Blog

Wild

EFBC2181-9E12-4DFB-95EE-A40F13F44960

On a random whim, I went to the zoo. Zoos are already sad but on days with a high of 25 degrees Fahrenheit and snow on the ground, even worse.

The animals seemed slow and tired and most of them were sequestered away indoors.

I spent a lot of time in the elephant barn because it was warm and elephants are graceful and just emit this wisdom from their all watching black eyes. But maybe I am making this up.

They were in a space way too tight for their mammoth frames. Bars cut their bodies in half from my view. One elephant, Tasha was alone because she was rumored to be a bit of a “bully” according to the zookeeper.

And I thought: I’d be pissed as fuck too if I was trapped in a place that toned down my bigness and fed me stupid carrots and kids gawked at me and I really wasn’t into the other elephants I was around.

And then I thought: maybe that’s why I’m pissed in some ways too. Because there is something wild and weird and spontaneous inside that I keep shut up. Maybe we both just want to be free, maybe we just need more space. Maybe we’re not bullies after all.

I left the exhibit with a heavier chest and heart but it helped me to really see something I’ve been dancing around my entire life: the cost of not being free. Of trying to downplay my bigness.

I don’t know my next move. I’m learning right now to just be with this question and to open up to the wild, sometimes illogical impulses that seem to be calling to me.

May you find space to let yourself be as big and wild and messy and you as possible. Especially in a world that rewards Good Girls and Quiet, Non-Complaining Black and Brown People.

For me, I am tired of the inner and outer bars.

I am ready to be inwardly Free.

Onward,

Hannah

 

Why I Quit The Trauma Olympics

file_002

(This post contains some graphic descriptions of bodily injury, so if that’s not for you, stop reading now.)

On the first ship I was assigned to, the Sealand Florida, one of the longshoreman lost a finger. It may have been two. We were arriving into port, I think it was Houston or Beaumont and suddenly there is a frantic call to the bridge via radio.

Some mooring lines, the ropes that tether ships of exceptional tonnage of large container ships like the Sealand Florida to a dock, can become so tense when stretched that if they should snap, they have been known to cut a man’s leg clean off with machete preciseness. They can carry so much strength that if you accidentally get your fingers caught against a bulwark and the line, your fingers will leave a mangled, bloody mess.

They sent me, the lucky deck cadet down to escort the injured man via elevator upstairs to the medical room. I remember that this particular longshoreman was one of the youngest members on board, not much older than my nineteen years, and that the space where his fingers should be looked like squished tomatoes. I remember he was crying.

In my shock and thinking words were useless, I said nothing as we rode up the several flights. I just prayed and wished the elevator would go up faster.

I still regret that. That I said nothing.

But, what do you say to someone in that situation?

Sorry? I hope you feel better? It’s going to be okay?

The Trauma Olympics is when people assert their trauma as a justification for terrible behavior. It’s when people belittle someone else’s pain because it isn’t as large as their own or doesn’t meet their staunch criteria of Things People Should Be Hurt About. 

It’s that friend who when you tell them of a recent heartbreak says Well, you should hear what happened to me, trust me, you don’t know heartbreak…

Or

I mean, she’s over here complaining about her family, but I can tell you my family is much worse…

Continue reading Why I Quit The Trauma Olympics

7 Reasons Self-Care Is So %&$@ Hard

IMG_0224

Self-care, these two monosyllabic words, are very popular these days.

As a feminist and a woman creator in this society, I have often struggled with the practice of self-care. The concept makes sense to me: take good care of yourself lest you be so overspent and miserable you make others (and yourself) suffer.

Got it.

But, sometimes it’s hard. And while I used to think the difficulty was another personal failing, I am now well aware that it is not. So, please, if you are blaming yourself for not doing self-care “right” or “well”, STOP.

You are not broken.

But.

There may be some reasons why self-care is so damn hard for you.

Here are my 7 (by no means exhaustive) reasons why self-care may be tough for you. I speak from experience (as always) and I hope you will find something useful here…

Continue reading 7 Reasons Self-Care Is So %&$@ Hard

In Another Life I Was Nola Darling (Or Why NYC is my Favorite Place to be Black)

IMG_0046

When I was a kid, after the late-night parties my parents hosted, me and my sister would sometimes watch New York Undercover. It was decidedly not a kid’s show but it held such intrigue for me; a black girl in suburbia. We’d watch Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo fight the crime and corruption of New York City. I always got a kick out of the fact that Yoba was in Cool Runnings and DeLorenzo was one of the dancers in the Beat It music video.

