Everywhere you go these days people are talking about healthy living, healthy eating, exercising and living a more balanced life. Most of us, particularly in the Black community, aren’t interested or don’t know how to incorporate these practices into our daily life. The traditional soul food dishes prepared in most Black homes were not prepared with nutritional value in mind. Black families were often more focused on doing their best to stay within a limited budget and buy food that could feed an entire family. Vegetables and non-traditional grains were generally a luxury most Black families could not afford. My family is no different. I grew up on white potatoes, fried chicken backs, and soup beans. Those meals were made with love and always very satisfying. As I grew from a boy to a young man, these became my meals of choice, not necessity, as they filled me up and reminded me of the comforts of home.
Now as a forty-four year-old man, I have come to realize the importance of getting more from your food than comfort and good memories. Although I am fairly active, my eating habits led me to develop high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes, very serious chronic conditions. When I look back on my eating habits, I didn’t think it was so bad. I always practiced discretion. I never ate lots of food in one sitting, and I never binge ate any of these foods. It was always in moderation. But I came to learn that Black people might be genetically predisposed to getting diabetes and high blood pressure. I’m also learning that our environments and dealing with racism — whether overt or covert — can harm Black people’s health. I can’t change my genetics, but I can change my lifestyle. Not making dietary and lifestyle changes at this point in my life could be detrimental. I could suffer a stroke or heart attack if these conditions are not controlled or properly managed.
With a recent hospital stay and health scare, I am more committed than ever to invest in myself and make the necessary changes. My first step was to realize that I needed help. Changing the way you’ve eaten your entire life is no small task. My immediate family was the first to commit to helping me. We’ve all committed to eating healthier and making better food choices. It’s not just going to help me. It will help my kids learn the right way to eat. Meal planning is now a family activity. Fruits and vegetables are a part of every meal and snacks. We pack our meals more often than before. We try new recipes together, learning new ways to prepare vegetables so they taste flavorful and are enjoyable to everyone. We are also learning more about healthy grains and how to upgrade our traditional recipes into healthier versions.
Next up is exercise. As we get more comfortable with our new food choices, our plan is to become more active as a family. Hiking trails, bike rides, team sports, gardening and bodyweight exercises are all low budget forms of exercise that we can practice together at times convenient for us. And although it hasn’t been long since I incorporated the changes, I am already feeling a difference and glad I decided to make these changes.