“Fat is Not a Feeling”: Lesson #1 from Nutrition for Sports, Exercise & Weight Management with Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD and Dr. John Ivy, Professor Emeritus

Imagine this scenario for a moment:

You are meeting a friend for coffee. As she walks through the door, you notice that she looks a bit forlorn. She sits across from you, exhales deeply, and slumps forward with a frown.

“Are you feeling okay?” you ask. “You’re looking a bit fat, today.”

Wait…what? That’s terrible, right? I’m sure you would never assign ‘fatness’ as a possible emotional state for one of your closest friends. So, why would you do it to yourself?

As Nancy Clark stated during one of her incredibly informative talks this weekend,

“Fat is not a feeling.”

Credit: “Eating Disorders, Dysregulated Eating & Athletes” by Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD

It was just one of the many great lessons I took away from this seminar, in which a few dozen dietitians, personal trainers, and entrepreneurs came together to learn how to better serve their clients. Like everyone else, I attended to learn how to better provide my current readers and future clients with what they’re really after: health! Whether I’m providing nutrition prescriptions for fat loss, muscle growth, or the day of a marathon, I am doing so with your health as the central focus.

Health isn’t only about physical fitness, of course, just like weight management isn’t only about calories. The data can’t lie; in the long-term (>6 months) diets don’t work, and most individuals regain at least a portion of their weight loss–sometimes they gain more than they lost!


Gardner CD, Kiazand A, Alhassan S, Kim S, Stafford RS, Balise RR, Kraemer HC, King AC. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal WomenThe A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2007;297(9):969-977. doi:10.1001/jama.297.9.969

Just as ‘fat’ isn’t a feeling, but a manifestation of negative self-talk surrounding feelings of inefficiency, sometimes ‘hunger’ can be a manifestation of desire for an entirely different type of fulfillment. It’s essential for practitioners to be able to identify these other needs in their clients, and in turn help their clients identify patterns around their relationship with food.


Non-athletes are at risk of disordered eating, and in both males and females, exercise dependence is linked to the risk of developing an eating disorder. However, the prevalence of disordered eating is much higher in athletes compared to non-athletes, and the term ‘athlete’ doesn’t necessarily refer only to those playing collegiate or professional sports. I consider any client that participates in competitive exercise to be an athlete, and therefore at risk of developing disordered eating habits or an unhealthy body image.

I chose this as my first installment because I have personally struggled with, sought treatment for, and successfully managed disordered eating. As a women’s physique competitor, I have firsthand experience with the highly restrictive competition preparation diet and rigorous workouts that can quickly lead to overtraining. Having competed in long-distance running and jiu-jitsu, I am well aware of the pressure to maintain a very low body weight through caloric and/or water restriction in order to remain competitive. It is so essential that practitioners can empathize with their clients in order to provide support, motivation, and knowledge.

Yes, I have experienced ‘feeling fat,’ too. What was I really feeling? Insufficient, insecure, unsatisfied. I have simply been socialized to believe that ‘fatness’ is synonymous with these words, and ‘thinness’ will bring me happiness. While I absolutely intend to assist my future clients in attaining a body composition appropriate for their sport, I will do so while simultaneously coaching them to maintain healthy minds along with their healthy bodies. There will be no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, no ‘dirty’ eating, no ‘cheats’, no guilt, and certainly no ‘fat’ feelings.



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