Healthy Lifestyles: Battling Stereotypes and Standards Through Self Love

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With the summer coming to an end, this time ushers in a new sense of order. Students are going back to school and fall affairs are starting to be arranged. Many of us are considering the daily routines we want to keep up entering this new season due to the need to now reorganize our lives. As the hectic yet playful energy of summer bids us farewell, this is a perfect time to focus on self work and empowerment. 

Lately I’ve started reevaluating my own health habits. I realized I’ve been so caught up in both work and fun that I’ve completely fallen off on any type of health routine. I can’t remember the last time I went to the gym or even made a healthy grocery list and shopped accordingly. Due to my own lacking, I’ve noticed my life starting to feel disorganized. I’m more tired than usual, and there’s a decline in my mental health and personal body image. I’m either gaining or losing weight in all the wrong places and there’s this constant feeling of being “off.” I know that in order to get rid of these sentiments, I needed to make a switch to a more healthy lifestyle.

In this day and age, I believe it’s important to emphasize the healthy in a healthy lifestyle. This is because when we’re down on ourselves, it’s easy to find solutions that are actually more detrimental to our well-being. When changing your lifestyle, it’s important that it comes from a place of self love and not self hate. 

I know this is easier said than done for many of us. There are unrealistic body standards directed at us in culture and through media that critique every part of our bodies. Both women and men face this but some may have it harder than others. This can cause many of us (myself included) to fall down a rabbit hole of self resentment because our bodies have too much or too little of one thing. This obviously takes a toll on one’s mental state and can give rise to extreme eating habits like the “Yo-yo” diet, binging, purging and more. While you may feel like you’re doing something with a new relationship with food, if it’s a toxic one then that’s not a relationship, it’s an eating disorder. 

Registered dietitians do a great job at directing people towards more healthy food journeys, but there is a very apparent lack of representation in the field. The Commission on Dietetic Registration reported that 80 percent of professional dietitians self identify as white. Only six percent of dietitians are Hispanic or Latino, five percent are Asian and three percent are Black. This can lead many people of color to feeling lesser for what they eat because their cultural foods have been deemed unhealthy by white people. 

In the New York Times article, “Is American Dietetics a White-Bread World? These Dietitians Think So,” dietitian Jessica Wilson recounts her school training as the only Black woman in her class. During her studies, Wilson had to take a course on “ethnic diets.” 

“It was not, ‘These are interesting and awesome,’” she said to author Priya Krishna. “It is, ‘These are why these diets are bad. Next class.’”

“Mexican food was dismissed as greasy,” the article continued to state. “Indian food was heavy. Ms. Wilson was taught to prescribe a bland “kale-and-quinoa” diet. When she started treating patients — including many who, like her, are people of color or identify as queer — she learned how much those identities informed their perspectives on health, and how little she’d been taught about that.”

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reported that Black people are less likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder even if they express the same symptoms as white patients. Consequently they are more likely to have their eating disorders for a longer period of time. Black teenagers are also 50% more likely to have bulimia. 

In the article, “Why Black Women Struggling With Eating Disorders Are Ignored” author Tanay Hudson speaks with Maryland dietitian Patience Owunwanne. Owunwanne explains how Black women are often overlooked when it comes to eating disorders because of a number of reasons. First off, they don’t fit the stereotype. The common eating disorder stereotype is white, extremely thin and brittle (search Lily Collins in ‘To the Bone’ and there’s your answer). 

“If you look healthy or curvy and you have these symptoms, a lot of my clients have said that doctors have told them that they are fine and if anything they should lose weight,” Owunwanne said. 

Owunwanne also points out how many Black women face the societal pressure of fulfilling the “Strong Black woman” image put on them. This causes them to keep their disorders to themselves instead of seeking help. Additionally this can also gaslight them-just because someone has an eating disorder, that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong. 

Lastly Owunwanne notes that doctors commonly assess our health based on the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale. This is problematic because it “doesn’t take race, age, body structure or gender into account.” The article highlights how the BMI scale was created in 1830 by a white man based on other white men. 

Going back to changing our lifestyles, it’s so important to take these aspects into consideration when forming new habits around our physical health. We have to look towards our own personal well being, instead of trying to adhere to the standards and stereotypes imposed on us by others trying to harm us. While there may be a lack of representation in the dietetic field, there are still many Black and BIPOC dietitians that are changing the narrative of healthy food and putting on for their communities

So, instead of going to Fergie or Gweneth Paltrow for your next diet recommendation, check out one of these ladies below:

Shana Spence, MS, RDN, CDN

Nijya Noble MS, RDN, LD

Esther Tambe, MS, RD, CDN, CDCES

Kim Rose, RDN

Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN

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