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Avoid the Self-Fulfilling Fat Prophecy

By , the experts at
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 10 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 upset 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. Confidence is always the hottest look.  

ChickRx is a new site providing personalized health and wellness advice for women. Ask questions (anonymously, if desired), get answers from top experts and peers, and browse health news delivered with a fun, fresh attitude.

What do you think? Does thinking you're fat lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology (2012). Feeling Fat May Make You Fat, Study Suggests. Science Daily.  Retrieved from

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VROBERTS71 9/26/2020
Thank You for the article, you are truly and inspiration to all of us going through a weightless journey. I try to keep myself as motivated as possible by reading blogs daily. I've found that this has helped me a lot also and I hope that it can help others it is a must try... Thank me later ;) Report
ROBINRS 7/27/2020
So I HAVE been overweight all my life and was obese as a child and more morbidly obese for a while as an adult. These are factual medically documented statements. So how do you balance fighting the self image of being fat with the reality that I am? To say I am not is self delusional. This study was with girls who were actually healthy weight - not sure it applies to me. One way of thinking that has helped me is no longer using the word "fat" when describing myself. It somehow, in my mind, is more insulting than "overweight" or "obese" which seem more descriptive and clinical. I also have to tell myself that the past does not need to define my future. And I can take healthy steps to change things. But denying the truth of my excess weight is not a solution for me.
RACHAEL2020 7/27/2020
This website is much needed to dispel negative thoughts about body image. Report
RO2BENT 7/27/2020
Gotta do the hard work Report
I think this just confirms what Norman Vincent Peale said about the power of positive thinking,"Change your thoughts and you change the world". Report
AQUAGIRL08 7/27/2020
Thank you for the information! Report
AALLEY2 7/27/2020
Self talk, “Believe it and you will achieve it” Goes both ways in my book. Report
Thanks Report
Great article. Report
EMGERBER 7/27/2020
A good read and some things to really think about. Report
NEPTUNE1939 7/27/2020
ty Report
LEEANTHONY40 7/27/2020
Interesting article Report
ATHENA2010 7/14/2020
Good article. How you think affects everything in your life and most people don't try to control how they think. I tried to get to but it is for sale and would not come up any way I tried. Will have to find other sites that help. Report
CECELW 12/11/2019
easy to say. hard to do Report
NELLJONES 12/3/2019
THanks. Report
MUSICNUT 10/19/2019
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
I believe this is true. As a teen I was very fit, and lean but my weight would always register as being overweight. So I considered myself overweight and since I couldn't lose weight, I was doomed to stay fat.
It stayed in my head and I tried to lose the weight and ended up with a messed up relationship with food and now a whole lot of weight to lose.

Many things can be altered by our beliefs! Report
Great. Report
Interesting article. Report
I am one of the "31 percent of the girls who did not consider themselves fat during adolescence were found in the follow-up study to be overweight". I started going on fad diets because my mom did but I really wasn't fat until after college. Size 12 (which is about a 10 in today's sizes) in my teens. I'm sure that dieting helped get me where I am today--very obese. Report
Change the self for filling prophecy so you fulfill a good prophecy Report
Which entity out there began using “Skinny” anyway? I hate that word, but magazines and books, heck, SP uses that word, even describing recipes as “Skinny”. Immaciated looking is not a good thing, next thing some company will offer taking people in and starving them, for a price, of course, and you know there are enough fools who will go for it! Preying on the desperate out there. Report
thanks Report
Great article. I have been thinking this for years so I am going to be more positive from now on. Starting today I know I can lose 5 pounds in the next 2 weeks!!! Report
The power of positive thinking! Report
We are what we think. Report
The belief that I was fat led to disordered eating and exercise bulimia. For most of my adult life I was at a healthy weight or underweight, but still thought I was fat. Now in middle age, my body feels the damage I did to it, and ironically I'm now 12 pounds overweight. Am I fat? Not really, but body dysmorphia isn't something that's easy see past. Report
Does thinking you're fat make you fat? Well, it sure doesn't HELP any!!! Report
I spent three quarters of my life being normal weight but hating myself because I wasn't skinny. Trying to get skinny triggered an eating disorder and I became fat. I still struggle with feeling inadequate. Media images that continue to put forth the idea that being 20-30% underweight is the ideal for women doesn't help either. Report
I definitely needed to read this article today. New month, no excuses, no negativity!! Report
I think so. I mean, if you're already thinking you're fat then 2 subsequent thought patterns may come up. You may think that attempting a healthier lifestyle is of no use because you're already fat and you've already failed. That, as they said in the article, leads to the forming of bad habits that can bring on obesity. Or you may go the opposite direction and think that you need to do tons of work to get back to what you consider a "normal" weight and in the process may starve yourself (which slows the metabolism and causes your body to panic and put on weight to fend off doomsday) or you may start to try tons of diets that take your weight up and down. That brings about more stress and body image issues which chemically can pack on pounds around your middle.

