Sunday, July 13, 2008

No Excuses: Addressing the Barriers of Health in the Black Community

I was on the phone with of one my girlfriends and she randomly mentions that she could not understand why black women that are severely overweight don't do whatever it takes and just lose the weight, "If you have legs, you can walk!"

She believes that there really is No Excuse for women to be overweight. At first I kind of agreed with her but after really thinking about the issue I realized that we are speaking from a privileged point of view. We are not privileged in the sense that we grew up with silver spoons in our mouth (trust me that is not the case) but privileged in the sense that we are both college educated, have good jobs (well she does, i'm in grad school), access to a gym, access to fresh fruit and veggies, and we don't have to really take care of anyone but our selves.

So after thinking about this for a while I wondered if I would be working out 5-6 times a week and eating healthy if:

*I lived in a housing project or bad neighborhood with no safe place to run or walk

*I was living off assistance from the government and had to worry about feeding two children in addition to myself

*I had to work two jobs to feed my family (how would i find time to work out?)

These obstacles would be in addition to the obstacles that most black women already face; the hair issue, not knowing what to do in the gym, lack of resources about black women and health, recognizing that being FIT is a lifelong commitment.

It would be incredibly difficult to endure those challenges and maintain the workout regimen that I have now. I realized how blessed that I am to have a gym in my building, a beautiful lake path to run on, money to buy nutritious food, etc. It saddens me that it took me so long to take advantage of my blessings. There are women out there that would probably love the opportunities that I wasted for so long.

I recognize now that its not that easy for some Black women to lose weight. I'm sure there are ton of more obstacles that women face that I did not think of. I plan to create a post in the future that includes suggestions on overcoming these obstacles.

Please let me know your thoughts? What do you think Black women can do to overcome these obstacles?
Are you taking advantage of all of your opportunties?


Anonymiss said...

I was trying to explain that same list of reasons to a Black coworker before and she just wasn't buying it. We were discussing the Debra Dickerson article "Healthy, my ass" where Dickerson noted that Black women are overweight because they wanna look like Buffie the Body (moot point) and she also noted that the primary reason (as per a doctor) that Black women don't work out is because of our hair. *SMH*

Anyway, the coworker believes that sistas are fat only because we're lazy. Mind you, she's a size 14/16 so I don't know where the "better than thou" attitude comes from.

She's like a lot of women who lament about their weight, tries different diets, tried acupuncture, tries working out twice daily with fitness DVDs, and still hasn't lost a considerable amount of weight.

I think what can be done to help Black women lose weight is for health professionals to acknowledge our cultural differences. The NY Times had an article about this a while ago. All medical advice isn't universal and some doctors are just starting to realize that. What can also help is implementing more veggies and (fresh) fruit into our diets. I placed "fresh" in parentheses because depending on where you live, your food may not be fresh.

I think I'm doing a good job of using the resources available to me. I have a gym membership and I work out 4 times a week. I eat lots of veggies and fruits and drink plenty of water. Now that I'm trying to condition myself to rely less on meat and chicken, I eat even more veggies. I would like to go back to organic food but going to Trader Joe's was a chore because they don't have a parking lot.

mekare said...

Hey Fitness Goddess,

Good topic. First, I would like to say that the Debra Dickerson article is stupid and annoying. WTH??

Ok, back to the topic. While everyone does not have money for organic food (like me) and such, there are small changes that people can make to improve their lives. I think this should be stressed to black women who may not have the resources that you mentioned. The suggestions made here aren't going to be efficient with out people implementing them in their daily lives so that is key. Here are my thoughts

1) Black women need to know that we must exercise regularly in order to keep the curves and figures we are proud of. (I'm thinking of a curvy size 10 or 12 body) Also, eating healthy is forever and not until you lose weight.

2) Advertise exercise that is fun and culturally alluring. I have a friend and her city has something called "The Healthy Black Family Project." It was designed to encourage blacks to exercise and eat better. They hold yoga, walk, African dance classes, line dancing, toning and a number of other classes in a local recreation center in the city. Something like African dance and line dancing would be fun, alluring and burn calories.

3) For those that live in a dangerous neighborhood, they could try walking in the day in the parts of the neighborhood that aren't as bad. Or use at home exercise tapes if they are harassed if they leave the house.

4) An emphasis on small changes in the diet like eating less, canola oil instead of vegetable oil, wheat instead of white, ect would be useful. Or trying low cost programs like weight watchers for those who can afford it (weekly fee is $12.)

