Home Out and About Get Life: The Hidden Eating Disorder in the Black Community

Get Life: The Hidden Eating Disorder in the Black Community

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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…

Read more at Ebony.com in my new column, Get Life.

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Kami February 28, 2013 - 10:41 AM

Oh no I am sorry to hear that. I hope she gets better and I am praying for you and your family. Giving you a big hug.

In the past I had a binge eating problem. Many black women sometimes do not think they have a problem. Last year I would eat my emotions because of stressful events (sexual assaults) but I stopped. It is also hard to find a knowledgeable therapist that takes insurance for eating disorders. Some therapist and dietitians are not culturally sensitive to the needs they make ignorant assumptions that do more harm to the self esteem of the patient. Another thing is that the 12 step program does not work sometimes and puts alot more restrictions in your life such as no complex carbs and or simple carbs.
I feel like a write a book on my journey to pick the right therapist . Even in the eating disorder community binge eating is not taken that seriously. I did get help but they never addresssed the binge eating element in the bullimia. If you are a binger their answer is always cut out all carbs with no intention of teaching about healthy eating. Most of the staff is made up of mostly whte women at most eating disorder centers especially at Renfrew. Sometimes some women do not meet the criteria for help for services.
Most of the obese women I know that are binge eaters because I see them eating cake, donuts, fast food after they have arguments, bored or a tragic event. We must really educate people of color and let them know yes you can have a eating disorder.

Paulette March 1, 2013 - 2:24 AM

Sorry to hear about your mother. I hope by the time this is published, she is on the mend. And congratulations on the gig with Ebony.
Thank you so much for sharing this because I am a binge eater, I am slowly coming out of an episode, but you are letting me know that I should seek professional help. Thanks for the nudge.

Samantha A March 1, 2013 - 2:31 PM

oh the irony! right next to this article is an ad for On The Border’s all you can eat enchiladas

Erika Nicole Kendall March 1, 2013 - 8:10 PM

*deep sigh*

Ashleigh March 1, 2013 - 6:57 PM

Congrats on becoming a columnist for Ebony! It was a great article.
I know until I started reading your blog, I considered eating disorders a “White girl” problem because they seem to be more concerned with being thin than a lot of black women I knew. I’ve never heard any of my black friends say “Omg, does my butt look fat?” in a panicked voice but it was a common question I got from a few white people I know.
Now I realize that I too eat for reasons other than fuel/energy. I eat because I’m bored or frustrated. I hide certain foods so I don’t have to share and I used to sneak out of the house at night to go pick up a burger or a taco and eat it all by myself. And now that I have this new perspective/information, I can ask myself am I craving fast food because I need some time and space to myself? Do I want this snack because I’m truly hungry or do I need to find something to do?

Rooo April 24, 2013 - 3:31 AM

Praying for you and your mama.

Viola May 11, 2013 - 2:03 PM

I can surely understand where u all are coming from. I had A mother, father, grandmother, uncle, aunt, to past away from complication of diabetes. I to suffered with it, but thank God I’m now 3 points away from being off meds! I realize that sometimes d white drs. Don’t always understand us. That’s why I am in the process of getting certified in Nutrition and Wellness to really feel what people are going and to help create an eating plan that will be a way of life. I did a lot of emotional eating and had pray about it and learn to eat differently. I pray ur Mother get better.

Gayenell July 28, 2013 - 8:45 PM

My thoughts and prayers to you and your mother. Since 2008, I have been binge eating. Every time I think I have it under control something major upsets me. In 2008 it was mother having a stroke. She passed in 2009 in January, in August that same year my oldest brother passed. Last year, two months after having an heart attack, I lost my youngest brother. Four months after him, I lost my step-father who since 2008 I was the caregiver. Its been an emotional roller coaster, and I have been eating my way through it. I realize that I am trying to push the emotions down as they are coming up. But I having found a way to deal with them without losing my sanity.

Robyn Donaldson August 9, 2013 - 6:46 PM

Excellent article! I gained the most weight when my grandfather and aunt were both terminally ill and I was one of their caregivers. But, thankfully I’ve changed my life around and have worked with trainers, acupuncturist and nutritionist, in order to find a happy, healthy balance with food in my life. I hope people will reflect on this information and figure out ways to get people we love the help they need. They don’t have to do this alone.

Robyn Donaldson August 9, 2013 - 6:47 PM

You and your mother are in my prayers. I hope everything works out for the best.

Angela Norton Tyler November 3, 2014 - 3:21 PM

I met a woman who, in the course of the conversation, mentioned that her daughter had recently gained Worry Weight. Just the idea of our emotions turning into actual pounds blew my mind. Like, I can look at myself and SEE what is bothering me. I wrote about being emotionally overweight: http://carlabirnberg.com/2014/10/24/are-you-emotionally-overweight-guest-post/

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