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Session 269: Digging Deeper Into Our Relationship to Food & Nutrition

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

It can be hard to know where to start to get solid information about food and nutrition as so many sources share information that is incorrect and can be damaging to both our health and our relationship to food. Joining me this week to share their insights and expertise about all things food and nutrition are Registered Dietitians and Certified Diabetes Educators Wendy Lopez and Jessica Jones. Wendy and Jessica are also the hosts of the popular podcast Food Heaven. During our conversation they provided definitions to some important terms like intuitive eating and diet culture, we discussed the cultural nuances that impact our relationships to food, and we discussed how our relationship to food impacts our mental health.


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Session 269: Digging Deeper Into Our Relationship to Food & Nutrition

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 269 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the conversation after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: It can be hard to know where to start to get solid information about food and nutrition as so many sources share information that is incorrect and can be damaging to both our health and our relationship to food. Joining me today to share their insights and expertise about all things food and nutrition are registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators, Wendy Lopez and Jessica Jones. Wendy and Jessica are also the hosts of the popular podcast Food Heaven. During our conversation, they provided definitions to some important terms like intuitive eating and diet culture, we discussed the cultural nuances that impact our relationships to food, and we discussed how our relationship to food impacts our mental health. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in-depth about the episode. You can join us at Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm so excited to chat with both of you, Wendy and Jess.

Wendy & Jess: Thank you. I feel like this is a highlight of our career, being on this podcast. So exciting.

Dr. Joy: Likewise. I've been such a fan of you all. There were not very many black girl podcasts, starting out, and I feel like y'all are some real OGs in the game, so it's an honor to chat with you all.

Wendy & Jess: Thank you. So excited.

Dr. Joy: Tell me a little bit about what inspired you both to go into nutrition science.

Jessica: I can start with that. I was actually a journalist before I was a dietitian. I still do love journalism and I still write, but this was around the time, like 2006 was when I graduated college, and the blogs were just starting. And the journalism was really changing and becoming more unstable and I also made like literally no money. Not that it's about money but I was like, I'm gonna make a lot of money in nutrition. Just kidding. So I ended up wanting to go back to school, have a career where I knew I could be more of an entrepreneur and also feel like I could directly help people improve their health, like with their nutrition and their quality of life. And I also discovered a real love and passion for science (nutrition science specifically) that I didn't know that I had. So yeah, I kind of just started from looking to do something different from journalism. It just evolved.

Dr. Joy: And what about you, Wendy?

Wendy: I didn't even know that nutrition was a possibility professionally. I met Jess and she was on her way to becoming a dietitian. I was like, oh, wow, that's actually a career choice? And I was like, I'm interested in that because I was struggling with some health issues. Also, the neighborhood that I grew up in that I was living in, there wasn't really much access to fresh food and so I thought that it would be really interesting to learn more about food justice and nutrition science. So Jess and I started working together at a farmers' market in the Bronx and I was just really inspired by the community that we were working with. We would provide tools that were culturally relevant and we saw how impactful that was in them incorporating changes and also just being receptive to the information that we were giving them. From there, we were like, oh, maybe we can do something with this. And that's when I decided to pursue the career professionally and Jess and I started our passion project on the side.

Dr. Joy: Nice. How did you both meet?

Jessica: Through a mutual friend. A black activist meeting. Were you a part of *[inaudible 0:05:00], Wendy? So you were a part of it, our friends were a part of it. They brought me too, it was really a potluck hangout. We didn't really talk much there but then it was just summer in Brooklyn so I kept seeing her over and over and then, with the mutual friends, we ended up hitting it off.

Dr. Joy: Nice. And so it sounds like this kind of started by you all just kind of having some shared interests. Jess, it sounds like you were kind of starting your career. How did all of that become then Food Heaven and the Food Heaven podcast?