I think I felt grown that I noticed this back then.

And I wonder if this was where my love for New York City was born.

Sometimes I joke around that the only reason I ended up going to military school for five years and being in the Coast Guard for eight is all because of how deep in love I was with New York City.

Continue reading In Another Life I Was Nola Darling (Or Why NYC is my Favorite Place to be Black)

Not All Black Black Girls Know How to Eat : A Final Kiss

IMG_0121

Hello Beautiful People,

Thanks for reading this series (Check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four and the Self-Help That Doesn’t Suck # 9 on Women, Food and God…).

Self-care and self-acceptance are causes I will never shy away from talking earnestly about, especially for black women. We were never meant to survive, let alone thrive and much of the world continues to let us know this in both small and large ways.

Eating is a way for us to love ourselves, one imperfect plate at a time. It is my hope that you can learn to love yourselves through the way you eat. That you can eat in a way that makes you feel energized and at ease and joyful. It is my hope that you don’t let the Weight Watchers and the Dietitians of the world tell you what you deserve.

Keep practicing. See your “failures” for the teaching moments they are. Let your emotional eating and eating disorders guide you toward what you are truly starving for.

A hungry heart is no small matter.

I leave you with an eating meditation by self-love prophetess Abiola Abrams from her best-selling book The Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love. Whenever you find yourself eating mindlessly or getting worried about you are eating, her meditation is an excellent way to get back on track with what is happening in the present moment.

Don’t knock those small moments for this is how the big changes happen. One small kiss at a time, we relearn the art of being with ourselves as we are.

(This meditation is reprinted here, but you can purchase the entire book and I highly recommend you do for it is FULL of all kinds of tangible wisdom and tools to loving ourselves as we are.)

Bombshell Tool: Chocolate Meditation

All you need for this self-being exercise is a Hershey’s Kiss and your mind. Mindful and intuitive eating have been a key for me in releasing disordered eating and unhealthy weight and learning to love my body. The feminine energy practices of being mindful and intuitive are empowering for any gender. The Chocolate Meditation Tool is about bringing your awareness to the present. I strive to eat all my meals in this ways. This prevents me from mindlessly bingeing or being caught up in other emotions while numbing myself with food. Here’s how:

  1. Engage all your senses. Observe your breath and the silver, flat-bottomed dewdrop. Behold the tiny Kiss in its festive aluminum wrapping. Contemplate the narrow plume of paper emerging from the thin, twisted metal. Examine the distinctive-looking candy and consider its unique beauty. As you unwrap this mini-present, pay close attention to the crackling sound of the foil opening. Breathe in the rich scent.
  2. Your full attention is on the teardrop-shaped, bite-sized candy. Follow your breath. You are not worrying about yesterday, today, or tomorrow. Your entire existence right now is focused on this rich chocolate. Turn it around in your fingers. Consider the color, shape, texture, and design.
  3. Send positive thoughts to all that conceived of and prepared this magnificent gift just for you! No matter what is going on, be grateful for how wealthy you are to have the means, the time, and the wellbeing to experience this moment. Maybe even kiss the Kiss.
  4. Take a deep breath. Inhale the bold aroma of the chocolate. Take another breath. Feel the texture with your fingers. Does it rub off in your hands or stay solid? What would you call this color? Notice every pore and nick on the cocoa surface.
  5. Are you able to take a bite of the Kiss or can you only eat it whole? Let that first taste roll around on your tongue. Does it taste different with the tip of your tongue than on the back of your tongue? Savor it, nibble by nibble. Close your eyes and feel the chocolate move down your throat and esophagus. If there are melting remains on your fingers, lick them slowly and enjoy the pure pleasure of the experience.
  6. If your mind wanders at any point during this meditation, always come back to the Kiss. Remain aware. Connect with your senses. When you inhale and exhale, notice the gap between your breaths. Everything in this moment is perfectly okay.
  7. How do you feel? You are not in the future or the past–you are with the chocolate. Close with a few deep breaths. You are exactly where you should be.

Here’s to eating in the present moment.

