Here are some reasons why I believe it’s harder for black people to acknowledge, reach out and access help for binge eating disorder (BED) than it is for white people.
My intention isn’t to negate the experiences of any race or individual, but to emphasise how important it is to hear and understand the experiences of different communities so that everyone has an equal opportunity to receive the treatment and support they need.
The mindset I’m talking about today can be summed up by the question in the title of this post. It’s the thinking that kept me unseen and unheard, suffering and feeling trapped in binge eating disorder for so long.
Speaking openly about personal issues and struggles isn’t what we do
The idea of needing a counsellor or therapist instead of keeping personal business, personal, is not the norm or widely accepted by the black community – especially from older generations.
“My personal issues are mine and don’t need to leave these four walls. If I tell my family I’m going to see a therapist, they won’t understand”
Activities to raise awareness of eating disorders don’t target us and don’t reflect us
We know that eating disorders exist, but we don’t engage or associate with them because we don’t see ourselves. Scroll through feeds of relevant hashtags on social media and you’ll have to look carefully to spot anyone who looks like me. I scrolled through Beat’s 1,149 posts on Instagram today and spotted one black human face and when I got to 2018, Frank Bruno made an appearance.
“Eating Disorders only affect white women, not me”
We express our love through food and eating
Growing up with a grandmother who didn’t sit me on her lap and say she loved me but showed her love through all the food she cooked and baked for me, I formed a strong emotional tie to food and eating. It’s easy to lose track of real hunger signals when you’ve spent most of your childhood eating to receive love, rather than satisfy hunger.
It then becomes easy to fill painful voids and unmet needs, with the thing that has always represented love – food. Admitting there’s a problem with that, challenges the core love foundation on which the family unit is built, which in and of itself can add to the battle with BED.
“Even if I don’t want it, I can’t say no when she offers me the food. It would be an insult”
Our generational experiences as a people are different
There’s a level of trauma that black people have experienced over centuries and continue to experience in the form of racism today, that white people never have.
Accepting the label of a mental health issue and having it documented, has the potential to impact our education and employment opportunities more than it would impact someone who is white. Therefore, it can feel safer and easier to stay quiet and manage it privately.
“I’m not giving them another reason to discriminate against me”
Surviving trauma doesn’t make us weaker, but stronger.
We’ve had to develop a high level of tolerance and resilience to survive the experiences we’ve had to go through. Enduring more mental and emotional pressure means we may not see our food and eating problem for what it really is. Rather than it being something we need to ask for help to overcome, it becomes just another thing we have to gather the strength to manage.
“Oh there’s nothing really wrong with me, I just need to get myself together”
And let’s not ignore the differences in the body shape and size of black people, compared to white
Straddling different cultures, with opposing definitions of a ‘healthy body and nice shape’, whilst trying to figure out what is ‘normal’ for me and my body, can be extremely hard and fuel the desire to restrict or binge. I remember my Gran’s friend calling me fat – she was giving me a compliment according to her culture but as a child growing up in British culture, it was like punching me in the gut.
“I’m fat and need to go on a diet”
The Spiritual practice of fasting is normal
Fasting in the ‘black’ church, is life. It’s normal. It’s encouraged. Therefore, turning away from this practice to recover from BED wasn’t easy to accept. If fasting was the way I gained strength to overcome difficulties, was my life going to fall apart if I stopped? Was I turning away from God and my faith if I reached out for professional help? Even though I knew in my mind this wasn’t true, there was still a core belief that made it hard to ask for help.
“If I have enough faith, God will help me, that’s why I need to fast. If I go to a therapist, I’m saying my faith is not strong enough.”
Where is the black British voice?
These thoughts and experiences are part of the reason why I started this blog in the first place – I didn’t see me and I didn’t hear my voice or my lived experience as a black British woman, anywhere. I wanted to be that voice, so that others like me can realise that help is available, and they can recover from binge eating disorder.
“Recovery is possible – for everyone!”