Jessica: It's been a journey. Basically, like Wendy said, we had been working together at farmers’ markets, doing nutrition education in underserved communities like Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, Washington Heights in New York City. And we were like, huh, we have really good chemistry, we really love what we're doing, how can we try to reach more people with this message? And so we ended up doing a show on Brooklyn Public Access Television. I remember like one summer, you had to become a producer, I think, and do all these courses with BCAT and we did that. And then we ended up having a show, which I feel like it's still running because they always are like, your show has been renewed. And then we decided to put it on YouTube because we were like, okay, our friends and family who aren't living in Brooklyn or don't have TVs, they can't see our show. So we started YouTube. And then from there, it just evolved. I eventually moved back to California and that's when we decided like, oh, how can we continue this work in a way that is sustainable and makes sense? That's when we kind of thought about creating a podcast.

Wendy: With the podcast, it's also evolved a lot. Because initially, we were focused more so on topics related to like food, nutrition, the science of it all. But then as our brand has evolved throughout the years—because at this point, we've been doing this for over 11 years—we started learning more about Health at Every Size, food justice, intuitive eating. And so our focus has also kind of pivoted throughout the years, where now we talk about so many different topics. Both within everything that I just spoke about, but also like financial literacy, we speak about real estate. Like things you might not think are like directly related to wellness, but they are because they impact our quality of life and our stress, and our mental health. So we kind of take on a more broad approach. And also with the podcast, we just think about what we want to talk about so we're like, who do we want to chat with and catch up with? And then we'll kind of use that to guide the people that we bring on.

Dr. Joy: I appreciate that you shared, Wendy, around how you all started having some of these conversations in farmers’ markets, and living in areas where food wasn't readily available or fresh produce and those kinds of things. And I'm wondering, how have you seen the community respond to some of these conversations? If I think about like my own growing up, I feel like there were health classes where (I think when I was younger) it was like the food pyramid. I think it’s now Colors on a Plate or some new terminology. But it feels like conversations around food and the connection to health weren't really things that we were having. And so what has been the community's response to these conversations?

Wendy: It's been really positive. I think initially, there was some resistance there because, like you said, with the history of the food pyramid. And I think the conventional ways of teaching nutrition are very Eurocentric and so especially for people of color, they're very closed off. I remember when I was working in a clinic and I came in as like the new dietitian, for months, patients would not want to come to my office because they thought that I was going to take on the same approach as a dietitian that was there before. Where it's like, this is what you need to eat, you’ve got to take out all your cultural foods. Essentially like making them feel like they're a bad person for their food choices. Just using like morale as a central thing and people would be very put off by it. And so it took some time to kind of get them to warm up to me.

But then when you start talking to people, you find out that it's not just food, there's like just so many issues that are surrounding food. Like family dynamics, trauma, immigration, just all of these things. Once they start trusting you, they start to unpack. I've learned as a provider that it's really important to take on that patient-centered approach and really just listen, versus doing the more old-school approach, which is like you just tell people what to do. You give them handouts and you're like, all right, this is what you need to do to get your blood sugars under control. It just doesn't work, you know.

Dr. Joy: Can you give us like a 101 version of how we can begin to start thinking more expansively around nutrition? And how do we break some of those old cycles we may have fallen into?

Jessica: I think number one is just understanding that nutrition and your relationship with nutrition and what works for you is going to be different for everybody. Because I think people come to us expecting us to say, this is what it means and this is what you need to do. And really, it's very personal. That's number one, understanding that. The second thing is understanding that nutrition is flexible so a healthy diet is flexible. That's like one of my favorite lines that I've heard another dietitian say because many people think that a healthy diet means rigidity and you eat certain foods some days of the week and then on the weekends you have cheat days. And that would not be a definition of a healthy diet. I also think before we even focus on what we call in intuitive eating “gentle nutrition,” it's important to focus on your relationship with food. If you're somebody who is noticing that you're restricting during the week and binging on the weekends, or you have a lot of foods that are off limits... Or I was watching a video the other day, where people were like “eating healthy” and I was looking at the meal that they were eating, and I was like, wait, they don't realize that this would not constitute as a full meal to me as a dietitian. Because, essentially, you're just sauteeing vegetables.

