An Experimental Investigation of the Factors that Lead to Fat Talk
Shannon, Amy Marie
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Fat talk describes self-disparaging remarks made about ones weight or shape. Despite the fact that fat talk has been associated with a number of negative outcomes including eating pathology, fat talk has become a social norm and many women engage in it on a regular basis. The factors that lead these women to engage in fat talk are currently unknown. As such, in a series of three studies, I sought to investigate what factors lead to fat talk. This research builds on displacement theory, which holds that experiencing negative affect will lead to increased fat talk. For Study 1, food-related guilt was investigated as a possible factor that leads to fat talk. It was found that undergraduate women were more likely to anticipate initiating a fat talk conversation after undergoing an induction in which they think about eating fattening food (i.e., food-related guilt), and this effect was unique to fat talk rather than other self-disparaging talk. Study 2 replicated and extended the findings of Study 1 by adding an academic-related guilt condition as well as exploring differences between restrained and unrestrained eaters. The findings for food-related guilt replicated and did not emerge for participants in the academic-related guilt condition. In addition, restrained eaters reported an increased likelihood of engaging in self-disparaging talk in general (i.e., they endorsed increased likelihood of initiating both fat talk and unproductive talk conversations) across experimental conditions. In Study 3 I added a sadness condition and explored interpersonal traits as possible predictors of fat talk likelihood. Experiencing decreased body image once again led to increases in anticipated fat talk but experiencing increased sadness did not. Restrained eaters also reported increased fat talk likelihood across experimental conditions. In conclusion, contrary to displacement theory, the present findings suggest that decreased body image specifically, as opposed to any type of negative affect, leads to increased anticipated likelihood of fat talk. Moreover, perhaps due to their tendency to feel more negatively about their bodies, restrained eaters are more likely to anticipate initiating fat talk across situations. Clinical implications and directions for future research are discussed.