It's so sad, the society we live in. Girls grow up feeling inadequate about their weight from a very young age. Then they're subjected to everyone and everything telling them that thinner is better. Even many stores have taken to selling certain types of clothing only in certain smaller sizes, which makes many women feel as if they aren't good enough to wear certain brands or styles. Being thinner may be better in terms of lowering disease risk, but there's also a balance that commercials and style magazines and shows like 'America's Next Top Model' leave out. There is a healthy weight range for everyone, and that varies depending on several factors. Society just says "thinner is sexy, thinner is desirable (for love, for careers, for the pursuit of beauty), thinner is better." But they don't allow people to take health and balance into account. It's really disgusting... Report
I see myself as a fat all the time, actually I am overweight, but I lost some weight recently, but I'm still not that happy as I should. Report
The thought that (encouragingly) came to my mind as I read this was - if it works that way then I should be able to turn it around and become healthier by thinking those positive thoughts about myself--the old formula of needing 4 or 5 positives to 1 negative just to stay even - makes me think that I should set up reminders of positives about health that I can come back at myself with for each of those negative thoughts--it would be fun to see a study or two about the impact of the positive thoughts and self talk--but I guess that's harder to measure--but I would bet that those that are successful here have the experience to prove it true :)
That will be a new goal for me--and hopefully I can see exponential health results from it.
I read an article in a magazine yesterday that talked about the impact of just changing the words we use - that women who said "I can't eat that" felt deprived when changing diet habits - but those that said "I don't eat that" felt empowered and in control of their choices. Something to think about :)
Good luck!! Report
I have always thought of myself as fat and ugly. I just saw some pictures of myself when I was in my 30's. I was absolutly amazed at how thin and cute I was. I just kept lookiing at the pictures and saying is that really me? Now I am thinking back to what it was that made me feel that way. Report
I always thought I was fat, as a child and as a teenager. Now I look back at old pictures and would give anything to be that thin again. For 50+ years I have yo-yoed and gained. Now after my heart surgery, I will be trying get there, doing it the right way! Report
I was a normal, healthy teenager but often felt compared with some other girls I knew and I just steadily got bigger as I got older. I never really thought it might have been to do with the way I viewed myself back then, but I guess it did affect my confidence and stress levels which possibly led to me overeating. Report
I am going to see myself in new ways
Starting with...
I look good and I will look better because I will feel better after eating well and working out! Report
Definitely. When I lost weight I still saw myself as fat and that made it very easy to put it all back on. I am just starting to work on losing it all again...for the last time! Report
Definitely! I lived it. When I was young I thought I was ugly, fat and unworthy. And I became fat. I may have become fat anyway, but I know my thinking didn't help.

I no longer think that about myself no matter what shape I am. Report
I so agree with this report. If you have doubts read The Secret, what you think about you get/become. For most of my childhood i was also put down, although I did well at school I felt like it was never good enough. My parents were older so rather than encourage me they took the attitude 'girls don't need a career'. I am 51 now and it has taken me along. long, long time to realize that i do matter and if i am entitled to the good things in life. I have been ill for the past six years, it all started with my gallbladder operation. After the operation I just could not get myself out of bed,i was swollen and tired all the time, not to mention the pain,being a single parent something had to be done. I kept going to the doctor who at one point told me there was nothing wrong with me,even though i was falling asleep in front of him. Anyway 10months down the line it turns out i had contracted Fibromyalgia through my operation. Now some doctors do not really believe in this illness,I was just told it was a chronic illness that will be with me for the rest of my life, and to go home and read about it on the interent, apart from giving me pain killers (i am intolerant to the medication). So that is what I did, I slowly began to find other people that also had the illness, through them and the internet i learned that food could make symptoms worse, so i started along process of finding out what foods i could and couldn't eat. i also came across the Secret, I had heard of the movie but had never seen it, so i bought the book and started to read about it instead.

