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.
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.
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.
I look forward to growing with you here.