IMG_0122

Onward,

Hannah

Self Help That Doesn’t Suck #9 – Women, Food and God

0ACE98C3-1FFD-4037-B2C0-EC4789969D72
Title: Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth

The Break-Down: In Women, Food and God author Geneen Roth breaks down how our appetites and allowances around food are pretty good indicators for what we believe about what we deserve in life. Roth was a chronic dieter who experienced much madness around food before giving up dieting for good. In this book she outlines the processes of how she was finally able to come to peace around her own food compulsions and inspire thousands of women to do the same.

Why I Loved It: Everytime I read this book, an inner part of me stops holding her breath; I realize I don’t have to live in fear of food or fat, that I can eat in a way that is free from “shoulds” and rules. So much of what we are told about eating is rule based and ignores the often complicated relationship we have with food and our bodies. In reading this book, I come back to inquiry, play and acceptance. How many times have I admonished myself with what I should or shouldn’t have eaten, how many times have I felt shame for the compulsions that surround my intake of food, how many times have I tried to correct my body with food? Too many times to count. And yet, a large part of me truly believed the only way to eat well and be at my optimum best was to subscribe to this inner cacophony of shame. Thanks to this book, I know there is a better way. I read this book years ago and only understood it on  purely intellectual level. Today when I read it, I feel the book and the lessons within.

For You, If…: You are tired of your food compulsions, whatever they may     be. You want to stop dieting and hating your body but don’t know where to start. You often find yourself stuck in shame about your body and food habits. You dig mindfulness concepts. You want to eat with more joy and less guilt.

Woo-Woo Factor: 2 out of 5 patchouli  sticks. If you don’t like spiritual analogies, this book may not do it for you, friend.

Onward,

Hannah

 

Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat #4: A Conversation with Roxane, Stephanie and Becky

29F0DCD8-E401-42F7-A14A-BA1B68B9D4C4

Hello Beautiful People,

I’m back with the Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat series (check out Part One, Two, and Three.)

Today’s post is a conversation with the writing of three women: Roxane Gay’s Hunger, Stephanie Armstrong Covington author of Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat, and Becky W. Thompson’s A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: A Multiracial View of Women’s Eating Problems.

Sometimes when I want to talk about being a black woman who is healing her emotional eating issues, I feel a little like Dave Chapelle in Half Baked. You know that part where his character decides to go to rehab for weed and meets a crazed, coke-addicted Bob Saget:

Bob Saget: Marijuana is not a drug. I used to suck dick for coke.

Rehab patient: I seen him do it!

Bob Saget:  Now that’s an addiction, man. You ever suck some dick for marijuana?

Yeah, sometimes I feel like that. Like with the assortment of ills that black Women face on the daily, I’m gonna make a big deal out of emotional eating and body image?

But, then, I remember that this is not  my highest self talking or even a well-meaning balance toward empathy for other’s pain.

Nah, this voice is a virulent, parroting of patriarchal values which instruct me to rank pain and to always, always situate frivolous “women’s issues” at the very bottom. It is a voice steeped in meanness and denial.

This is not the voice which wants me to heal and be honest.

Eating is something we have to do to live. And for women, it can often become a deeply divisive and harmful act which we use to control our bodies from becoming too much. Food is social and in our country, usually widely available. It is therefore easy to self-abuse with.

Food becomes another mode of employing a steady degree of self-loathing, we eat foods that make us feel ill, we create highly rigid diets that take out all the pleasure of eating, we starve our bodies from what nutrients they actually need.

F5EE6F9B-9EAE-4EE5-9DA1-ED8E58C58DE8

In a blog post, Stephanie Armstrong Covington, author of Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat writes,

“…As a child my mother explained my harsh realities, “You’re poor, you’re Black, and you’re a woman. You’ve got three strikes against you so don’t expect life to be easy. But she was wrong. My dark chocolate colored coating protected me from suspicion, judgment and the intervention I desperately needed. When I finally sought out mental health support my family was mortified. I had broken the one sacred covenant. Church was offered up as the only acceptable alternative. I had revealed my deepest secrets to strangers who did not look like me. I had relinquished my role as the strong Black woman archetype. Why couldn’t I suffer in silence? Or have more self-control? There was so much I needed to learn about my relationship with food. Instead of celebration and ceremony it became a weapon I used to shove down my shame and loathing. It took a long time to learn that I could not heal my relationship to food on my own. There was no diet that would work for me…”

Food, for me,  was and sometimes still continues to be, a place where my shame of being too much, where my desire for comfort are the most salient.

