RH Web Exclusives : Food Fights - by Shanita Ealey

A Smart + Strong Site
Subscribe to:
Real Health magazine
E-newsletters
Join Real Health: Facebook MySpace Twitter Twitter YouTube
Back to home » RH Web Exclusives » September 2013
More Web Exclusives:
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
November 2012
September 2012
August 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006

emailprint


September 20, 2013

Food Fights

by Shanita Ealey

When people hear about eating disorders, many think anorexia and bulimia. But binge eating is more common—and black women aren’t immune.

Stephanie Armstrong Covington knows all about the misperceptions associated with eating disorders and black women. During an eight-year period, Covington battled with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. “It was a horrible experience because there is so little information about it and I felt very isolated,” she says. “I also felt like I was falling outside of the strong black woman archetype, which felt very shameful.”

For black women, the belief that women of color aren’t troubled by eating disorders can cause embarrassment and denial among sufferers as well as their friends and family—and that prevents them from getting needed medical treatment. Today Covington is a spokesperson for the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) and author of Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat, a Story of Bulimia. But she remembers a time she visited her family, very thin but also able to down large helpings of food: “I could eat for five hours straight and people would say, ‘Oh my God you never gain any weight!’ I would think to myself, That is because I was in the bathroom 10 times. Did you not know that I was throwing up?”
Blogger Erika Nicole Kendall, who formerly weighed 330 pounds and chronicled her weight loss journey to becoming a “personal trainer, nutritionist and bikini competitor,” discusses with Ebony.com the role denial plays in eating disorders. According to Kendall, such denial in the black community can lead to binge eating being confused with obesity. And the confusion is shared by some in the medical field, says Gayle Brooks, PhD, vice president and chief clinical officer at the Renfrew Center of Florida.

Unlike obesity, binge eating disorder (BED) is officially classified as a mental health disorder in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5). But like obesity, BED can lead to severe physical health consequences, including reduced bone density, muscle loss, dried out hair and an abnormally slow heart rate.

BED’s mental health connection manifests when people eat large amounts of food because they’re being driven by something other than hunger. “There’s a tendency to eat when you’re not hungry,” Brooks explains. “And [there are] other cues, such as emotions or stress, that trigger food consumption.”

BED is a psychiatric and psychological problem that is more about the ways a person deals with emotional stress, trauma, anxiety and depression; obesity, in contrast, often has more to do with eating a nutritional diet and getting proper exercise or perhaps dealing with medical issues such as thyroid problems. BED is defined by recurrent and persistent episodes of binge eating, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA.

In addition, Brooks says, “A binge isn’t necessarily defined by eating a certain number of calories; it’s just consuming a larger quantity of food than what would be considered normal.”

What’s more, American culture may play a role in the development of BED. The excessive amounts of food advertisements on billboards, the Web and TV that bombard us each day teach people to view food as a source of comfort and pleasure. “We learn to turn to food to manage emotional situations at an early age,” Brooks says. “And even though we are a culture that is obsessed with thinness, we are also a culture that is obsessed with food.”

Interestingly, the classification of BED as a mental health disorder has opened the way for continued discussion about eating disorders and their impact in the black community. Although NEDA states that BED seems to affect African Americans and whites equally, Brooks says that there does seem to be some differences in terms of cultures and ethnicities in terms of the types of eating disorders that seem to be most predominant.

For example, blacks and whites are affected by different cultural pressures to meet an ultra-thin beauty ideal. “There may be less pressure or emphasis [for African Americans] on trying to diet and engage in behaviors that lead to weight loss,” Brooks explains. “If there’s less pressure [to be super skinny], then it may be that this is protective in some ways and stops an African-American person from moving into a binge-purging cycle.” But, she warns, blacks could be more prone to binge eating instead.

But the bigger issue is not just eating disorders. In the black community, many people fear talking about mental health issues in general. “We’ve got to expand this dialogue to really look at the complex interplay between obesity and eating disorders,” Brooks says. “We’ve got to help the African-American community understand that this is an illness that requires something more, and we need to educate doctors and others in the health community as well.”

The key to addressing eating disorders such as BED—and other mental health issues—is by breaking the silence, Covington says. “When I was 12 years old, I was raped by my uncle,” she shares. “After that, I shut down emotionally. Eventually, if you shut down, there are going to be some ramifications from that; [your issues] are going to come out in some way.”

Recovering from eating disorders, or any mental health issue, requires getting the proper treatment and support. “You can’t do it alone,” Covington says. “We have to be willing to go outside ourselves to seek the help we need.”

Search: Eating disorders, African-American women, binge eating, BED, Stephanie Armstrong Covington, Erika Nicole Kendall, weight loss, bulimia, anorexia, Gayle Brooks, PhD, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, mental health, hunger, National Eating Disorders Association, food advertisements

Scroll down to comment on this story.



Name:

(will display; 2-50 characters)

Email:

(will NOT display)

City:

(will display; optional)

Comment (500 characters left):

(Note: The Real Health team review all comments before they are posted. Please do not include either ":" or "@" in your comment. The opinions expressed by people providing comments are theirs alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart + Strong, which is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by people providing comments.)

Comments require captcha.
Please enter this number for verification:

| Posting Rules



Show comments (0 total)

 
REAL HEALTH TV
Footage from the front lines
Actor Seth Rogen gives his opening statement before a Senate hearing on Alzheimer's Research.
Hydeia Broadbent Kara Young Montel Williams
> More Real Health TV
TALK TO US
Tell us what you think
Poll
Do you avoid going into the water at beaches because of possible pollution?
Yes
No
Sometimes

   

Survey
How do you feel about sex?

more surveys

Quiz
The Dating Pool
 

[ about Smart + Strong | about Real Health | advertising | contact us | advertising policy ]
© 2014 Smart + Strong. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy
Smart + Strong® is a registered trademark of CDM Publishing, LLC.