As I pen this essay, I am acutely aware of my actions.
My mother is in the hospital for a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which basically means that a blood vessel burst in her brain. She is laying in a hospital bed, silent, still and bandaged.
I am a recovering emotional eater… a binge eater. Had this tragedy happened to my mother 5 years ago, I would be wiping my tears with Cheetos-stained fingertips. I’d be swallowing 3-liters of soda pop whole. I’d have bought multiple boxes of Verona cookies, Goldfish and Pirouettes, and relished in the ability to eat the entire package in one sitting.
I would be making myself feel better by drowning my sorrows in the chemical imbalances caused by bingeing on unhealthy, salty, sugary, fatty processed foods.
Whenever we talk about eating disorders, we talk about anorexia. We talk about bulimia. And, I won’t lie – that’s perpetuated by studies that consistently talk about eating disorders as if the only ones that matter or are relevant and problematic are, in fact, anorexia and bulimia.
What we never talk about – much to my dismay – is an eating disorder that is not only far more prevalent in mainstream society, but in the Black community specifically: EDNOS, otherwise known as “Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified.” To put it plainly, EDNOS is the very sterile, very clinical umbrella phrase under which you will find what many of us know as “binge eating.”
As emotional eating is defined by the use of food for purposes unrelated to physical nourishment and nutrition, it has a component to it that is inherently linked to what kind of satisfaction and pleasure food can bring. While there are people who binge on completely healthy things simply because of an emotional attachment to the item itself – if, say, your favorite grandmother loved celery, and you eat it obsessively after she passed – the vast majority of people are taking advantage of the reactions that sugary, sweetened, salty, and fatty foods create in the brain. And the cheaper the product, the poorer the quality; the poorer the quality, the more likely the food is to be abused.
This manages to bear itself out in data, as well. A 2009 study uncovered by The Root discovered that “not only were African-American girls 50 percent more likely than white girls to be bulimic, but girls (Black or White) from the lowest income bracket were also significantly more likely — 153 percent more — to experience bulimia than their peers in the wealthiest group.” That’s only bulimia; what would the numbers look like if we included binge eating?
Whenever an article is written about disordered eating behavior in the Black community, it’s always written in the context of anorexia or bulimia. It’s discussing bingeing in conjunction with purging, or the kind of severe restriction that results in the exceptionally thin, wiry frame attributed to anorexia [even if the alleged sufferer is actually anorexic or not.]
The binary that we create when we discuss eating disorders, coupled with the myth that eating disorders are “White girl problems,” harms us more than it helps us. It erases the existence of Black people who binge, and it dismisses the problem before any real attention can be drawn towards it so that people can get help.
But, what’s most damaging about the rhetoric surrounding eating disorders, specifically among the Black community, is the inherent denial of the existence of a problem that might require actual psychiatric care in our community. We cannot continue to perpetuate the ideal that psychiatric care cannot and will not help us uncover the tools we need to overcome our battles. This mentality cannot persist.
It’s not just “Oh, she just eats too much.” It’s far more than that, and we need to be real about that. We cannot heal what we refuse to identify as a wound. It only continues to burn and cause pain.
How am I handling this situation with my mother’s health, as a recovering binge eater? I am remembering what I learned through therapy, and I am coping in a far healthier fashion. I am experiencing the emotions and managing them in ways that don’t harm me physically or mentally. I am making sure I take care of myself. But, most importantly, the cookies and crackers are staying at the store, and those godforsaken Cheetos are staying in the vending machine.
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs everything from fitness to food, weight loss to wellness, body image and more. A trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching, she can be found taking over your Internet on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.