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.
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.
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.