Unlike Ms. Covington who mainly grew up in inner city Brooklyn, I was raised in a suburb made up mainly of Mexican and white people in Orange County, CA. My Nigerian parents had no real idea what it meant to grow up in a setting that was not a black majority.

When I think back on my youth: the desire to be a famous catwalk model in Milan, the tiny white girls I was surrounded by, the teasing from black guys in high school about looking African, it’s not difficult to see how my relationship with food became so fraught. I see why I carried so much shame about my deep attachment to sugar, why the binges occurred, and the resultant obsessiveness about diets and workouts.

It was all so damn confusing: Eating was supposed to be fun! All the commercials said so, including the Carl’s Jr. ones with lanky blondes somehow sexily chewing up a hamburger. I wanted to be skinny like Alek Wek. (When I wasn’t wanting to be built like J.Lo.)

At family parties, aunties would pinch my cheeks and with the sharp straightforwardness of the non-Westerner issue a loud, “Hannah, you’re getting FAT.” I was encouraged to eat jollof rice, red stew, fried rice, dodo and if I took a smaller helping an uncle would say I was showing off or trying to be white. You got admonished for being too skinny AND too chubby.

Curtailing my sugar intake felt scary in a way I deep down knew was not normal (sometimes when our junior high school Snack Shack was closed, the one that sold 3 Snickers for 99 cents, I’d get all panicky and almost about to cry…okay, sometimes I actually did.)

269A3F9E-25AF-4024-AFCD-FAA479EB99C5

When I decided to seek help like Ms. Covington, I felt stupid, like any minute a trio consisting of Oprah, bell hooks, and Toni Morrisson would revoke my black girl card. And because I did not see Women and girls who looked like me talking about their struggles with eating, because I did not fall cleanly into the standards set forth for bulimia or anorexia, because I felt like I was a burden and “too much” already, because there were Bigger Things To Deal With As a Strong Black Woman, I mostly stayed silent. I kept my constant anxiousness about food to myself.

If no one else gave a shit, what right did I have to?

In an interview at Adios Barbie! Professor Becky W. Thompson offers this,

“…Racism, poverty, homophobia or the stress of acculturation from immigration–those are the disorders. Anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating are very orderly, sane responses to those disorders. So that’s why I don’t even use the word “disorder.” I’m shifting the focus away from the notion of eating problems as pathology, and instead labeling forms of discrimination as pathological. I even thought for a while that I should say “eating issues.” But I ended up using the term because eating problems do become problems for women. So why the shroud of silence? Shame makes it especially difficult for women who don’t fit the “profile” to speak up and seek help. For many women, healing from body problems goes hand-in-hand with finding a solid racial, sexual, or personal identity…”

The deeper healing from harmful eating habits in my life is a reckoning with the actual problems: the daily assaults of racism and sexism, the emotional phobic nature of our society, the ways I had truly internalized that I was only important if I had the right kind of body, my deep-seated belief that I was bad, the way sugar offered a steady comfort I could find nowhere else.

Before, I saw myself as the problem: I had too little willpower, I was lazy, weak, the wrong kind of black girl.

Seeing words like those from Professor Thompson removed a thick veil, a veil that thought I was all alone, that I was irredeemable and broken.

0D594290-58E0-49DE-BC4B-A9193352D7F7

I cannot divorce my eating habits from the issues of YM (an old school teen Magazine) I read like crazy and the MTV I devoured unconsciously as a teen. Or the way I felt unsafe in my body. How high fructose corn syrup made up for the sweetness missing from my actual life (but not really). The pressures to be a good African daughter. The kids at school who would ask pointed painful questions about my skin, hair, and lips. My model dreams. The want to be romantically desired by a certain type of brown or black boy. The vocal judgement from an Auntie about my belly.

Our eating habits do not exist in a vacuum.

“…This is what most girls are taught—that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us,” Roxane Gay writes.

This message from Gay is not solely about thinness.

Blanket assumptions are the worst BUT on a whole, black and brown communities usually have an appreciation for “thicker” bodies. Thick does not usually translate to fat but to a thin-waist-big-butt-and-boobs ideal.

I have no issues with the thickness but even this ideal can become associated with the “not taking up space” Gay speaks about.

Basing our self worth on an arbitrary cultural ideal (even if said ideal is “big”) and letting this ideal control our lives is still wanting to be small,  for our lives become firmly attached to seeking external approval (a never ending contest) and disallow space for what actually is.