So just understanding that we need variety, flexibility, is important, and having a healthy relationship. And then in terms of specifics, I always like to encourage people to try to have at least three food groups per meal. Aiming to have a carbohydrate, which would be anything from tortillas to peas, corn, rice. I also encourage people to have protein which most people are more familiar with protein. That would be things like chicken, tofu, tempeh, eggs, beans, and then having fat and or a fruit or vegetable. Fats can be cheese, it can be avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and then fruits and vegetables—broccoli, cauliflower, carrots. If we can have a balance of all of those things on our plate, or at least three, I feel like you're doing great.

Dr. Joy: You mentioned a couple of terms that I've heard kind of in passing, and I'm sure others have also, but I’d love for you to dig a little deeper into. You mentioned this idea of intuitive eating and gentle nutrition. Can you go more in-depth about those?

Jessica: Absolutely. Intuitive eating is a concept that was popularized by two registered dietitians. I think their book came out in like 1995, the first edition, and it's all about getting back in touch with our body’s needs, wants, and desires for food. And focusing more on internal cues, what does your body feel like eating? 8Many of us will naturally crave certain foods. For example, for me, I know that when I'm hot and maybe a little dehydrated, I crave fruit. Especially like during the summer, I'm always craving watermelon and that really hits the spot for me. So it's focusing on those internal cues and weeding out the noise and those external cues like calorie counting or following whatever diet on Instagram because, in the long run, that's not going to help you have a healthy and positive relationship with food and be able to trust yourself. Because intuitive eating is also all about building trust with your body. We want to focus on what's going to help facilitate that.

Dr. Joy: And is gentle nutrition like an extension of that or is that kind of something a little different?

Jessica: Gentle nutrition is absolutely an extension of that. And again, that's one of the 10 principles of intuitive eating. But people often want to start out with the nutrition because that's what we're conditioned to think. It's like all about doing this huge overhaul and doing overnight. But with intuitive eating, we focus on building that trust first, respecting our body, respecting our body’s kind of natural weight and shape, when we are listening to our hunger and fullness cues. Gentle nutrition is leaning in on those things that I mentioned, like trying to have variety at your plate. Obviously, we all know vegetables are healthy in the context of a balanced meal, so just adding that variety, diversity and doing that consistently.

Dr. Joy: I appreciate you saying that, Jess. That we typically want to start with the nutrition because that's kind of what we've been conditioned. Like, okay, let me have one of each of these food groups and that kind of thing. But it sounds like foundationally it really is more important for us to start with developing or really examining our relationship to food and trusting your body. I really appreciate that language. Wendy, can you go a little bit more in-depth about how would we even start to examine our relationship to food? And what does it look like for us to trust our body?

Wendy: It's important to have some level of self-awareness when you're eating. Because I think a lot of our decisions, especially now with the internet, there's just so much information coming at us left and right about what we should be eating, about what good nutrition looks like. And I find it helpful to just pause and tune in to your body's needs, like Jess said. And also your body's needs are changing literally every day. You know, if you're menstruating, for example, your body's needs are going to be very different from another time during the month. Or if you're pregnant, for example. There's just so many different factors and so I think it's important to check in every day.

And it doesn't have to be very time-consuming or like energy draining. It's just like being present when you're having your meal and asking yourself questions. Like how do I feel when I'm eating this meal? Why did I decide to eat this meal? Do I even like sweet potatoes? Is kale something that I actually enjoy or am I eating it because I was told that this is what I need to eat to be healthier? Because the reality is that there's just so many different foods in the world and there are so many different ways to eat healthy, regardless of what culture you're from. And so that's why I think the flexibility is really important, it doesn't just look like one thing. You can decide what it's going to look like for you based on your preferences. If you like ice cream, then there is a place for that. It doesn't have to be like demonized or moralized as bad food.

Jessica: Yeah. For me, real ice cream is like the fatty ice cream. Because the other thing is like when we try to have these diety foods that aren't “real thing,” sometimes that may work for you and maybe you feel better having those things. But oftentimes, at least for many of my clients, they find that they're not actually satisfied from having the sugar-free whatever, or there's certain brands of ice cream that barely have any calories. And so you end up eating more of that than if you were to just have had a scoop of what you really wanted.

