And Who Would’ve Thought, It Figures: What We Mean When We Say We’re “Fat”

And Who Would’ve Thought, It Figures: What We Mean When We Say We’re “Fat”

The way we use the word “fat” in our society is pretty lazy.

Kind of like the word “literally.”

Just like “literally” has Alanis-Morisette-ized into a word that usually has nothing to do with the “literal” incarnation of anything, “fat” has morphed into a word that has very little to do with actual body composition. 

There are tons of reasons we say we’re fat that have nothing to do with fatness at all. And this is doing ourselves such a disservice, because it insinuates that “fatness” is at the root of all our problems, and “fatness” is something to be solved. Basically, it insinuates that if we solve our “fatness,” our lives will fall into place. It’s the message media campaigns and entertainment sources want us to believe in order to walk their walk – and here we are talking their talk.

Sometimes fat is a filler word when we don’t know what else to say about something that conjurs up a certain feeling. And sometimes that feeling IS, in fact, physical.

But I’d like to argue that it’s not “fat” we’re feeling.

not ironic.
not ironic. (source)

Today, I’m addressing the flippant use of the F-word, used by people who simply feel a certain way on the inside no matter the exterior. Because no matter what your outsides look like, we can all relate to feeling any of the following: inadequate, uncomfortable, and sometimes – inflammed.

Inflammation is a buzzword right now in the wellness world but its true meaning is still convoluted for the other 99% of the population – meaning the mainstream vocabulary hasn’t yet caught on. Think of it this way: inflammation in your body is like a black-and-blue bruise, a sign something’s taken a beating and is desperately trying to repair.

Bruises aren’t flesh wounds, and can’t be treated topically (at least to my knowledge). Bruises heal from the inside. It’s the same thing with inflammation.

Based on what I’ve learned in my X years in the wellness industry – coupled with my X years on planet earth – there are a few key points when it comes to what causes your run-of-the-mill, non-medical-condition-related inflammation:

  • Food sensitivities
  • Artificial crap
  • Too little sleep
  • Poor or incomplete digestion
  • And, most importantly, life weight: stress, sadness, grief, anxiety.
not ironic (free ride, already paid)
not ironic. (free, paid)

After realizing that we use FAT as a filler word when we don’t know how to describe the mess that we feel, I started to use another phrase when I was talking to myself: poofy-bodied. It just seemed kinder – and less permanent. And more accurately described the inflammation my body was experiencing.

You wouldn’t poke at a bruise over and over and expect it to heal, would you? You wouldn’t put a band-aid and Neosporin on and look for results, would you? So why would you try to reduce inflammation in your body by addressing what’s on the outside? Just like a bruise, inflammation is fixable, but it’s a process. Unless you take active steps to calm your body down, it stays in a state of heightened panic.

I know poofy-bodiness very well: I was constantly inflamed for years. And I’m talking after the Orthorexia. I would complain to others (because complaining is a bonding tactic), and the same advice was always given to me, the advice anyone gets when they say they feel “fat:” eat less, exercise more. I had an intense-but-healthy exercise regimen and a diet that was by no means extreme in either direction. I was doing everything I was told I should be doing with no results. I was so physically and emotionally uncomfortable, and I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong..

The reality, I learned once I straightened up and took a good look at things (the holistic health pro friends and weekly yoga practice helped too), was that too many years of artificial ingredients, “healthy” foods I ate simply for health’s sake, nights of little sleep, and a cherry-on-top of gut bacteria that were depleted due to an erratic diet and a flirtation with diuretics/laxatives in my early twenties – all coupled with the stresses of love, loss, and pushing of my own internal “panic” button too many times to count – had led me to a place in which I always felt I had an extra layer or three under my skin. My stomach always hurt and I was constantly tired.

So of course, I was “fat.”


not ironic.
not ironic. (source)

When you’re tempted to land on “fat” as your adjective of choice, hold your horses for a minute. Dig deeper. Fat isn’t a feeling. And labeling it as such just breeds fat-phobia. What is actually going on here?? Maybe your body composition has changed, and maybe your lifestyle habits do need a fresh look. But maybe, just maybe, your body is just trying to cope after a disaster. Maybe your body is just, you know, bruised.

And just like after a disaster, it’s not going to be able to regroup unless it gets a little First Aid relief:

Pay close attention to how you feel when you eat certain foods – and then cut them out. It sounds like a “duh” moment – but find out what’s making you inflammed and then stop eating or drinking it. Maybe your body doesn’t respond well to animal products, or maybe just dairy. Maybe you’ve got a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (it’s a thing). Maybe every time you eat nuts, or even a certain type of vegetable – you end up feeling sluggish, and yes, poofy. Alcohol’s inflammatory, so maybe cutting back is what will do the trick. Certain foods and spices are proven anti-inflammatory foods: things like berries, dark leafy greens, wild-caught salmon, coconut oil, and turmeric. See what happens when you incorporate these in not as a quick fix, but as a substitute for the things that were causing you duress. As always, just try it and see what happens – there is no harm in trying. You might be so used to feeling crummy that you don’t even realize what it means to really feel good.