I long to live a life that isn’t pinched into smallness by the demands and tastes of unconscious men to take up less space in my actual body.

My relationship with food is a perfect barometer of how much I still believe in being small and pleasing.

So….

How do we relearn how to eat with the intent to nurture and not to control? How do we let go of being pleasing and work on being pleased ourselves? What ideas about smallness and scarcity are fueling our relationship with food?

It starts with realizing you are not alone. Like, at all.

You do an inventory of your history. Was there trauma that you encountered that affected your relationship with food? Where you grew up. What messages you learned about eating. Your fears about your body—aesthetic and otherwise. The media you took in. The shame you held or currently hold.

You hold that desire to be small, to fit in, to be pleasing with as much compassion as you can. You are not weak for seeking love or validation the only way you could see fit.

FBA8E46A-8130-46B0-803E-3219460D027A

There is real social and even economic capital in having a “a good body” in our society.

However, we have to look closely at the way eating is stifling our lives. Eating does not have to be a place of anxiety and turmoil. It doesn’t have to be exhausting or scary.

But, you may have to do some digging and some reckoning.

When that old shame of being too much and being the Weak Black Woman creep up on me (and they are stubborn little creepers let me tell you…), I breathe. I know there will be some people in my community who DO believe I am taking myself too seriously, that I am Dave Chapelle trying to get off the weed.

That’s okay. This is my life and what makes me feel more Whole is to shine a light in any area shadowed in shame.

And for me, this is definitely, definitely eating.

Dear one, if you are reading this and suffering or just fed up having a low-level dread of eating, do not be afraid or ashamed to seek professional help. To do all that you can within your means to heal. A wound is crying out for your attention; heed it.

You are not alone.

You are not broken.

You are not solely defined by how you eat.

You can heal.

Onward,

Hannah

 

 

 

 

Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat #3: What Are You Hungry For?

“My father believes hunger is in the mind. I know differently. I know that hunger is in the mind and the body and the heart and the soul.”
― Roxane Gay, Hunger

Hello Beautiful People,

Welcome to Part #3 of Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat! For Parts #1 and #2, here ya’ go.

not all 2

It’s hard to make good decisions when you are starving.

I know this and yet…

I have a bad habit–I forget to eat. A lot. And sometimes, I just don’t make time to eat. I decide that everything is more important than eating: catching the bus, trying to perfect my cat-eye eyeliner, checking up on Instagram, writing.

And then when my hunger is on a scale of 9-10, when my stomach is groaning in impatient annoyance, I will finally acknowledge my hunger and then I will eat.

But, “eat” isn’t the correct term, devour is more like it.

I am indiscriminate and often attracted to the foods I tell myself I “should” not be eating: sugar and more sugar usually. For years, I’ve been angry at my body’s intense hunger, while doing almost nothing to actively address it.

I ignored the science and the beautiful balancing act of my body and bodies in general (facts like, our bodies are more attracted to those very foods that will give us the biggest boost in energy or calories when it is stressed or overly hungry so reaching for French fries or a Kit Kat is actually our bodies way of being smart).

They tell you that emotional eating can be solved by quick introspection. That you just decide that you’re not really hungry for that cupcake or second helping and so you go for a walk; call a friend. It all sounds so easy-peazy.

0C0A393D-089A-4BE3-8BD0-C7DDC5AE0A08

I now believe that we have to take constant deep gazes upon our individual lives and ways of eating. I believe we have to pair the vague advice about eating “right” with the idiosyncrasies of our actual lived experience.

I believe we have to sit–and sit for long periods of time usually–with our specific relationship to hunger.

I started to see some very interesting parallels with how I treat my hunger and how I treat my life. I noticed that I often approach people and situations when I am starving. Nowhere is this more clear than in relationships.

I’d often wait until I was desperate for attention and admiration and adoration before I approached someone. I expected this person to fulfill my ravenous hunger for love and when they couldn’t fulfill the stupendous depth of my desire (no being could), I would grow angry, resentful, intensely sad and searching. I distrusted my hunger for love. I was disgusted by my hunger.

I wished my hunger would just disappear.

They tell us: don’t go grocery shopping when we are hungry because our physical hunger will transmute and sharpen our actual needs. I think we’ve all been there: we go in for toilet paper and toothpaste and leave with 99 cent pink notepads, Oreos, a new sports bra we didn’t need, Captain Crunch, five avocados, a sewing kit and headphones.

