Lost body fat that is still perceived by a person who used to be overweight.
Body-image experts say it's not uncommon for people, especially women, who have lost a lot of weight to be disappointed to some extent to discover that they still aren't "perfect." The excess fat is gone when they reach their goal weight, but they may have sagging skin, cellulite or a body shape that they still deem undesirable. Like Hicks, some even continue to see themselves as though they are overweight.
Some specialists use the term "phantom fat" to refer to this phenomenon of feeling fat and unacceptable after weight loss.
"People who were formerly overweight often still carry that internal image, perception, with them," says Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in Canton, Mass., who specializes in body-image issues. "They literally feel as if they're in a large body still."
—Jacqueline Stenson, "'Phantom fat' can linger after weight loss," MSNBC.com, June 23, 2009
Margo Maine, PhD, says she has seen many patients who've lost a lot of weight continue to experience what she calls "phantom fat"—it's analogous to the phantom pain an amputee can have in a missing limb. Maine, a Connecticut psychologist specializing in eating disorders and coauthor of The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to Be Perfect, says she's had patients who continue to wear what they call their "fat clothes"—though everyone tells them they need to go shopping-because they still feel that layer of flesh around themselves.
—Emily Yoffe, "Can You Think Yourself Fat?," O, The Oprah Magazine, January 1, 2008
If the client's size has fluctuated over time, her sense of her body outline may be unclear. She may experience a phantom fat phenomenon. "Phantom fat" is an experience parallel to phantom limbs, in which physical sensations are experienced in an area of the body that no longer exists.
—Lynne M. Hornyak, Ellen K. Baker, Experiential Therapies for Eating Disorders, The Guilford Press, March 24, 1989