Dr. Joy: You know, Jess, when you mentioned like, oh, in the summertime, I find myself craving watermelon. I'm thinking, oh, well, that's not an awful craving to have, right? It’s a watermelon. But I hear you saying even if you're craving ice cream, there is a way to have that and still kind of look at the fullness of what you're eating in your nutrition.

Wendy: Yeah, that's a great point. Because a lot of people would be like, well, the watermelon is like the healthier choice. Let me go for watermelon. But if your body is actually craving ice cream, you can eat all the watermelon you want; in the back of your head, you're gonna be like, damn, I want some ice cream.

Jessica: Yes. Maybe that wasn't the best example. For me, it's like if I'm craving ice cream, like I was with Wendy this weekend and it's like I had ice cream. The other thing I want people to pay attention to is how do you feel. Because I think people often, with intuitive eating, they're like, oh, you're just saying it's a free for all. Like I'm going to be craving ice cream all day every day. In reality, if you're really in tune with yourself and trusting yourself, you're not going to... Eventually. Like in the beginning, you probably will crave ice cream all day every day if you're used to restricting it, but with time, you'll be able to check in, like Wendy saying, and say, how did that feel having ice cream for lunch? I know there are a lot of times where I've had ice cream for lunch and I'm like, well, I kind of like didn't feel the best after. I know for me, I tend to do better if I have it after a meal because my blood sugar levels are a little more stable, so I'm not going to have as much of a crash. So I think it's kind of just really paying attention.

Just to go back to that YouTube video I was watching where the person was trying to eat healthy and they were having just like stir fry but with like cauliflower rice and then the stir fry was like just vegetables, kind of no protein, no nothing. And I was just thinking I bet they're gonna say, like in the next like five minutes, they were really hungry after that. And sure enough, she's like, okay, it's been an hour and I’m already starving. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but that's another part of intuitive eating. Like what would it feel like if I were to have had that stir fry but added some protein, added some more flavor factor foods, had actual rice, added olive oil? How would that change your satiety and your fullness? How long would it last then? And it wouldn't make you feel like healthy eating means you're just going to be hungry all the time because that's not the case when you're eating enough.

Dr. Joy: Something that you mentioned earlier, Wendy, was Health at Every Size. HAES, I'm sure a lot of people have seen that abbreviation. Can you tell us a little bit more about what Health at Every Size is?

Wendy: It is a movement that was started by health professionals and it addresses weight stigma and also health behaviors that promote our well-being, that have nothing to do with weight. Because in the conventional medical and nutrition approach, weight is at the forefront. It's always BMI, it's always “hop on the scale, let's see what your weight is.” And so it takes on, I think, a more holistic approach to health where we look at things like culture, like gender, like social status. All these things that might be impacting your food choices. Food access, all these different things, instead of just being like, oh, how much do you weigh? And these are the recommendations that we're going to give you based on that.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Wendy and Jessica after the break.


Dr. Joy: What would you say to critics? Because I have seen a lot of people criticize like, oh, are you just buying into these ideas that everything goes, and feeding into this unhealthy behavior, so to speak? What would you say to critics of it?

Wendy: I would say actually, in the black community, there's a lot of critics because there's also this issue with food access which is a very delicate conversation. There's not a lot of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the hood so it becomes really tricky because then it's like, oh, well, what are you saying, like people should be eating McDonald's? That's what the systems that are in place want us to do. And it's like, well, we can talk about both things simultaneously. We of course, want to increase access to fresh food in low-income communities, but also as dietitians, we don't want people to be consumed by their food choices, Because food should be an enjoyable experience, it shouldn’t be something that's taking up so much energy in your brain. And especially as a black person, we have so many other things that we have to think about in this world that like you stressing out about a slice of pizza that you ate, it’s like do you really want to put that much energy into that? And also, is it really having as much impact on your health as you think it is? Because I think issues like food access, access to health care, mental health, all these things are much more important, I think, than you having a slice of pizza or whatever. I think people kind of like zoom in and they really just focus and put so much energy into those things, where really there are so many bigger systems in place that impact our health and our well-being.

