Saturday, October 23, 2021

Being a Part of One Race Is Costing Me

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By Diana Brannon, PHD, Wellness Editor

I grew up watching my mom eat. I loved to help her pack lunch for my younger brother and sisters, as well as pack a healthy snack for the evening dinner. Every lunch she packed contained vegetables, lean protein and a healthy snack or two. She carefully catered her meals to our diets—okay, to mine. From the time I could remember, my mom’s dinner was a high-protein lunch with a salad and an entire roll from Red Lobster.

On weekends, when my mom and I had a day off, she wouldn’t have one less meal. She’d make slow-cooked meat and vegetables with rice to make an earthy, hearty meal for my siblings. She’d provide all of us with an easy-to-eat treat—she once made me brownies and yogurt. But sometimes she’d add an extra-healthy snack like an apple or a baked sweet potato to the day’s meal—a tactic to make sure we all got something we really wanted.

As my mother grew older, she studied a lot more about health and nutrition. She learned about the importance of eating more vegetables, whole grains and legumes, as well as ways to curb her cravings for chocolate. But rather than actively encouraging eating more vegetables, my mom let me pick out my healthy lunch, snacks and dinners as long as they tasted good. Even if I didn’t necessarily love what she packed on the table, I trusted that she’d make sure that I got enough nutrients without too much effort.

With that background, my mom treats me as a responsible person who always eats well and limits my portions. Whenever I ask her about how I’m eating, she always tells me I have plenty of food and that “it’s just the right amount.”

When I think about the way my mother treats me, it’s hard not to suspect that I may not be allowed to eat nearly as well as she does because she wants me to put my needs second.

With that background, my mom treats me as a responsible person who always eats well and limits my portions. Whenever I ask her about how I’m eating, she always tells me I have plenty of food and that “it’s just the right amount.”

It’s not uncommon for people to put health above other priorities, and it’s also true that plenty of people of color focus on diet when attempting to achieve a healthy lifestyle. But even when you’re not trying to look slimmer, we still have to accept that eating healthily comes with a price. There’s a fine line between looking healthy and being unhealthy—and the social and financial burdens of trying to achieve a healthy lifestyle can make us feel as if we’re not being good enough.

And this stigma lingers beyond the realities of dieting. With almost two decades of watching my mom’s kitchen—and modeling my own—I’ve learned that trying to live a healthy lifestyle does come with consequences that differ based on the color of your skin and ethnicity. I’ve also seen friends struggling with eating disorders who were encouraged to eat whatever they wanted instead of focusing on how healthy they are. If you are black or brown, you may expect society to respond to your issues in a healthy way, but when you’re not, you may be judged—especially for your flaws.

When I spoke with nutritionist Nadia Stills-Cohn about my mother’s approach to health and eating, she remarked that many people use the color of skin or color of diet as a way to engage and inform others—especially women, as we all struggle with different body image concerns. When she’s eating healthy, Stills-Cohn says, some might assume she’s perfect and those who are white and healthy might assume they’re good. This may prove to be the source of the misperception that she can eat whatever she wants and is healthy.

The Perception Of Race Is Universal In The Way We Go About Eating Healthy

“Racism is an ingrained belief—an unconscious bias—that people of color are different in some way. To recognize what this means is to ask what is the hidden meaning of the color of our skin when we describe ourselves as healthy,” Stills-Cohn says.

This isn’t always intentional—it’s simply a result of the general climate in the culture at hand. And while racism exists in the U.S., racial preconceptions are far more prevalent in most places. As a result, people of color may be more likely

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