Food guilt is real, and black women are often its most prominent victims. We are constantly told that we are not supposed to eat certain foods and that our bodies are not “supposed” to look a certain way.
This can lead to unhealthy relationships with food and feelings of shame and inadequacy. I am here to tell you that perhaps it’s time to end food guilt. You are allowed to enjoy food, and you are allowed to have a healthy relationship with food.
It is time for us to embrace our healthy bodies, and I have recruited the right dietician to help with that!
Alas, another bloom interview featuring a BIPOC health and wellness expert talking all things about black women and food guilt. This time, I had the pleasure of interviewing dietician Jillian Quainoo on the topic.
Scroll on to read what she says about experiencing food guilt and how we can work to end it!
She educates through an African Diasporic lens, sharing the lost history of African cultural health traditions. She received her B.S. from Bradley University and went on to Prairie View A&M University for her post-graduate practicum, a requirement for dietitian licensure.
She has spoken at national conferences, shared her knowledge through professional continuing educational workshops, led events at schools, and continually provides her knowledge on national faith platforms. Connect with Jillian on Instagram at @jillianqco.
What does it mean when you feel guilty after eating?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, guilt is “the unhappy [feeling] caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something wrong.” Many people have come to a point in their lives where they believe they are wrong for their food choices.
This guilt has led to feelings of shame about their bodies, lack of self-trust, fear, and a host of negative emotions. This problematic pattern has resulted in individuals living in a cycle of fear, dieting, and for some, resulting apathy regarding their health.
Starting from a foundation of guilt and shame seldom leads to the life people are searching for.
Besides someone stating, “I can’t eat without feeling guilty,” what are other signs someone might need health coaching from a dietitian?
Self-care is the starting point to understanding where an individual stands in regard to “food guilt”. For example, I would ask what the health goal is. Is the goal to ward off negative comments from family? Are you trying to fit into the mold you constantly see on social media?
Do you need to apologize to yourself or others whenever you enjoy your favorite foods? These are all signs that there may be some roots of guilt that affect the way you see your health. However, this is not another thing to feel guilty about!
Our culture is constructed to teach us to feel less than others (especially Black women).
Why is it essential for black women to enjoy the food they love?
Every day as black women, we are fed microaggressions that we are not good enough. We are told that we have to be lighter, thinner (but not too thin), thicker (in the “right” places), more professional, better than the rest, and able to take on anything and everything!
Nevertheless, this cultural hostility does not stop there. As I stated previously, many of us encounter similar feelings about what we eat. We believe that “Black food” is killing us, and we place this burden of shame on our backs and others.
Yet, factors such as economic status, access to quality food and grocery stores, stress levels, quality drinking water, good air quality, and access to proper healthcare are CONSIDERABLE factors that affect someone’s health.
Studies show that people who freely enjoy their food are healthier than those who try to fearfully control everything that goes in their mouths. So I say, go on, Black girl and enjoy your food! Enjoyment is a component of self-care (and it can be a stress reliever)!
Why do so many black women feel food guilt about their cultural foods?
Cultural foods are given a bad light due to colonialism, racism, and a lack of appreciation for BIPOC customs. The health industry has done a poor job of addressing this trend’s growing health concerns.
In fact, researchers have promoted this ideology with studies that show an incomplete analysis of health disparities among Black people. Their research shows that conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are consequences of consuming fried chicken and mac n’ cheese.
Yet, they have historically refused to acknowledge ‘social determinants of health, a term that describes social and economic factors that affect a person’s health (see factors listed in the previous question). This has left black women believing that they are wrong and responsible for the health challenges people in our community face.
Why is there no need to feel guilty after eating?
Practically, experiencing guilt after eating does not lead to positive results. For the person solely looking to lose excess weight and lower their blood sugar, or cholesterol, guilt will produce the opposite effect.
Guilt can lead a person into a cycle of fear, dieting, and potential apathy regarding their health. Even more, no matter if someone ends up apathetic about their food habits, being constantly guilty is not suitable for one’s body.
This can lead to increased stress (which in turn can lead to increased health complications like diabetes and possible weight gain).
How does your approach differ from other health coaching approaches?
Many health coaching approaches focus on helping a person eat “healthier.” I put that word in quotations because healthier usually entails green smoothies, calorie counting, or food swapping (such as lettuce wraps in place of bread). Additionally, many health coaching platforms don’t encourage individuals to think wholistically about their health.
My approach focuses on helping a person not only learn how to enjoy what I call food freedom, but it also helps them think about their health beyond their plate. Social determinants of health are an essential factor when it comes to wellness.
I help individuals think about how their lifestyle may interact with other choices. For example, a client may learn that they need coaching around stress and sleeping patterns (which can influence metabolism). Ultimately, my work is to help someone break free from dieting and consider how their lifestyle is affecting them as a whole being.
On your site you mention the importance of learning about African Diasporic foods, how would this help someone battling guilt after eating?
We must break free from the historical narratives that everything deriving from Africa is terrible. This guilt and shame maintain the cycle of oppression that has us believing that everything of European origin is better.
When we learn the history of our foods, we free ourselves from the narrative that the oppressor has told us for centuries. We can use this knowledge to make informed decisions rather than constantly being afraid that we are wrong.
If our readers wanted to learn more about ways to work with you, what’s an excellent place to start?
For those looking to start health coaching, please visit my website to learn more about 1-1 and group coaching options.
Establish a positive body image by enjoying your food without guilt
I can imagine that when one enjoys their food, it can result in positive outcomes for their mental health. Getting rid of the food rules and guilt can be so liberating!
I hope this interview provided some food for thought (pun intended) and that you’ll be able to approach your meals with a bit more mindfulness and less food guilt. After all, we deserve to enjoy the foods we love without feelings of shame or diet culture telling us otherwise!
Please connect with Jillian on her website if you are interested in learning more about her work or working with her one-on-one.