What Is Phantom Fat?

June 24, 2009
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MSNBC had an article today on body image issues and how “phantom fat” can linger after weight loss. At first I thought it was about feeling fat after weight loss surgery, but it turns out it is a body image issue that many people have after losing weight. Read more here.

We have all seen the pictures of someone after they have had gastric bypass surgery and lost a ton of weight. They often time have excess skin, which leaves them with a new set of body image issues. Well, MSNBC had an article today about “phantom fat” and how it can linger after weight loss.

It turns out that this “phantom fat” is the term used for the experience of feeling fat and unacceptable after weight loss.

Body-image experts reveal that it is common for people, especially women, who have lost a lot of weight to still have body image issues. While the excess fat is gone, they may have sagging skin, cellulite, or may not have the body they thought they would have. Some people even continue to see themselves as though they are overweight, such as Kellylyn Hicks who lost about 85 pounds and went from a size 24 to a tiny size 4. Kellylyn still worries she won’t fit into chairs.

Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in Canton, Mass., who specializes in body-image issues says,

“People who were formerly overweight often still carry that internal image, perception, with them. They literally feel as if they’re in a large body still. Body image is a lot harder to change than the actual physical body is.”

Readers have you ever hear of or experienced “phantom fat?” If so please share your experiences below.

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6 Responses to “What Is Phantom Fat?”

  1. 1
    Heather Erin Says:

    Yes. I went from a size 22 to a size 6. I lost over 70 pounds years ago. I still feel heavy.

  2. 2
    Kim Says:

    Yes. I was over 200 lbs at 21, took several years to loose 100 lbs. That was 15 years ago, and I still see myself as fat. I struggled with quitting smoking only because of the weight gain! (I have quit though!)
    Funny, I thought I was the only one, , people look at me like I am a nut job when I try to explain it to them.
    I feel like I am 200 lbs every day.

  3. 3
    Nainsi Says:

    Boy, oh boy, does that sound familiar! I lost 75 pounds 2 years ago, and still feel like a size 22 every day, even though I wear an 8 now. When I look in the mirror I still expect to see a few more chins looking back at me. When shopping sometimes I go to the “plus-size” section first — and then remember I don’t shop there any more. It’s a very insidious feeling.

  4. 4
    Margie Says:

    Many years ago, I lost nearly 60 pounds and still felt fat–until, while shopping one day, I saw a tiny woman on the other side of the room. She was exactly as I wanted to be. My eyes riveted to her as I quickly scanned her slender form from the ground up. When my eyes reached her face, I was totally stunned to find that I was looking at my own reflection–in a store mirror! The experience shocked me into a more realistic understanding of my own body.

    If you have phantom-fat issues, you can recreate this situation somewhat by first covering your face with a mask or towel before assessing your body in front of a mirror. Depersonalizing the process seems to force the mind to be more objective.

    And, by the way, people who gain weight after being thin often retain the “phantom thin” body image. This is why people sometimes don’t realize that they’ve gained weight until it’s an overwhelming problem.

    I hope this helps.

  5. 5
    julie pratt Says:

    The mind is an amazing thing, isn’t it?

    I’d like to think that if the motivation for weight loss was based more on health than on aesthetic considerations that it’d be possible to escape some of this.

    Breaking free of the socialized “beauty myth” is tough, though… And years of being overweight create psychological habits that can be tough to break.

  6. 6
    ann ertel Says:

    To think that I still think that I am as heavey as I was when I was pregant. I lost the weight kept it off for ten years and found out I was pregant. I flipped out, I was afraid that I would gain the weight back. Hardly ate anything was still in my jeans at eight months.

    Phantom fat haughts me to this day. My kids are grown, I am in my 50′s. Somedays I think I look good, others I feel disgraced.

    The good news…my guy loves me the way that I am. Thank goodness