We are not always logical, rational beings. We are soft. We desire. We are oftentimes hungry.

This I know:

I need to stop waiting until I am starving to eat.

I need to stop waiting until I am starving to seek love.

I need to become comfortable and present with my hungers as they are.

I need to feed upon the things that will actual feed my hunger, not dull it and then intensify it much later elsewhere.

45D925E0-A4B3-4FA0-ADD7-45B30610DEF1

Our hunger for adoration, attention, or admiration are not shameful. What they are at their barest are desires for love and belonging and connection. Many of us were starved of these desires at some point in our lives. And then we meet people and buffet lines with our stomachs and hearts on empty.

And instead of getting the love we really want, the food that will sustain us, we are attracted to anything that will do the trick. The chocolate chip cookies. The guy who never has time for us. The Chinese take-out for a third night in a row. The friend who constantly makes us feel on edge and anxious.

It’s hard to make good decisions when you are starving.

But, we do not have to be hungry ghosts forever, waiting on something external to feed us.

Yes, we need other people. Self-care and self-love do not exclude connection and love from others.

Still, we must learn to feed ourselves consistently.

We must learn to recognize our hunger before it becomes acute and overtaking. Feed ourselves when our hunger levels are between 3-4 and not well past 0.

We must learn to see our hunger with accepting eyes and give ourselves what we need so that we approach our food and our friends and our partners from a place of satiety. From a place of enough where they become the exquisite dessert and not the whole damn meal.

Our hunger and the way we handle it can be a spiritual path in itself.

So, are you hungry? Are you starving?

What are you hungry for?

Are you looking for what you truly hunger for in a place that it can be found?

What are the places in your life that are starving for attention and for your gentle holding and care? Where can you make time to feed yourself? It’s okay to take time to learn. And relearn.

not all

My hope for all of us is that we learn to acknowledge our hunger and treat it with respect. This is not always so simple in a society that demonizes women’s hungers for food and anything beyond the bare minimum AND also expects women to feed everyone else.

“Good Women” don’t feed themselves first. “Good Women” starve.

Le sigh, the patriarchy sucks my friend but all is not lost.

Not everyone in the world, shit, not everyone in our country has the ability to feed themselves on a consistent basis. But, many of us do and for that, I am thankful everyday.

We can honor our hunger.

We do not have to wait until we are starving to feed ourselves.

Onward,

Hannah

Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat #2: An Interview with Jennifer Sterling

Hello Beautiful People,

Welcome to: Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat #2. (For Part One, here ya’ go…)

I’m constantly searching and scrounging around for personal growth stuff, especially in terms of eating. I entered the self-help world mainly through my haphazard, strained relationship with eating and my body.

I wanted a life free from constant body dissatisfaction and eating my feelings through the portal of Cadbury Roasted Almond Chocolate bars.

I found many wellness coaches, eating disorder specialists, health gurus and body positivity warriors. Many of them white women. And while I gained a lot from their level of mastery, I wanted a more culturally nuanced view.

Someone who got why if “eating clean” meant forsaking jollof rice, I was, um, not gonna do it.

Enter Jennifer Sterling. Jennifer is the Holistic Nutritionist and Wellness Coach of my fucking dreams. She’s a former pole dance instructor, went to culinary school, and is well-versed in black girl wellness. Her weekly emails about healing from trauma and learning to nurture ourselves with food instead of numb ourselves, buoy me upwards every time I read them. She doesn’t believe in diets or that health only comes in one size. She is also the founder of the Black Girl Healing Project.

She is amazing and has gracefully agreed to be interviewed here. I hope you enjoy and definitely, definitely check out her site! You won’t regret it.

Jennifer Sterling
Jennifer Sterling

Please tell us all a little about yourself, Jennifer. What are three things we would not know about you just by looking at you (weird, random factoids welcome!)

I am a Holistic Nutritionist, plant-based chef and creative arts therapy candidate. I help women learn to eat intuitively and nourish themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Three things that no one would know about me by just looking at me? I taught pole dancing for about 8 years, I owned an allergen-free baking business for about 6 years, and I play the alto saxophone.

What led you to become a holistic nutritionist?

