I am not sure when it happened, but since when did eating right and exercising become exclusively for white people?
Since I’ve been on my fitness and wellness journey, I have heard from many black people: “I am acting or trying to be white”. Hearing this for the first time and now hearing this often always leaves me flabbergasted. There is no way my commitment to be the healthiest version of myself means I want to have white skin. Even in 2021, people associate health and wellness to whiteness. Growing up in a diverse community, people who looked like me have always questioned my healthy lifestyle.
As a kid, at school lunch, my mother would pack me whole-wheat turkey sandwiches with lettuce, grapefruit, and string cheese while me friends ate Lunchables, Pop tarts, and Doritos. N
There is a misconception that black people are not healthy (and can’t be healthy) and I’m on a mission to challenge that.
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Culture shapes healthy lifestyles not race
I ate healthy because that was what my parents taught me! My parents weren’t raised on processed foods and McDonalds. I came from a family of famers and athletes so eating healthy and exercising was a daily practice.
My parents were influenced by their parents to eat healthy, they had witness other family members struggling with sedentary lifestyles. There are many people in my family plagued by disease–obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cancers. And many of my families’ plagues comes directly from lifestyle choices and poor lifestyle habits. This isn’t a race thing it is a culture thing.
I am firm believer that culture shapes our lifestyle: what we eat, how we live, and what we consume. Witnessing my great aunts and cousins losing their limbs due to diabetic complications had a profound impact on my lifestyle choices. On the flipside, I have older family members who are in great health and can do just about anything.
Why do we automatically believe that black people can’t be healthy?
Bad health can affect all genders and groups of people, but certain genders and races assess a higher risk. African Americans are almost “twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.” We are also likely to have diabetic complications including amputation and death.
The risk for diabetes (stroke and high blood pressure) is higher among black people, because we are also more likely to be obese. Although we lead the obesity rate in America, obesity affects everyone and it is a national epidemic.
As of 2016, 37.5 percent of men over the age 20 are obese and 56.1% of women over 20 are obese. If we break these statics down, we can determine more women are likely to suffer from obesity than men. That could be because of bearing children, body composition, hormone production, and low body confidence. *Notice these statistics does not include overweight people*
There are so many reasons why obesity continues to outwit scientist. In recent year we are discovering that certain medical conditions, prescriptions, and mental health can lead to weight gain and obesity.
Why are Black Americans at higher risk for obesity
Although obesity and disease rates are high for everyone, African-Americans are at greater risk. This is because of a plethora of things. We are not able to control food deserts and lack of resources, but what we can control is our food choices and sedentary lifestyles.
Are we willing to modify soul food?
Soul food is a common cuisine in the African American community. However, it was born out of trauma! Our ancestors ate scraps to survive harsh conditions in slavery and from there soul food was birthed. But we don’t have to continue to eat that way, there are new ways to fix soul food!
Instead of using pork to cook collard greens or vegetables try using a turkey leg or even chopped onions and carrots instead. Swap vegetable stock for chicken stock when cooking stews and use olive oil for butter. These are simple substitutions that can cut down on calories, sodium, and fat.
Breaking up with fast food for good
We like to assume soul food is the only wrench in our diet, but it is not. Fast-food and processed food is consume by African Americans and Americans more than soul food.
According to the CDC, African Americans had a higher rate of fast-food consumption than non- Hispanic whites in 2018. Even with African Americans leading fast-food consumption, 37 percent (84.8 million)of Americans eat fast-food daily. I don’t have to say how bad fast-food is for you, we already know.
Some researchers would say Black Americans have become so unhealthy because of lack of education, access to healthcare, food desserts, and consumer pressures from target marketing (multicultural marketing). This is all true, but this is only part of the truth. We must take the initiative to control what we can control. Black Americans have crazy spending power and we must invest some of that spending in our health.
Education is the key to get black people healthy
The library is free and most of us have access to a smartphone. Black women are killing with higher education, so the lack of education argument is null and void.
We have the education, we just must apply it!
