DeliveryRank has the opportunity and pleasure of discussing nutrition and cultural heritage with Katia Powell-Laurent, Founder and CEO of Black Girls Nutrition.
What can you tell us about Black Girls Nutrition’s beginnings - it’s why and when?
I was 26 years old and weighed 350 lbs. I lived in a part of Boston which was densely populated with people of color, underserved and had the highest prevalence of comorbidities, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. I went through a transitional experience, or even a tipping point in my life. When I was 6 months pregnant, and lost the baby on my birthday, I lost my job and I dropped out of college because I couldn’t afford it. I was becoming one of the statistics that I was so often reading about in journal articles.
I made a decision and got connected to a community of people at the YMCA. I started volunteering for them, and I would do anything to stop digging my grave with my fork. Over the following year I lost 100 lbs and another 100 over the next. What I came to realize is that being skinny does not equate to being healthy. I weighed 150 lbs yet I had anxiety and high blood pressure, and I also didn’t feel healthy or strong.
Over the next 10-15 years I continually worked to create the healthiest version of myself in a society that doesn’t prioritize one’s culture in relation to health. I was referred to see a registered dietician by my primary care doctor. I went to a registered dietitian that was also my friend and she gave me a meal plan that had absolutely no reflection of foods from my cultural background. It felt like she was subconsciously relaying to me that the way that I was brought up was unhealthy and wrong. This led me to reflect on the recipes that I grew up with and to substitute certain ingredients to render them more nutritious and healthy - this was my own personal journey.
My purpose and my passion now is to help the future generations integrate their cultural heritage and dietary needs into a healthy way of life. I walked away from an Executive position at The American Heart Association. Although I loved the work that they do, I realized that the impact that I wanted to have on those around me required me to go on my own. This was at the end of 2015!
How important is cultural heritage in our diets?
It is extremely important. All of the different ethnic communities have a different flavor profile but this doesn’t mean that I, for example, don’t absolutely love a good Indian curry, or a Thai dish. However, the point I am trying to make is that if you think back to any happiest moments in your life, or holidays, there is usually family laughter, food and music. You can actually smell the foods that you would be eating.
At the same time, for people from the Black Diaspora there are stories and different practices and cultures that are passed down through the food that we eat. For example, okra first came to the States during the slave trade where the women slaves carried the okra seeds in their hair. The seeds fell to the ground and okra started to propagate.
I intentionally chose the name Black Girls Nutrition because I wanted to draw attention to something that I felt was being overlooked. By doing this I got the traction that I wanted. Research shows that there is a certain level of stress that comes with the shade of your skin. The darker you are the more health disparities there are; high blood pressure and strokes etc…How do you deal with all of this but still try to live your life? Finding the balance between culture and healthy eating is key.
Contrary to common belief where serotonin is produced in the brain, 70% or more is in fact produced in the stomach. This is why we say food is love!
What is your general approach to working with your clients, and what can they expect to achieve?
My general approach with our clients is to meet them where they are. Most women are either on, inbetween or about to embark on another diet. We do a dietary recall of what they have been eating, what has and hasn’t worked for them in the past. We then get them connected with a nutrition coach with whom they consult once a week for feedback.
We set some goals, establish all the food preferences, supply them with a guide to the amounts of protein, carbs, and vegetables that should be consumed. We then pair this up with recipes and give them a 7-day sample menu - we keep it short and sweet ;) and allow for flexibility.
We encourage our clients to join the sisterhood collective, a community of women who are going through the same process and can offer support and advice. Self-care is top priority.
What are your views on weight and healthy eating? Should we focus so much on weight loss as opposed to healthy/intuitive eating?
I feel that people connect with me because of my lived experience. I’ve been big, I’ve been skinny and I’ve been through depression which affected my weight. Other women can relate to me and my team. I am constantly striving to better my health but I do not worry about the number on the scale.
Learning to tap into your body and your emotions and knowing what feels good and what doesn’t is what we really try to promote to our clients. This is intuitive eating. We also promote the plate method as we feel that calorie counting doesn’t really work and is exhausting in itself.
The plate method simply means dividing your plate into sections; half=vegetables, quarter=protein and quarter=complex carbs.
How do you see the future of Black Girls Nutrition and the dieting industry as a whole?
Decolonization of the food industry will continue to increase. Most of the US is non-caucasian so the food industry needs to adapt to the population it is supplying and to what they look like. I also feel that we are going to move away from the BMI as a measurement for weight/health and in the place, some other kind of measurement will increase in credo, one that measures individual health.
I think we are going to move away from the way we used to eat and view food (calorie counting etc..) and we will move towards a more holistic approach. Nutrition will be personalized and will be connected to healing modalities such as acupuncture and reiki, all of which are gaining in popularity and recognition.
BGN works with individual clients but we also partner with other organizations and individuals to affect policy. We want to bring about systemic change so for this one has to fold in policy. Our focus is to get our clients healthy, so that hopefully they can go forth and spread love and the world!