Women Who “Fat Talk” and “Old Talk”

Body dissatisfaction at the root of eating disorders may include issues of aging for older women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) People might say out of frustration “I feel fat” or “I feel old.” But for women with eating disorders these types of comments may signal a fixation on young, thin, ideal body images.

A recent study surveyed a group of women about how often they engaged in casual conversations about body weight and aging.

The results of the study showed that feeling old may impact a woman’s body image and therefore trigger eating disorder symptoms in mid-life and older women.

The authors recommended that therapists take a patient’s feelings about aging into account when treating eating disorders.

"Seek help from a therapist for any eating disorder symptoms."

Carolyn Black Becker, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, led a study to investigate the way conversations about body image impact the eating disorder thought process.

In reference to previous research, the authors said that, among adolescent girls, body dissatisfaction can trigger “binge eating, emotional eating, stress, low self-esteem, depression, use of unhealthy weight control behaviors, decreased physical activity, and, among overweight girls, increased weight gain between one to five years later.”

Most eating disorder research has focused on adolescent girls and young adult women. The researchers in this study wanted to include perspectives from older women as well.

Research has shown that the desire to achieve the ideal body image can fuel eating disorders in young women. Dr. Becker’s team set out to understand how feeling old could affect a woman’s sense of body image.

For the study, 914 women between the ages of 18 and 87 from the United States, UK and Australia were recruited to complete an Internet questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed to assess how the women felt about certain types of body talk, their own body image and aging. 

“Fat talk” was defined as any conversation or comment having to do with body weight. Examples of fat talk include: “I’m so fat,” “You’re not fat at all,” and “Wow, you look great, have you lost weight?”

“Old talk” was defined as any conversation or comment having to do with age - for example: “I look so old,” “Look at these wrinkles,” and “I’m old, you’re not.”

The results of the study showed that fat talk was very common in all age groups, but the frequency of the fat talk slightly decreased in older age groups.

Old talk was also common in every age group, but began to increase in frequency once women turned 30 years of age.

Normal weight women reported the highest rates of fat talk compared to underweight, overweight and obese women. More women engaged in fat talk than in old talk. And of those who participated in both, the rate of fat talk was double that of old talk.

The authors concluded that eating disorder treatments in mid-life and older adult women also need to address body image issues associated with aging.

This study was published in February in the Journal of Eating Disorders.

Karine Berthou and the Succeed Foundation helped support this study. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 21, 2013
Last Updated:
February 23, 2013