Last week I asked the deli woman for a quarter pound of their red, white and blue potato salad. The women in line with me said, “Have you tried that?” I said, “Oh yes, it is tasty.  If you like blue cheese…” 

“And bacon, and all the bad stuff,” she interrupted me with a knowing smile. Translation: “That food is bad for you. And we both know it.” Keep in mind I did not know her. We just happened to be standing in line together. But when she heard me order my potato salad, she didn’t hesitate: I was getting the “bad stuff.”

Labeling food “bad” or “good” — when did food become a moral issue?

The woman wasn’t being mean. She was just commenting. But there is another word for that kind of comment: “Fat Talk.” Fat talk is defined as “negative discussions about weight, shape, diet and/or exercise with friends and family.”

I wrote the following about fat talk in my Daily Nexus blog ( last year: “Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin studied the effects of fat talk. They put two women in a room and gave them tests to measure body satisfaction and emotion/mood. One of the women was an actress who pretended to be just another volunteer. The actress talked about how fat she felt and how she wanted to lose weight. After 20 minutes of this, there were given the same test again.

The results were after just 20 minutes of fat talk, body satisfaction dropped significantly.

With this knowledge, my question is this: what kind of effect does fat talk have day after day, 365 days a year? Especially when you hear it from people you care about.”

Labeling food “good” or “bad” does not seem like a big deal. Although some foods are more nutrient dense than others, food itself is not good or bad. It is our relationship with food that can be good or bad. Over time, fat talk like this does impact us. Fat talk doesn’t always cause eating disorders but it can contribute to them. UCSB’s Health Education Department of Student Health published a study in 2008 that reported that 30 percent of our students suffer from eating disorders. In males, eating disorders increased from 15 percent to 25 percent between 2002 and 2008. By stopping our own fat talk with our friends, we are taking action to help create a more positive environment for all.

This week our Healthy Eating And Living (HEAL) Peer Health Education Interns sponsored the 23rd annual National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. According to HEAL external coordinator Reikan Lin, the goals of NEDAW are to bring the issues about eating disorders and body image to light.

“Our events this week are aimed at education of disordered eating, media literacy, the dangers of over-exercise and the effects of negative body image,” Lin told me. “We are also introducing methods that inspire positive change, such as balanced eating, moderated exercise and ways to appreciate the body.”

Be sure to check out the events this week, including a Q&A session with HEAL’s registered dietician, Betsy Reynolds, in the SRB.

Wednesday night, Michael Feldman’s play, “MuscleBound,” kicked off conversations on gym culture, muscle dysmorphia, steroid use and a range of other male issues.

On Thursday HEAL screened the documentary “America the Beautiful” in the Anacapa Formal Lounge discussed media’s impact on body image.

Lin summed it up, “HEAL urges everyone to be free — free of the ‘ideal body,’ free of restrictive diets, free of compulsive exercise, free of social pressure and finally, free of perfectionism. Ultimately, it is about loving your body and what you can do for it.  No matter where you are on the health continuum, whether you may be struggling or flourishing, you can always add positive change to your life.” 

For more information about HEAL, eating disorders and/or Registered Dietician services, contact Health Education at (805) 893-2630.