My interest in nutrition came from a desire to heal myself. When I was in college, I started experiencing recurrent yeast infections, headaches, and fatigue. I saw several doctors, and everyone swore there was nothing wrong with me – my blood work came back normal and it appeared that everything was fine. After a few years of feeling like I was getting nowhere, I decided to take my health into my own hands and do a little research on my own. As I was researching, I discovered that the way I was eating was contributing to my symptoms. I changed the way I was eating and many of my symptoms disappeared – discovering the power of food for myself, made me want to share it with others, especially since it was never mentioned anytime I saw a doctor. I didn’t want other women to have to suffer for as long as I did.

What issues do you find particularly affecting women of color with eating/body image? Are these issues being addressed in your opinion?

The issues I see affecting women of color have more to do with bigger societal issues – the thought that women of color can’t or don’t suffer from eating disorders, and women of color feeling as though they have to look a certain way based on societal norms.

There are some conversations that are happening around these issues – some acknowledgement that anyone can have an eating disorder, no matter what their shape or size. Sometimes, it is assumed that only a thin person can have an eating disorder, and this is not the case.

I think with the anti-diet movement that’s happening now, a lot of body image issues are being addressed – as more practitioners come to understand the dangers of dieting for weight loss, there is more talk about body kindness, self-love and acceptance. I think these conversations and understandings will be helpful for all women.

B5076D92-228C-4655-BC73-24B8354F0C1F

What is the one piece of wisdom you would offer to a woman wishing to heal her relationship with food?

Let go of dieting and everything that goes with it – counting calories, weigh-ins, etc. – and focus instead on the needs of your body. There is no one size fits all diet and 95% of people who diet end up gaining the weight back plus some within 5 years – learning to eat in a way that makes you feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally is much more sustainable and supportive of your overall health than eating to control the size of your body.

What mainstream nutritionist advice or guidance do you find problematic, especially in regard to women of color?

That you need to be or have to be vegan to be healthy. I see this a lot on social media, especially on accounts run by women of color. Being vegan is great, if it works for your body – if you feel energized, satisfied, and well when you eat that way long-term. It’s not the only way, however. For some, eating high-quality animal protein is helpful.

In general, I find any nutrition advice that only focuses on one way of eating to be problematic. We’re not all the same, and we don’t all have the same needs when it comes to food and eating.

What is your favorite meal? Dessert?

My favorite meal…that’s a tricky one! I love mac and cheese, pizza, and tacos. What can I say, I’m a nutritionist, but I love comfort food. Who doesn’t!?!

My favorite dessert. Hmmm….sweet potato pie!

And a curiosity of mine: can you give us your inspiration behind your sign-off, “hugs and curves”?

For sure! It was inspired by the years I spent as a pole dancing instructor – so much of that work was about helping women to celebrate and appreciate their curves. That sign-off is meant to be an extension of that work – offering support with a hug and a little encouragement to embrace your curves.

So, please remind us again, where can we find you?

You can find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @jennmsterling or visit my website: jennifersterling.com for more info about me and my work.

Thank you so much Jennifer!

I hope this interview has helped some of you out there. Eating does not have to be a struggle and I am learning this along with you. I too have succumbed to notions that there is a “right” way to eat and look, but I am happy to say, that this type of thinking is fading away. I truly hope all of us can find the freedom to be our best selves in our bodies, and that we can learn to treat them with grace and love through the way we eat.

Onward,

Hannah

 

Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat #1: A Primer


C480BDFB-7EAD-408A-B9D0-595054D10849

MARTIN: But if there is someone who’s listening to our conversation, who is perhaps of color, who does not recognize herself in the narrative–or even himself let’s say–in the narrative that they typically see about eating disorders, what’s your message to them, to him or her?

Ms. ARMSTRONG: You’re not alone. You know, this disease is already isolating. Don’t allow your skin tone to make you feel more isolated. I have met hundreds of black women who are suffering. I get emails daily from people all over the country, so I know that you can get to the other side of this because I got to the other side of this. You deserve a happy life and you can, you know, learn to have your feelings and not use food.

-From an NPR interview with Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat author Stephanie Covington Armstrong

What is your relationship with food ?

Is it an abusive lover? Do you feel equally torn and tortured, pushed and pulled, loved and discarded?

Is it motherly? Is food one of the only reliable ways you can feel hugged from the inside, comforted, protected by life’s blows?

Is food a sworn enemy? A sometimes friend? A sisterly confidante?

I believe that we can use all aspects of our lives to heal, to connect, to get to know ourselves and the world on a deeper level. Most articles and blog posts that exist about food are all about WHAT we SHOULD be eating. We neglect the how, the emotional, the sensual, the spiritual aspects of eating.

