For National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (March 2-8), I wanted to discuss eating disorders as it pertains to black women and girls.
Black Women don’t have eating disorders according to the black community. According to us, that’s just not something that we can get. Physicians will act as if it’s mostly a non-existent thing. Society will tell you only young, heterosexual white women can have it. I’ll even do you one further, people are certain that people with eating disorders are already thin. I have news for you, black women, we can absolutely have eating disorders. Even more, we are more likely to have certain eating disorders more than white women. Also, you do not have to be underweight to be anorexic. You can be at a normal or higher weight. It’s called AAN, Atypical Anorexia Nervosa.
It’s time to educate non-white communities about eating disorders. We have only just in recent times started uncovering body dysmorphia (although we still aren’t calling it that) in the black community. We have lived for too long with misinformation that we cannot develop eating disorders. It’s time we uncover some stats and figures to put into perspective what we are dealing with.
In the black community, our focus is on not being overweight. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of African Americans. 3.2 million African Americans have diabetes and 33% of black people don’t know it. There is also Vitamin D deficiency that leads to all sorts of cancers and lupus.These health concerns can stem from an unhealthy diet that result from a well known historical event. The enslavement of black people or the availability of economically friendly health foods in urban areas can attribute to this. For years the focus has been to make black people aware of bad dieting practices and steer us toward healthier eating habits.
What hasn’t been accounted for in this discussion are eating disorders in the black community. According to National Eating Disorders, “People of color with self-acknowledged eating and weight concerns were significantly less likely than white participants to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms, despite similar rates of eating disorder symptoms across ethnic groups. (Becker, 2003).”
People of color are less likely to receive help for their eating disorders. The reason you won’t receive help for your eating disorder is because you are perceived not to have one. There are a few terrible things that come with generalizing and stereotyping people. It is a known fact that African Americans struggle with diet related illnesses like cardiovascular disease. This is a disease associated with stress and a fatty diet.
Curvier figures are associated with black women. These are body types that are either looked at as being attractive, or thought of as not skipping meals. Things like, “she has definitely been eating her greens and cornbread”, are said when a woman with a shapely figure and fuller bottom walks by. Sure, a woman with a thinner less shapely figure may be questioned about whether or not she’s eating. However, eating disorders are otherwise looked over. One thing that may attribute to this is that beauty standards in the black community are different than societal standards. Being “thick in the right places” has been a gold standard in Black America. How we become thick in the right places is unaccounted for, especially when you are starting off at a higher weight to achieve it. The methods you go about losing weight in your arms, waist, and shedding back fat isn’t questioned as much. More than likely, your doctor is just happy that you are losing it.
Here is the thing, Black Women go through A LOT. We experience microaggressions and racism. You absolutely know about being accused of being angry and aggressive. You can be upset about something that affects your white counterparts as well. If you express it in the same way she does, you are accused of being angry or aggressive. We are face discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s hard to convince HR as a black person that something is happening to you in the workplace. Most people don’t want the trouble of dealing with the paperwork. So, things go unchecked for fear of losing their job because poverty is more likely to affect you as a black person. You’re busy trying to break generational curses of financial woes in your family. You can’t do that living in a box on the side of the street. Most people cope with stress in the form of eating. The last thing anyone thinks is that a black woman would cope with any of this through an eating disorder. Black women experience depression at a higher rate than white women do. Eating disorders are often a way for people to cope with depression.
Eating disorders that affect the black community most are Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Bulimia. Binge Eating is classified as frequently consuming unusually large amounts of food in one sitting and feeling that eating behavior is out of control. Bulimia is an emotional disorder involving distortion of body image. It is an obsessive desire to lose weight. This is can be in bouts of extreme overeating are followed by depression and self-induced vomiting, over exercising, purging, or fasting. However those aren’t the only ones that a black woman can suffer from.
One article suggested that the more black women advance in class, socio-economically or education, then she is more likely to become Anorexic. Stephanie Covington Armstrong wrote in her book, Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat, about her struggles with eating disorders before getting help. She said, “It’s like an addict sampling drugs: you do just a little here, a little there, and then eventually they’re doing you,”.
If you can identify with this article, and you feel like its time for you to get help you can go to https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline . They list tools to get on the right track. It’s time that Black Women take charge of all things that affect our health. Eating disorders are just as much of a health concern as eating the wrong foods. It’s the silent torturer that goes unchecked, and it’s time we speak up about it.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to be used as medical advice. Please consult your primary care doctor if you have any medical or mental health concerns.