Black Girls Suffer From Eating Disorders Too

Black Girls Suffer From Eating Disorders Too

By Crista Gambrell, PhD, LPC

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Approximately 20 million women will battle this illness at some point in their lifetime (2014, November 13). Unfortunately, it’s often a private battle, especially for African-American women. It’s a battle with an eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, exact statistics for the prevalence of eating disorders in women of color are unavailable. Yet, there are countless women who suffer in silence. Meet Shante Little. Her story began the summer before college when she got serious about track and field training. Her relationship to food started primarily as calorie counting and skipping meals. It could be described more as disordered eating rather than an eating disorder. Briefly, things returned to normal, however, once classes and formal practices began so did the “disordered eating”. At the peak of her college performance during her junior year in college, she won her first national title in the 400. That’s also when her eating habits shifted again. “It’s addicting. You don’t want to stop. I told myself it was me trying to perfect my art. But I knew deep down something was wrong. During the summer before my senior year of college, it really hit me that I wasn't okay,” said Little. “Every single thought that summer revolved around my body and food. How many calories was I consuming, how many was I burning, what if I fasted all day? I weighed myself every morning, afternoon, again before bed. I was convinced that I could feel my body changing and growing, fat accumulating, abs losing definition, cellulite just waiting to surface. I logged every piece of food that went into my mouth. When the cravings came, I caved and simply got rid of the evidence- I purged. I was on an emotional roller coaster.” As if the vicious cycle of restricting, bingeing, and purging wasn’t bad enough, Little experienced added shame because of the common notion that eating disorders are a white woman’s issue. “No one talks about it. How many black girls do you hear about sticking their finger down their throat?,” said Little. “When I began taking the first steps towards recovery, I saw no reflection of myself anywhere. That's hard. It made me question myself and the validity of my illness.” Despite the lack of representation, she did reach out and ask for help. As she did, she learned a valuable lession. “As much as my disease was a byproduct of my desire to succeed in my sport, it was also a byproduct of longstanding emotional problems that I had yet to confront. I was intent on fixing my problems myself, on my own terms,” said Little. “But I do know that I was not alone in reaching the point that I’m at now. I met with one of the counselor's on campus. A relationship with someone forced me to confront my demons. I told my best friend everything my senior year. She’d listen to me and hear me out. She was my voice of reason but she wasn’t forceful.” Through that support and with time, she began to heal. Little has been symptom free since the summer and now has the exciting opportunity to train with the World Athletic Center in Phoenix, Arizona. She starts competing professionally in the winter. “In my sport, I depend on my body. All I can do is treat it kindly. I still struggle with my body image and I still fear a lack of control. But I am better equipped now to deal with my problems and I know now that my pride is not more important than my health,” said Little. “I’m a firm believer in fate and I know that I have a greater purpose to serve as an athlete at this next level. I want to be a voice for women of color struggling with disordered eating. I want to show them that just because we may not be accurately represented among the statistics, that doesn't mean that we are not affected. There is a way out.” About Crista Gambrell, PhD, LPC Crista is a licensed professional counselor in private practice, an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University, and an AFAA certified group exercise instructor and licensed Zumba instructor. You can follow her at: Twitter: @CristaGambrell; Instagram: @Wellfitcris; Blog: aninformedfriend.blogspot.com. 


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