And black women and women of color’s diverse relationships with food are widely ignored and cheapened.

The title of this blog series is taken from Stephanie Covington Armstrong’s memoir, Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia.

Covington dispels the notion that eating disorders are a “white girl problem” only to be discussed at elite private schools and Ivy League campuses. She was born to a single mother and raised working-class.

Girls from the hood struggle with eating.

Black girls from suburbia struggle with eating.

Black women who are fierce and all things #blackgirlmagic struggle with eating.

And you don’t have to be diagnosed or have an eating disorder to examine the way you eat or to feel confused or hurt by the way you eat.

Looking at our relationship with food may seem mundane, myopic, another addition to “first world problems”. Whatever. At this point, I am done denying myself valuable insights all because a culture that doles out superficial judgment on anything that has to do with the bodies of women says it’s pathetic.

B5076D92-228C-4655-BC73-24B8354F0C1F

I believe what we can learn from our relationship with food can be life changing, spiritual, a way to full engage and meet ourselves in the present moment every day.

As holiday season rolls around, there is a lot of fear-based promulgations about food. We are encouraged to stuff ourselves and to be zealously terrified of weight gain. We are told to stay away from the cookie table and please our Auntie who spent all day cooking. We are called fat by our uncles and told we are showing off when we let people know about our food allergies.

I don’t want to talk about food that way.

There is a real lack of resources and discussions on food that is geared towards women of color. Most books I’ve read about establishing healthy emotional relationships with food and eating are written by white women. And to be sure, I have found many of these books highly useful and illuminating (like Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God).

Often, when I do find books written by black women concerning food and eating, they are usually about recipes or going vegan or marketing some specific diet. Again, useful information, but I want something that is a bit less prescriptive.

Here is my offering. When I write, I write what I want to read.

And I want to read about a black woman engaging with food from both a spiritual and sensual level.

In this blog series, I’ll be interviewing the amazing holistic nutritionist and founder of the Black Girl Healing Project, Jennifer Sterling.

There will be a Self-Help That Doesn’t Suck on Geneen Roth’s, Women, Food, and God.

There will be a guide to using food as a site for meditation inspired by Abiola Abrams.

There will be a blog “conversation” with Stephanie Covington Armstrong’s Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat, Becky Thompson’s A Hunger So Wide and Deep: A Multi-Racial View of Women’s Eating Problems and Roxane Gay’s Hunger.

Through it all, I will be sharing personal pieces of my own history with eating. The highs and the lows. The nasty seventh grade box salads and my long-time affair with Cadbury Eggs.

I am so excited to share.

Not because I am some master on intuitive eating or whatever. I am excited because I hope that these blog posts will bring you some much needed peace and openness around food.

Because I have so much to learn and digest myself around how to eat myself.

Because we deserve to have peaceful relationships with food, eating, and our bodies.

I urge you to gently look at your relationship with food not with an air of judgment, disgust, disappointment or comparison.

You are not a problem to be fixed.

Instead, I ask you to notice. Notice what thoughts arise about what you “should” be eating. How you feel about caloric dense foods. How would you characterize your family and culture’s relationship with food? What does hunger feel like? How about fullness?

Your relationship with food can tell you so much about what you expect from life. What your fears are. What deep seated insecurities are driving you. What you truly need to be happy.

Maybe you have a totally sane and peaceful relationship with food: you eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, don’t overworry about nutrition and “perfect eating”, feel energetic and satiated in your body.

Awesome, awesome.

But maybe you are a classic binger. Maybe you have a “sugar addiction”. Maybe you try a new diet every week. Maybe you feel out of control away from your diet plans or whenever you go to a restaurant. Maybe you fear being fat with an alarm you recognize is not healthy. Maybe you count calories like its your job. Maybe you know that the foods you are eating make you feel sluggish and ill but you  can’t seem to stop eating them anyways.

And maybe you are anorexic or bulimic.

Wherever you are, know that you are not alone.  You are not bad. You are not wrong.

Your relationship with food is a mirror to your life.

Please know also, that this blog series or even reading books about food is NOT a substitute for seeking out help. I am not a mental health professional. If you believe you need extra help around eating and are harming yourself, PLEASE seek out the help of a medical professional.

(The National Eating Disorder Helpline)

I look forward to growing with you here.

Onward,

Hannah