Jessica: Yeah, and just to follow up with that, Health at Every Size or HAES isn't saying that everybody should just engage in “unhealthy behaviors.” It's literally the pursuit of health, but like Wendy said, with the social justice lens. The HAES principles promote health equality, support ending weight discrimination, and improve access to quality health care, regardless of size. The principles are just saying we don't want to discriminate against people in larger bodies and they deserve access to health as well. I don't know how anybody could argue with that. HAES is also saying, kind of what Wendy’s saying, nutrition obviously isn't everything. We can't control everything about our health and let's focus on, for many of us, what we can try to control, which is behaviors. Behaviors are like moving every day, behaviors are like including gentle nutrition if you have access to that. Behaviors aren't weight loss. And studies show that if we lean in on these healthy behaviors, we can mitigate some of the risks that might come from being in a larger body. Especially people who are on both ends of the BMI, those both pose some health risks, but with HAES, we can try to mitigate that by focusing on behaviors.

Wendy: And also I just wanted to say that if someone decides that they don't want to engage in any health-promoting behaviors, then we also want to make sure to take on a compassionate approach. Because everyone is entitled to move in this world the way that they want, when it comes to their health, it's their body. I think that, especially in the health space, there's a lot of shaming and a lot of assumptions, especially for people who are at a higher weight. Like, well, if you did this, then you wouldn't have diabetes, for example, or whatever. And in my experience as a health professional, it's not effective, it doesn't do anything, it doesn't motivate people. And if someone is not trying to eat more vegetables, then that is their choice. They're not a bad person for doing that. Because they probably have a lot of other things going on in their life that are of top priority.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, that's one of the things I have appreciated most about your platform. It feels like you are able to have these very difficult conversations in a way that is very compassionate and sensitive, especially to the communities that you're working with. Can you talk a little bit about how we can discuss healthy eating without contributing to diet culture?

Wendy: First, it's important to learn all the different ways that diet culture shows up because it can be very in your face and it can also be very subtle. As a provider, I try to practice a lot of self-awareness because sometimes I'm projecting my own stuff onto the conversations that I'm having or the stuff that I'm putting out. So it's nice having Jess as a business partner because we're able to bounce ideas off of each other and be like, wait a minute, that might come off the wrong way or that is coming from a place of diet culture. It's really important, I think, to ask yourself, okay, what does health look like for me? What are all the signs and signals that I've gotten from society that has informed my belief about health and well-being about what I should look like? Where does that come from?

Because there is a lot of problematic history there too, especially as it relates to black people. And so I think once you start learning about those things, yeah, you just become more aware. There are a lot of great books out there for people that want to learn more. On our website, we actually have a whole resource list of books that you can read up on. But Intuitive Eating is a great place to start. There's also Anti-Diet, Body Kindness, Unapologetic Eating. Feeding the Black Body, I love because it goes into the history of the BMI and the racism behind it all. I think that those are really great resources, too.

Dr. Joy: You both have already kind of alluded to some of this and I feel like this is probably a whole separate episode, but I do want to get into some of it. You mentioned, Jess, that you saw a video recently and I know y'all are both on Instagram and paying attention to what is happening on places like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube. I can imagine some of it makes you want to scratch your head because it’s just a lot, right? I'm curious to know what you have been observing. It definitely feels like a lot of like diet fads are repackaged in some ways, in places like Instagram and TikTok. What have you been observing? And tell me how your job has been impacted. Because you all have been doing this long enough to kind of know a little bit about what it was like to practice as a dietitian before social media became such a big thing, and now. So I'd love to hear your reflections on those things.