I am friends with people in my community that put their health first. I also know that thirty years ago African Americans weren’t as obese as they are now. In the last thirty years, we have become the face and the poster child for poor health. But we were not always known as the symbol of obesity. Take a look at these pictures below:
Etta James: Jazz singer, curvaceous
UNSPECIFIED – JANUARY 01: Photo of Etta JAMES; Posed studio portrait of Etta James (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)
Aretha Franklin: Mother of Soul, full-body, tall
Franklin circa 1965. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Dancers- in the 1960s
Students at Howard University 1970:
Soul Train 1970s:
69 boyz- tootsie roll
Apple Music itune
See, we weren’t always obese or even morbidly obese as we are now and as media portrays us. Most of us knew family members, friends, and loved ones who had extra weight, but that was few and far between. Now obesity has staked claim to African Americans across the country.
Recent studies have shown rural areas have seen a rise in obesity more so than urban areas. So we can’t continue to say it is due to lack of resources or access to healthcare. It is what we eat and it is a sedentary lifestyle!
I remember, my father would tell us stories about his grandma’s cooking. Early in the morning, breakfast would consist of ham, hog jog, butter biscuits, grits, sausage and eggs every day! They weren’t affected by it, because they worked on the farm. The more you move the more calories you expend! Remember, weight loss is simple: calories in and calories out.
THE communities THickness OBSESSION
It seems like thickness is a term associated ONLY with black women. It can be hard determining what is thick and what is obese. BMI charts aren’t the best measurement to accurately determine healthy weight.
But, what we can say is, “thick” back then, is not the same thick of today. Women who are deemed thick are usually women who have wide hips, slim waist, large back sides, and shapely thighs and legs. That body type in Black American culture is highly “prized” and the ideal body in our communities. But now that body type has been exaggerated. Butts and Breast are bigger than ever and often surgically enhanced. Black men express their love for thickness and black women appeal to them even when it undermines their health(that is not love).
Body Shaming has been used to promote unhealthy bodies.
On the flip side, in White American culture, the body ideal was a slender figure with ample breasts. Icons such as Kate Upton, Christie Brinkley and Brooke Shields have been the standard of beauty. Now, body activists have challenged beauty standards. Meanwhile, in our community women are so thick, before we turn 70, they have to get knee replacement, they have arthritis, joint pain, skin discoloration and other complications associated with excess weight! Thickness has become so popular it has spread to the masses where white women, non-black women, black women are seeking out dangerous surgeries to achieve a body ideal that isn’t even natural to black women!
The rise in Weight gain and obesity for black women is a unique problem that is caused by stress, depression, lack of support, a history of abuse, community environment, and medical negligence. If black women were to lose weight and eat healthy, they would receive push back from other black women and men, from the church, the ‘culture’, and their own families. Black women are kept in this weight gaining box., shamed with the phrases “don’t lose too much weight” or “don’t get too skinny” and my favorite “why you trynna be in white.”
Black women are shamed for being over weight but, that doesn’t make sense because 63 percent of white women are now also overweight and or obese. Obesity is a threat to all women and all Americans. It makes you wonder why a community wants black women to remain boxed in.
Healthy is for all races, all genders, and all people
Good health is for everybody! Vegetables, fruits, lean protein, healthy fats, and grains isn’t for one particular racial group. It is for everyone. The problem is, we turn a blind eye to what we are consuming because we are addicted and conditioned to like a certain taste! Certain racial groups are conditioned to like a particular thing due to culture and tradition. If you travel the world you will find dishes and cuisines that are healthy.
The Western Diet of today, has no root in culture or tradition. Instead, it is rooted in sugar, addiction, and instant gratification. Massive food corporations, media, food companies, and restaurants have contributed to the rise in obesity and obesity based stereotypes, but it is still a CHOICE.
I understand everyone wants autonomy over their bodies and rightfully so. But listen to this, when you are sick, other people will be taking care of your body and if you are very sick they will be making decisions for you. Being healthy is not being skinny and being healthy is not being obese and suffering from preventable diseases and complications. There are people who are overweight who are healthy but it is always better to be safe than sorry later.
I am committed to make the right choice and to continue to spread awareness and help those who are struggling to make the right choice. I will live life and eat what I please, but I will also be mindful about what I choose!
What about you?
*Obesity and excess weight can be also be caused by medications, thyroid problems, underlying disease, depression and food addiction*
Post updated 3/1/2021