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Re-categorize Fat in Your Brain

Our brain uses its own shorthand to help us negotiate life. It categorizes people, places, events, etc. as life-enhancing or life-threatening based on its initial encounters with them in childhood or adolescence. As adults, we’re able to delete them from one category and add them to another. Imagine doing this with how you think about “fat.”

Say as a school-age child, your first encounter with body fat is that your family thinks you’re adorable because they’re all a bit on the stout side. Then, when you get to school, your teacher leads discussions about body diversity and no one mentions that you’re a bit chubbier than many children in class. You’re active and value yourself and don’t think much about carrying more weight than other kids. How might your brain categorize fat in terms of “good,” “neutral,” or “bad”? Probably as good or as neutral.

On the other hand, as a child, if your father frequently made nasty comments about overweight women being gross and your mother obsessed about not gaining a pound and exercised like crazy, how might you categorize fat in terms of “good” or “bad”? Obviously, it would go into the “bad” slot. Can you see how fat was neither one thing nor the other, but that it becomes viewed in a certain way because of early learning?

Now, think of the things you are not other than thin or normal weight. I’ll start you off: I’m not tall, remotely good in math, a world traveler (or an easy traveler), a movie or history buff, wildly adventurous, an entrepreneur, an impressive tap dancer (though I love learning it), or a political junkie. I’m short, math- and history-challenged, out of the loop on most movies, etc. I might admire others for their interests in travel or making time for reading the New York Times daily, but I don’t put myself down for not doing these things. I am neutral about the fact that I do not have the above traits. My thinking is that we are all different. I have my strengths and other people have theirs.

Whatever mistaken, negative things you learned about being fat in childhood from your family, in school through your peers or teachers, and in adulthood through the media, it’s time to consciously remove them from the “bad” category and place them into the “neutral” category. This also means taking thin from the “good” category and putting it into the “neutral” category along with fat. Think of all the traits you admire in others that you don’t have but don’t care to have—advanced degrees, boats, curly or straight hair, or a reputation as a fabulous cook. So, you’re fat. That doesn’t make you bad or wrong. As adults, our job is to re-categorize our ideas and one of those is surely about fat.