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

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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.

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Onward,

Hannah

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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 #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.

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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.

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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