Fighting Fat Talk

Suman Ambwani

Suman Ambwani. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Psychology professor shares the product of her research over Rush Hour 

by Alexander Bossakov ‘20

“Ugh, I’m so fat!”

“No. you’re not. I’m so fat!”

This is just one example of what Associate Professor of Psychology Suman Ambwani calls "fat talk, an infectious element of our everyday social discourse. During the first Rush Hour talk this semester, Ambwani presented her research on the topic, problematizing the cycles of fat talk perpetuated by our everyday conversations in relation to eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa.

Ambwani, the recipient of the 2016 Constance and Rose Ganoe Memorial Award for Inspirational Teaching, shared her research examining college women’s reactions to fat talk and healthier alternatives for challenging fat talk. She also shared preliminary results from a randomized clinical trial testing an innovative self-help and recovery guide for eating disorders, which includes resources such as a workbook, peer mentorship and a range of authentic and unscripted videos documenting the personal recovery narratives of people who formerly had eating disorders. This research is currently in progress with collaborators at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research. 

More than a dozen students at Dickinson have worked as research assistants with Ambwani, leading to the creation of the Clinical Assessment and REsearch (CARE) Lab. Those student researchers have gone on to pursue master's and doctoral degrees in fields related to the psychology of eating disorders and clinical/health psychology. In fact, Ambwani’s research on fat talk was initially inspired by Alyssa Compeau Minnick ’11, now a Ph.D. student at UNC Charlotte, who conducted a novel experiment to examine the impact of fat talk on body dissatisfaction and eating behavior (subsequently published in the journal Body Image) during her senior year at Dickinson.

Among previous research team members are Cai Guo ’16, who currently is pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford University, and Lea Simms ’16, now working at the National Council for Behavioral Health. Both co-authored the lab’s most recent fat talk study (also published in Body Image), and Simms additionally co-authored a paper on social cognition among women with anorexia nervosa, published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Ambwani’s research assistants were instrumental to the organization of the Love Your Body Week yearly initiative at Dickinson, which features speakers and discussion on body image and talk, sponsored by the Women’s & Gender Resource Center; the Wellness Center; the Department of Psychology; the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues; the Department of Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies; the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity; the Office of LGBTQ Services; the Psychology Club; and others. 


Published October 9, 2017