On Blacks and Fat: Dr. Michelle Gourdine

This author says black women can embrace their curves as long as they know their health stats, too.

Courtesy of Michelle Gourdine
Courtesy of Michelle Gourdine

One hundred calories’ worth of Twinkies is not equivalent to 100 calories’ worth of broccoli. Twinkies not only have fewer of the vitamins and minerals and other nutrients that are beneficial to us, but they’re also digested very quickly in the body, and they stimulate the production of insulin, which encourages the storage of fats, especially around our waists. So the overconsumption of those processed foods sets us up for obesity.

Third, our constant 24-7 lifestyle. I told my kids — and they were shocked to hear this — there used to be a time when midnight came, and if you were watching TV, you’d see the national anthem, and then the television would go off. They couldn’t believe it, and that’s a metaphor for our 24-7 lifestyle. We’re always on, and that can be stressful. And stress has to do with gaining weight, because the stress hormones that circulate constantly in our bodies cause us to gain weight — again, around the abdominal area.

TR: When it comes to African Americans and obesity, what is the biggest myth or misunderstanding?

MG: There’s this prevailing myth, whether people admit it or not, that African Americans are obese because we like being fat. There have been a number of debates about it, and I don’t believe it’s true. One study that really upset me was the one that said that black teen girls don’t benefit as much from exercise as white teen girls do.

They measured [physical activity] using an accelerometer, which does tend to be relatively objective, but they only made measurements over three days, and they based the largest part of the comparison between the physical activity of black girls and white girls on their self-report, which is open for interpretation.

Then, there was no accounting for the quality of diet that each of these girls ate during the period during which they were being monitored, and as I just stated, diet has a lot to do with weight gain. In fact, there have been studies that have shown that 75 percent of weight gain or loss is dependent on our diet.

Finally, when the study authors said black girls don’t benefit as much from exercise, there was a very narrow definition of “benefit.” We don’t only benefit from exercise with weight loss. We also benefit by obtaining better control of our blood pressure, our blood sugar and our cholesterol, all of which, if they’re not under control, set us up for serious disease. And there are also mental-health benefits related to exercise.

So my concern was that that study and the way it was interpreted in the media might discourage some young ladies who are very diligent about taking care of themselves from undertaking physical activity. And that would be a huge, huge mistake.