My husband brought home a big fat slice of chocolate cake on Sunday which one of our members had made and handed to him after church service because she knows how much her pastor, my husband, loves chocolate cake. (Don’t ask why she didn’t send a slice for me.) I could barely think of anything else the rest of the day for thinking about that piece of cake. I sat at the dinner table with family eating spinach, rice and peas, brown stew fish, and the other delectable West Indian dishes peeping back at the chocolate cake sitting there wrapped on my kitchen counter. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a slice of that cake.
Did I mention that I don’t even like chocolate cake? But I do love ice cream (which there was a gallon of in the freezer). And, trust me, BlueBelle ice cream makes chocolate cake taste so much better.
Never mind that I’d just spoken two days earlier at the 25th Anniversary of the National Black Women’s Health Imperative. Never mind that I stayed over on Saturday to walk and sweat my way with 300 other black women through the closing 5k Walking for Wellness event and felt pretty good about finishing in a little over 35 minutes.
I wanted that slice of cake. I needed that slice of cake. I earned that slice of cake. Along with a bowl of ice cream.
But I need to lose 30 pounds. Minimum. It doesn’t help that all the women in my family are, as they say, “big-boned.” There was my mother, Big Mama and my aunts Mae, Kate, Anne and others. But how can I be sure they were big-boned women? After all, the women in my family fried everything they cooked, used heapings of Velveeta in their macaroni and cheese, and never set a table without four starches to pass around. So, maybe the women in my family aren’t big-boned. Maybe the women in my family are “girthy” because of the food we eat.
Okay, so I’m not big-boned afterall. Like the women of my family, I am, um, overweight.
America as a whole has a weight problem. But black women have an even bigger weight problem.
Something is wrong when upwards of 70% of African American women, says researchers, are overweight and over half of overweight black women fall within the obese range. African American women suffer from obesity at an alarmingly disproportionate rate when compared to women of other races. Come on now. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, breathing problems, arthritis, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea (breathing problems while sleeping), osteoarthritis, and some cancers. It’s no secret that black women’s lives are at risk and that we have had the worst health on nearly every health index when compared to other groups of women. The soaring death rate among us alone from preventable health afflictions ought to shame us. Racism and sexism take their toll. But some things are not about racism and sexism.
What’s our problem? Word on the street is that African-American women are more inclined to be overweight because our men (if you’re heterosexual, that is. cough. cough.) like women who carry around some (como se dice?) “junk in the trunk.” The Commodores referred to curvy, full-figured women as “brick houses” back in my day. But let’s be honest. We’re not talking about those 10 or 20 extra pounds of booty, breasts, hips, and thighs that make cars in black neighborhoods slam into each other when you walk by. We’re talking about those 50 pounds and more that has you slathering on corn starch and talcum powder in private places to keep from rubbing yourself raw in the summer heat.
Come on, girl, push away from the table.
Our eating habits are killing us. I was speechless when a month ago one friend brought a bucket of Popeye chicken and another one brought a huge Pizza Hut pizza to a Sunday evening book club pot luck dinner. Clueless and tasteless. Both women struggle with their weight and are always asking the group for prayer for their health. I know it’s part environment. To pick up good, healthy food these women would have had to drive way over on the other side of town. Yeah, but that’s no excuse. Bring a salad. Boil some eggs. Offer to stay afterwards and wash dishes.
Word: Aretha Franklin will forever be my “Queen of Soul.” But my heart breaks every time I see Aretha on tv these days. Aretha is not big-boned. Aretha is obese. So are half the women I see in church parking lots. Breathless by the time they reach the church door.
Food is comforting. But overeating is killing us. And our children. 25% of African American children are overweight. That’s absurd.
These days when people greet me with the words ”It’s good to see you,” I respond back “I’m just glad that I’m being seen and not being viewed.” (As in lying in a casket). I’d like to live to see grandchildren. Heck, I wanna be able to belly dance at 75 years old.
You and I owe it to ourselves to try to eat right and to exercise. It’s not about losing weight, it’s about getting healthy. It’s about quality of life. It’s about being able to live as long as possible and in good health. It’s about loving your body enough to take care of it, and doing your part to avoid the threat of losing your legs or eyesight to diabetes or winding up in a nursing home due to a stroke.
Stop making excuses. You are not big-boned. You need to lose weight. Pronto.
Start by committing to walking around the neighborhood in the evenings instead of watching reruns of Law and Order. For the cost of that perm you can hire a personal trainer. Instead of ordering a burger, fries, and a diet coke at the drive thru, order a salad and a diet coke instead. It’s a start.
Did I mention that much of my extra weight is here in my middle area which, of course, puts me at risk for particular set of health problems? I could point out that it’s leftover fat from having carried an 8lb. 15oz. child inside me all those months. But that child is now a teenager who’ll be going off to college soon. Sure, I could try exercise that targets the lower stomach muscles. But I’m constitutionally opposed to doing stomach crunches. I walk. I work out on the elliptical. I don’t mind pressing weights to enhance my arms and strengthen my upper body. But stomach crunches? I’d rather face a firing squad.
Getting back to that piece of chocolate cake. Along with that bowl of Blue Belle ice cream. Don’t ask.
I’m lacing up my sneakers right now. I’m off to the track for my late evening three mile walk with the sound of Aretha singing “Rock Steady” in my headphones.