Jessica: I feel like social media can be... Depends on how you curate it. It can be very toxic. I feel like even a couple years ago, you followed who you followed and that's the content that you got. But now I'm just like getting all these other suggestions and sometimes the way that they integrate it, you don't know that it's a suggestion and you just think you're scrolling your feed and you're like, wait a minute. What do you mean, you only eat one meal a day, and you're talking about like the OMAD diet? Or I'm seeing people fasting for like long periods of time. And it all to me just feels very toxic and it's unfortunate that now with social media, this message is kind of getting out to more people and people are forming communities around what I would consider eating disorders or at the very least disordered eating.

For that reason, I'm not on TikTok. I just see the stuff that's on TikTok that they then post on Instagram. Another part of it is I think a lot of creators are trying to beat the algorithm or figure out the algorithm so it's almost like you have to be more extreme with your content and what you're doing and more extreme like with the diets and the before and after pictures and the really quick weight loss. So I think just figuring out how can you create a safe space for yourself, and maybe that means logging offline because it can be really bad.

Wendy: Are you on TikTok, Dr. Joy?

Dr. Joy: I'm on there to watch like kid videos and like food, quick desserts and stuff. But I'm not really on there. I have a couple of videos, but not a whole bunch.

Wendy: I enjoy talking to people that have been around for a little bit longer in social media and just kind of get their perspective on things because it's changed so much. And like with TikTok, the content is just so quick and so catchy. And I'm just like, oh my god. My brain is like I feel like I'm on some kind of drug or something, watching all these videos and this constant influx. Personally, I'm just like I can't keep up. I don't. I feel like my head is just spinning, especially with TikTok so I'm curious to see how social media is going to change in the next few years and what direction it's headed. Because I'm like, I could barely keep up with what's happening now; I can't imagine in five years.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I agree and I think that's interesting language that you use, Wendy, that you feel like it's on a drug. Because there's all this research that talks about dopamine being activated when we are on these platforms and so some of that is built into it to keep us there. But I definitely think, as a mental health professional, there are definitely some concerning things that I see. And I think you're right, Jess, that it feels like people are being encouraged to be more extreme in their viewpoints because that is what gets the likes and the engagement. I would imagine, as dietitian and health professionals in your lane, that some of this stuff that you see is concerning in that same way.

Wendy: Oh, totally. The food is like, just the recipes alone. You're like, what? I would never eat that. But it's like what is gonna get the most attention? What's the most extreme? Like let's do a Snickers sandwich or something? And I'm like, what? This doesn't make any sense! But it’s like it’s all for the likes and the engagement.

Jessica: The shares and the saves.

Dr. Joy: You've mentioned this fasting thing, and I definitely have seen that come up several times, too. It definitely seems like at certain points in the year, people do maybe more fasting. Can you talk a little bit about what fasting is and why it might be a concern?

Wendy: Fasting is just when you don't eat for a certain period of time. And I know that there are levels to it. There are some people who may fast for like 12 hours and then there's other people who fast for days. I even saw a YouTuber who his video was, I didn't eat for 30 days. And I'm just like, are you kidding me? Why? For likes, for views? I don't get it. And so there's that extreme as well. But for me as someone who is a big advocate of intuitive eating and listening to your body, fasting, by nature of fasting, is all about like not listening to your body. Because you are essentially ignoring your hunger cues. And with time, just ignoring them consistently, for many people, they end up kind of turning off or not being as loud. And then when they stop fasting, it becomes confusing. I just don't understand why somebody would want to go against what their body is asking for. Again, hunger is like your body asking for food.

I'm not a fasting expert, per se and I know that that's out there, too, of people like big advocates because of X, Y and Z. But from the research that we have done, it is very important to eat consistently, have at least, at least two, but ideally, three meals per day with those food groups. Because also when you're fasting for that long, you're not meeting your nutrition needs because you don't have as many opportunities to get in your vitamins, your minerals, those micronutrients. And so it's not something that I personally recommend and I've many clients who were formerly doing these fasts that they've seen on the internet and stopped doing them, and then feel like they're completely disconnected with their bodies and don't even know where to start.

Dr. Joy: We talked about diet culture a little earlier and I want to go back to that conversation to hear. Do you think that there's something different about the way diet culture maybe shows up in the black community versus other communities? What does it look like? Maybe is there a particular spin on it in our community?