Choose sleep over late nights and early mornings. I always tell my spin students that if they have other chances during the week to exercise and have a choice between attending my early morning class or sleeping an extra hour – sleep the extra hour. It’s that important. Sleep is like taking your body in for a tune-up each night – and you wouldn’t tell the technicians working on your car or computer to cut their work short, right? If you have early mornings, set a non-bedroom time limit. In my house, if we’re sitting on the couch past 9:30pm, we make ourselves start to prepare for bed. For some people that’s too early. But we have an alarm set for 5:30am – so this guarantees we’ll get at least 7 hours of sleep, which is my personal bare minimum for being able to function healthfully. Pay attention to how much sleep you actually need, not just what you can “get by on,” and adjust accordingly.

Replenish your gut bacteria. Someone once told me that the gut is like the body’s second brain – so when the healthy flora in there is off-kilter, it sends your whole body out of whack and into a permanent state of fight-or-flight mode. When I was trying to calm my body down from poofiness, I took a strong probiotic twice a day and ate fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, coconut kefir, and unpasteurized miso. I had to be diligent about it, and it seemed futile since I couldn’t see or feel results immediately, but after a few months my digestion was finally back on track. And it didn’t feel like my organs were working overtime just to keep me functioning. My skin got brighter, my sick days fewer, and my clothes felt comfortable again. Even now, when I don’t take my probiotics, I can feel a difference.

Evaluate your life weight. What’s going on in your life? Anxiety, sadness, fear, grief, loneliness, confusion, and/or lack of purpose can create a sense of heaviness in our spirit, weighing down on us pretty intensely. That feeling of heaviness can not only become apparent on the outside, but it can make us focus on the outside whether it’s actually changed or not. And that’s when it can get convoluted and really hard to let go of – because it’s a lot easier to address something you can see as opposed to something you can’t.

Most of us – myself included – equate the feeling of LIFE weight to BODY weight, and we kill ourselves over banging out the toughest, most brutal workout we can in order to feel good again. Or we regiment our food, “punishing” ourselves for getting so “off-track.” But all this does is stress ourselves out more, and just like with the bruise analogy, it doesn’t even address the inside.
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Just the act of separating your life weight from your body weight is a step in the right direction. But if that’s not enough and you want actual, visual proof that what you’re feeling is on the INSIDE, I’d suggest taking a picture.

Most of us – myself included – equate the feeling of LIFE weight as BODY weight, and we kill ourselves over banging out the toughest, most brutal workout we can in order to feel good again. I’m still trying to recalibrate after a couple months of unexpected stress and hustle and heavy gloominess. I’ve been wearing looser shirts and layers to cover up what I *think* shows on the outside, because I feel it so heavily on the inside after little sleep and shallow breaths. And that’s BS. So today, I’m back to my good ol’ uniform, even though I’m not particularly comfortable (like AT ALL), took a quick pic, and guess what?! The exterior looks the SAME as usual. I’m taking it as little reminder to not be afraid of myself and hide – seeing myself just as regular old me reminds me that I’ve got my own back. Life weight, you ain’t the boss of me. #selfieempowerment 💪🙏✨💃

A photo posted by Katie Joy Horwitch || WANT (@katiehorwitch) on

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If you’re feeling heavy on the inside, go do something nice for yourself that makes you feel holistically strong, inside and out. Take a fitness class. Take a hike. Put on your favorite wacky leggings. Take a picture of yourself and smile, because only you can really reassure yourself that things will get better.
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For me, it’s like magic: when I patiently address the inflammation in my body by cutting out irritating foods, getting sleep, keeping my gut healthy, and separating my physical self from my emotional self, I always start to feel better. I’m less self-conscious. Less achy. And go figure, I don’t use the f-word as an insult.

When your body is inflamed, you can literally (see what I did there) feel your place in the world. You feel uncomfortable, you feel awkward, you feel obtrusive and stuffed in. The inflammation realization – I’m just feeling poofy-bodied – has changed my life and the way I look at myself when I’m feeling low. Both internally and externally: because I now see the way I feel not as something that’s happening OUTSIDE me and beyond my control, but something happening INSIDE me that I can get a handle on. When I’ve got my inflammation under control, my body calms down physically and emotionally. It settles. I just feel human. Which is all any of us ever want to feel, anyway.

Which one of the 4 tips above will you work on to help you feel good from the inside out? How?
(ex. I’m going to take a power nap today instead of powering through my lunch break…since that 9:30pm thing didn’t really happen last night.)

photo credit: kenishi higashi


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  1. Jessica says:

    I literally had a “breakdown” last night where I sent my husband to a picnic without me because none of my clothes fit. I have been eating right, exercising, etc etc and this is exactly what I needed to read! I am not fat…I am feeling poofy bodied and inflammation makes sense. I have been overly anxious and tired lately. It is the stresses of life that are making me this way…not actual fat. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. I needed to read it after a night of hysterical crying

    • Katie says:

      Ugh – stress poof will get ya every single time. I know that everyone on this site can relate to the kind of night you had last night, Jessica – and I am beyond glad to hear that this piece was what you needed! I hope the rest of this week is brighter for you, and leaves you feeling good inside and out. xo

  2. Kate says:

    Another great read that found me just when I needed it. I’m so tired of “fat” being the go-to when we’re uncomfortable. Fat isn’t bad. And whatever it is that we’re feeling doesn’t have to be bad either – but it needs to be felt and experienced and broken down. I love your guidelines for doing that!

    • Katie says:

      Can’t tell you how much I loved reading this comment, Kate. It’s crazy how often we just default to “fat,” right? Thank goodness for the people like yourself who know there’s more to working through a tough moment than resting on those three, not-bad letters.

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