt overweight or not, and then followed up with them ten years later as young adults. Of the teenage girls who had seen themselves as fat, 59 percent did in fact become overweight, as measured by BMI. But using waist circumference instead of BMI as the measure, 78 percent had become overweight as young adults. And, we can probably guess that 100 percent of subjects who had become overweight were “pretty pissed about that.”

In contrast, 31 percent of the girls who did not consider themselves fat during adolescence were found in the follow-up study to be overweight, as measured using BMI. That number was 55 percent as measured by waist circumference.

There are a few explanations for why perceiving yourself as fat can actually make you fat. The authors explained that feeling overweight can cause psychosocial stress, which can lead to weight gain around the waist. Thinking you’re fat can also lead to obesity-causing habits like skipping breakfast and yo-yo dieting. We’re dubbing this the “Self-Fulfilling Fat Prophecy,” and it begs the question: could this principle apply to other beauty woes too? Like, could thinking you’re getting wrinkly lead to excessive wrinkles?

And, as if you didn’t know this already, females are much likelier than males to see themselves as fat. While all of the teens surveyed were normal weight, 22 percent of the girls saw themselves as fat while only nine percent of boys did—likely due to the fact that girls experience significantly more social stress in conjunction with body image. 

Alas, the struggle for perfection, as a messed up society defines it, often ends up backfiring on us. Maybe those particularly overweight kids at camp struttin' around in the smallest bathing suits weren't so cray after all...and regardless, confidence is always the hottest look.  

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology (2012). Feeling Fat May Make You Fat, Study Suggests. Science Daily.  Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120808121816.htm
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Dr. Amy Johnson commented
I think the explanations set forth in this article are both very plausible. A lot of research has shown that dieting makes you fat. So yes, following the logic of the self-fulfilling fat prophecy, attempts to control your weight if you think you are fat can very likely actually contribute to you gaining more weight in the long run rather than losing it. Also, in addition to just stress-related mid-section weight gain, being hard on yourself generally--speaking unkindly, being overly critical, comparing yourself to others, hurts. All of those things build up layers of shame and when we feel shame, we're so much less likely to tune into our body, notice how we truly feel, and listen to our own inner wisdom (including hunger signals). We're more likely to turn to distractions like over-eating to drown out those painful messages.
Juls commented
I agree with this wholeheartedly as research on neuroplasticity has proven that we are what we "think", insomuch that our brains control our actions and reactions, even if we "want" to change, we'd have to change our belief system on a deeper level to attain success. For example, I have experienced this with chronic pain, where after a significant physically traumatic event, my brain caused my body to react to normal stimulation with a "painful" response as it expected that any stimulation was going to hurt me. I've have had to retrain my brain by "thinking myself reacting normally" rather than the default being an over the top reaction. Basically either "positive OR negative thinking" through imagery can truly help us change. On the other hand, we cannot change at all if don't allow our brains to develop new pathways once they,have a new pattern in place. More info is available if you google the Franklin Method.
EXPERT
Dr. Dani commented
Negative self beliefs definitely have the ability to affect our physiology ie our physical body through the mindbody connection that scientists have found actually has a physical location in the brain. Our thoughts and emotions affect the messages your brain sends to your body, and what hormones get made to either make you prone to gaining weight (excessive stress hormones and the satiety hormones ghrelin and leptin)or staying slim! So 'Slim Thinking' really DOES make a difference to your biology!
Anonymous commented
So parents forcing their kids to get on a diet and loose weight, are actually causing them stress and unknowingly making them fat.