Why is Healthy Eating a Problem for Black Women?

The other day while commuting on the train, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a...

black woman eating unhealthy
The other day while commuting on the train, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a Black woman and her adorable school-aged daughter. The mother was admonishing her about all the junk food she and her sister had been eating, advising that they eat healthier to which her daughter naively responded by saying “I don’t have to eat healthy, I’m not fat.” 
While most of the conversations I overhear on the train day in and day out tend to be idle background noise, this little exchange between mother and child had me pondering on a major issue within the Black community: your attitude towards healthy eating.
About 9 months ago, I decided to make a lifestyle change that included eating healthier and working out on a regular basis. This was not a decision that was made to attain a specific result. I chose to do this for my own personal health and well-being. Interestingly enough, it did not come with the praise and encouragement I thought it would.

“How much longer you gon’ be on that diet?”
“Why don’t you eat REAL food?”
“Life is too short to not enjoy good food!”
These are just a few of the comments I’ve received from my Black co-workers, friends and family members who apparently think I’m nuts for choosing to eat healthier since “I’m not fat” like the little girl on the train.
I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why so many people saw eating healthier as a bad thing until I took the time to consider the history of our people and the eating habits that have been passed down through several generations.
Although the original African slaves had diets consisting of whole grains, fruits and vegetables they later adopted and passed down to us the poor Western eating habits which consisted of animal fat, high salt content mixed with fried, processed and refined foods. Created from these eating habits were the delicious “soul food” staples that many of our families still prepare and eat today. Since then, food has become a significant part of our heritage and culture. It is how we bond with each other, how we identify with one another and it gives us all a sense of comfort.
Many of us do not eat healthy because like the child on the train, we associate eating healthy with being conscious of our body image which is a misinformed way of thinking. Losing weight and/or being thin tend to be extremely undesirable for Black women who often take pride in their more curvaceous and filled out bodies. And as vain as it sounds, this risk of losing our curves can be more of a concern than how what we are consuming affects our bodies on the inside.
I understand that many of us don’t desire to be svelte or thin. I also understand that watching what we eat and cutting out the foods that provide us with such pleasure is no fun but is it worth it to overly indulge in unhealthy food and be forced to eat bland food for the rest of our lives due to hypertension? Would you rather moderate the unhealthy foods you eat today or have to moderate your glucose levels as a result of not moderating those unhealthy foods later?
How can we get past the collective disdain towards eating healthier?
First, we must educate ourselves on the health issues that are killing us and how we can prevent them. I don’t recall ever being taught as a child or adolescent about how Blacks are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity and hypertension due to our eating habits nor the simple ways we can go about preventing these health issues. American society as a whole shows little concern towards these types of issues. It was not until very recently that efforts have been made to shed light on issues related to poor eating habits. We have to take the extra steps necessary to be aware of the health related issues that are killing us.
Secondly, we have to learn how to moderate unhealthy foods and to be realistic with ourselves. No, you should not be expected to never eat another slice of sweet potato pie again or to give up your grandma’s famous baked macaroni and cheese. Your body should not have to go through the shock of eating rich flavorful foods to eating celery and rice cakes every day. Cut back on unhealthy foods and incorporate more of the healthy foods that you already enjoy eating. Explore healthier alternatives to the unhealthy foods you like such as turkey burgers in place of beef burgers.Treat yourself in smaller portions and don’t eat when your body is no longer hungry.
Lastly, realize that taking care of your body is a necessary part of loving yourself.  We spend so much time trying to improve our lives in other avenues that we often skip over taking care of our bodies because we believe it does not matter as much. What’s the point in achieving our personal and professional goals if our health will not allow us to enjoy them? Be smart about your eating choices today or painfully suffer the consequences of failing to do so later.

Related:

Healing Our Soul: Healthy Options for Traditional Foods
Blogs and Online Communities To Help Black Women Stay Healthy and Fit
Give It a Spin: The Health Benefits of Pole Dancing

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LaChelle is an aspiring novelist and songwriter. An avid reader and social commentator, her mission is to engage the minds of others through her artistry. Catch her on Twitter @_theELLE_

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