Now, I am not sure what to say about the sister who is working double over time or working two jobs. Some of the stuff I mentioned could help but I know that has to be draining...but they deserve to be healthy too. Frozed vegetables and canned fruits in their own juices could help.

Fitness Goddess said...

Thanks Anonymiss and Mekare!
Very insightful comments.

I still haven't read the Debra Dickerson article but I will do so ASAP. Keep up the good work with the exercise and healthy eating.

Mekare, I love the tips you came up with. Especially the one about advertising in a culturally alluring waY. If you don't mind I may put something together using your tips.

mekare said...

Hey fitness goddess,

Not a problem. I agree, something culturally alluring is will catch someones attention. There is something else I know about that may be interesting. It's called the "Major Taylor Cycling Club." From what I know, Major Taylor was an AA champion cyclist. They have a Major Taylor Cycling Club in a lot of cities in the country

Here is info on the Major Taylor Society (there are links to the cycling association):

Here is some info I found from Wikipedia (use caution on this one.)

afrodisia said...

This is a really insightful post. I think that being healthy on a budget is possible (especially given all the wonderful suggestions offered in the above comments), but some of the barriers are emotional and not just material. Often times we are so focused on others, we do not practice self care. Moreover, emotional eating matched with sedentary lives equals a recipe for disaster. I know from personal experience!

WepaWoman said...

I have recently started going to the gym by my house. I have to tell you first of all, i LOVE my gym! it is a Black owned, black runned establishment, old school Mom n Pop place in the heart of the 'hood in the Bronx (here is where i plug them, because they are just AWESOME: Six Elements of Fitness on Prospect Avenue)

As a Puerto Rican plus sized Mami that has always battled her bulge, and also a woman of Privilege (not money, but single and no children with college education) I can identify with you, Fitness Godess... it has taken me a long time to appreciate what I do have, coming back to the Hood has reminded me of my blessings!!!

My point: First, I have always hated going to the gym, any gym- the FREE gym that school provided, ballys all of that- why? because these places are impersonal. Getting off one's ample butt to go the the gym requires a bit of coaxing and definitely encouragement. That is the one thing that really keeps you motivated. That is what you pay trainers for, that is where you are financially slaughtered, and ultimately give up training. At the gym where i go to, there is such a sense of Community, comradery, support. Everyone in there is there for the same reason, to get Fit and have fun. i have had total strangers cheer me onto my last set of Lat Pulls (what?? YEAh gurl LAT PULLS) or push me farther on my last few minutes on the tread mills. THAT makes ME want to go. the place is small, no air conditioning, muscle head seeming place, that i actually LOVE going to because of the FAMILIAR FACES and warm and encouraging environment. I have seen drastic changes in my body and habits. Working out is now a SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT, that i surely cannot miss (the handsome trainers are easy on the eyes too LOL)

The other thing about this topic is our women of color making excuses about their diets. As a Puerto Rican vegetarian, I constantly run into people telling me that i must eat like a rabbit, that i"m a traitor to my culture and even accused me of wanting to be white, because slow roasted pork , for example, is not what i like to eat anymore. The fact that many of our people of color refuse to make adjustments to their eating habits under the guise that they cant LIVE without their weekly fried pork chops, mac n cheese or Alcapurrias is absurd

Being in the hood and brown certainly presents many issues of healthy food options at the super market or food to go (so many friend chicken, pizza and chinese fast food restaurants- but a juice bar has a snowballs chance in h*ll to survive out here). It is my hope that our women take a minute to assess our alarming mortality rate, the health risks of INACTIVITY and who we'd leave behind if we don't ACT NOW!

As for the hair thing? my solution was simple. I cut it all off... it gets hot under all that Hair. AND I LOVE IT!

Peace everyone!

Fitness Goddess said...

Thanks Afrodisia and Wepawoman!

Thank you for sharing your perspective, we obviously have a ton in common (being called a traitor).Keep up the great work in the gym! No aircondtioning, though? You're soldier for that.
Btw, I don't even know what a lat pull is so you got to fill me in on that.
I also agree that action has to be taken immediately in our communities. That is why I created this blog(hey, got to start somewhere). But I want to see more growth in the resources for women like us. Let me know if you would interested in contributing a post in the future I would love to have more of your perspective!

I agree the emotional barriers must be addressed as well.

I'll be adding both of you to my blogroll!