May 15, 2012

Foodie Reflection: Fat & Black Women

A number of the blogs and feeds I follow have carried intense (and intensely emotional) discussions in the last month or two about obesity and black women. A series of recent articles, including one in the New York Times , have questioned why so many black women are obese, perhaps even morbidly obese.

Objections to the tones of  these articles have arisen around the apparent lack of solutions, empathy, or concern for the health of the women whose "issues" are being dissected and discussed.

I don't know if more black women are obese, compared to other women. If that is true, then what does it mean, and is there a spiritual component?

I have been a variety of sizes as an adult, and those changes have often reflected what was happening in my life at the time. I have jokingly said it took ten years to lose the "baby fat", but it is all gone now. What happened, and why?

As an American woman of African descent, here is my take on this subject. I am not a qualified dietitian, health care provider, or nutritionist. But here's what I've witnessed and learned from others:

Food means many things to many people. If it means deep comfort, things are going to go bad. One of the most powerful prayers I ever prayed regarding healthy eating was short and simple: "Dear Lord, help me to love the food that is good for me and hate the food that is bad for me." Praying that prayer consistently was a turning point for me. I literally asked God to reset my palate and change my desires away from things that would damage my health and my well being and my ability be healthy in the Earth and do His work.

I made a commitment to cooking whole foods from scratch on a regular basis. That required eliminating something else from my schedule. I did just that. I do not shop exclusively at Whole Foods Market, although I enjoy buying treats there. I shop at a regular supermarket. I shop about twice per week because I purchase a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits that lose their nutritional value after too many days in the fridge. I do bulk cooking//prep of certain foods (brown rice, beans, veggie salads, etc.) so that I know I will always have something to eat at the end of a workday.  I use very few frozen, pre-made dinners or meals. I eat very little meat because I can buy a wide variety of vegetables for the same dollar amount that one roast will cost.

I cared less about being slim and more about being well. These two are not necessarily the same. I began to consider food as fuel and not as a retreat into pleasure. I worked on building social events around activity instead of around sitting at a table (in a home, or in a restaurant) and eating.

I continue to pay attention to the true cost of my food. I went into a fast food restaurant recently to buy a soda (yep!) and read the posted menu prices for the combination/extra value meals. For the price of one "extra value meal", I could buy an entire chicken. From that chicken, I could have wings, real chicken nuggets, meat for a chicken salad, and then make real broth from the carcass. Suddenly, that "extra value meal" looked outrageously expensive.

Someone has called food the 'last acceptable addiction." We all  have to eat in order to live, so I don't know if I would call excess eating an addiction, but I learned many years ago  moderation was a good thing, a thing to be pursued and valued.

Still, I am disturbed and hurt by what seems to be a constant media barrage suggesting that black women are fatter than all other women, thereby less attractive, less disciplined, less feminine, and less valued/valuable. That's a dangerous message. It's a dangerous message because when a society begins to categorize subgroups in that way, bad things almost always follow. I have worked with the public for enough years to know  there are many women of all colors who are overweight and the overweight status is more often tied to income than to color.

So, is there a spiritual component to all of this? I think so.

If we want to move beyond where we are in our self-images and ideas, we can't afford to listen to the world (the worldly media, especially) tell us how we should look and how we should not look. Nothing I see in a magazine or on a site should be a role model for my appearance. The ability of Photoshop and other software to change and remake someone in deference to an editor's choice means that media cannot be my model. I am better off eating healthy foods, grabbing a salad once per day, drinking four glasses of water a day, and letting nature take its course.

Finally, who values me, and why? Ultimately, I am God's child whether I am slim or morbidly obese. As God's child, I can make and sustain good choices about health, wellness, and eating. Regardless of my choice, I am still God's child, worthy of the love of the Creator of the Universe.  God does not love me less because I am not "pretty" according to the standards of the world.God's love and presence can motivate me to make good choices. But even if I don't, that love assures me I am valued and valuable. As I am valued and valuable in God's eyes, I am freed from always chasing the moving target of human approval and human acceptance.

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