It all boils down to positive thinking. Ok you are right thinking that you are slim is not going to get you slim, BUT right now think of yourself fat, you are going out to a party, how do you feel at this moment, NOW think you are slim, you are going out to a party how do you feel, I bet you feel good. Now please,please,please do not say but i am not slim. Remember how you felt when you were thinking that you were slim, you were going out,you felt sexy,confident, happy, keep that thought in mind and you will become that sexy, confident, happy person . Yes you are going to have to put the work in, but that is what The Law of Attraction is all about, positive thinking and action. Instantly when you think of somethng bad and then good you can feel a shift in your emotions, hold onto the good feeling, start acting like you are already slim, and work towards reaching your goal, when you want that extra sice of cake ask yourself 'Do you really want it, or would you rather lose an extra pound this week' If you want the cake well have it and enjoy it, don't beat yourself up about it. But bear in mind you cannot continuelly eat sweets, cakes, crisps etc and still lose weight just because you are thinking you are slim, you have to put the work in, think positive. Positive thoughts bring positive results, negative thoughts brings negative results.

Sorry this has been so long but i wanted to give you a brief outline of my story, six years ago i could hardly get out of bed, I was determined that I would, now i am exercising most days, a huge improvement. It wasn't easy but i kept picturing myself being a healtier person. I still have a long way to go but i am not giving up. Not this time, i have come too far for that.

So look in the mirror, tell yourself you are beautiful, you are confident and you are sexy, start believing that you are, because right now you are and remember POSITIVE THOUGHTS ATTRACT POSITIVE RESULTS. Report
I've always struggled with a poor self image. I never was bullied at school but I had people very close to me who said things my whole childhood and when a young girl hears that her whole life then she becomes a woman with those same insecurities. By then it's much harder to overcome. However I was never overweight but constantly put myself down and still do at times. Two years ago I made it cross the line into the overweight zone. I've got a few pounds to go to be at a healthy weight.
I feel for all who go through this but in my case exercise has made a major difference and my awesome husband helps too. I'm glad I went through all I did. I wouldn't change a thing. Report
Great. Another article and so-called study that determines it's how you think as to how much weight you hold. I thought this type of mentality was over. I cannot think my way thin, I cannot think my way fat. I find these types of article irresponsible. By the way, many of us who struggled with eating disorders, felt we were fat and starved our way thin. I wonder what that so-called study would make of that. Report
According to this study, does the reverse work, too? I can see how the way one thinks of oneself affects behaviors that may contribute to weight gain, but I seriously doubt that merely thinking you're fat will cause weight gain, any more than thinking you've lost weight changes the numbers on the scale.

I feel strongly for those of you who had to deal with fathers and partners who said demeaning, negative things about your body parts. My husband has been supportive throughout all of my struggles and triumphs, but I have had to deal with family members and previous boyfriends who were downright nasty. I know that people who feel good about themselves have no incentive to tear down others, but that knowledge certainly did not soothe the hurts at the time. Report
I really wish this was the reason I am so big. Alas. Self image has nothing to do with it. I wish looking in the mirror and thinking you look thin really had the same effect cause I am the opposite. LOL I always think I look thinner than I do, then when I see pictures I am APPALLED. Sigh. Report
The mind is powerful and can make whatever you choose to believe the truth. :) Report
I have body image issues and I feel so fat somtimes. In my mind know that a size 0 is not fat.......but my heart has not caught up yet. In spite of feeling this way I do not over eat or make bad food choices. It is just the opposite as it keeps me on the right track. Mr problem is I have been over weight all of my adult life until the last 2 years. I was a skinny kid. Report
No doubt. I always saw myself as fat. I remember my dad complaining that my ankles were so thick and chunky, compared to my sister and my mom's trim pretty ankles (and my mom was chunky even then!!). As a 5th grader and not familiar with my dad's side of the family, it was't until I was an adult that I discovered that my dad's mom (my grandmother) had the same thick ankles and so did his aunts!! I just happened to inherit a body trait that I can't change, but in the meantime, I thought it meant I was fat and my dad was disappointed in my body shape!! Report
I remember never being thin enough . My ex always said " No wonder you are fat," when I put cream in my coffee. I weighed 105. I still struggle with my weight. I know I need to lose but sometimes I sabotage myself with fat thoughts. Report