Jessica: We had a whole podcast episode about this with another dietitian and just talked about how in the black community, it's definitely different. Our beauty standard may not be Gwyneth Paltrow, but for many of us, it's kind of like that Fashion Nova look. I'm thinking of Cardi B, where it's like the snatched waist, the big booty, the perky breasts. And also kind of that pressure to have a baby and then snap back immediately. The interesting thing is a lot of that for so many people, it's not even natural and it's achieved by plastic surgery. I'm just learning about the whole kind of black market plastic surgery culture on Instagram and on TikTok, where a lot of young women are preyed upon.

And these plastic surgeons are reaching out maybe from different countries and encouraging them to get like the Brazilian Butt Lift. Like, oh, it's going to help you with your platform, it's going to help you get more followers. And living in LA, I'm just seeing the beauty standard and how it's so different for black people. Also, just like the waist trainers and the flat tummy teas, the extreme restriction and thinking that healthy eating means that I need to cut out all these food groups and just eat vegetables and salmon or something like that. So it's definitely in the black community but I think the beauty standards are just a little bit different.

Wendy: Yeah, and they're still rooted in whiteness because it's like you want to control certain parts of your body to look more thin than others. And I think it goes back to a bigger conversation about how we see black beauty. That could go for skin tone, that could go for hair texture and it's very similar with body shape. It's like, well, we don't accept all black bodies, they have to look this kind of way. And it's impossible. Like, you know, most black people just aren't going to look that way unless they're getting work done. And our bodies are constantly changing throughout life so it's like you're gonna put so much effort into trying to achieve this body and you're pretty much going against your own body to try to achieve this beauty ideal.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Wendy and Jessica after the break.


Dr. Joy: I'm glad you shared that, Jess. I did not know that young women were being targeted by like plastic surgeons. That is incredibly concerning.

Jessica: Oh my god. You guys have to read this book, it's called Get Rich or Lie Trying. It’s about like deceit and scamming in the influencer economy and it's by a black journalist based in the UK. And he just talks about all these stories and all these interviews he's done with people and how deceptive it is because these surgeons will prey on people and they'll have like somebody who they may offer surgery to at a discount. Or for free and say like, “oh, tell people to work with me,” but not really disclosing that they had the surgery for free or that most of them have negative health outcomes because of it, or they didn't heal well. So I'm just like, oh my god, this is just so toxic and this is why I need to just get offline.

Wendy: It's absolutely crazy. I was just sharing with Jess the other day that I was on Instagram and it was like one of those ads. And it was for dimple surgery. And I was like, what is the world coming to? Apparently, that's like a big thing now where you have women who are getting dimples made on their face and it's a cosmetic surgery. And it's put out as a sponsored post so that you can see it and engage with it and there are a lot of people engaging with this content. It was shocking to me.

Dr. Joy: Wow.

Jessica: It's just like these young faces–what is this going to look like in 20, 30 years? And when I'm looking at these pictures of people with the dimple surgery, it's just like these permanent indentations on their face. The beauty standards, I just can't. I can't get with it.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and it feels like they rapidly change. There’s always some new thing that we should be wanting on our bodies.

Wendy: Right. Because when dimples are out, honey, you're stuck with those dimples, okay? It’s a mess.

Jessica: It really is.

Dr. Joy: We've talked about this a little bit, but I would love to hear more from you about how our relationship to food does impact our mental health. I know that, as dietitians, both of you probably have also worked with therapists as a part of a treatment team for people who do have disordered eating concerns. Can you talk a little bit about the mental health connection?

Wendy: It goes back to what I was talking about, just thinking about how much space food and nutrition occupies in your mind. It can very easily turn into an obsession with healthy eating, especially with kind of this diet culture that we're living in now, and with social media the way that it is and so that could go left. When you start obsessing over food and about your body, especially, it could impact so many things. Your relationships with loved ones, your self-esteem, how you feel physically, and also the things that you're able to do in the world. Because for some people, it’s to the point where they can't even go out to eat with their friends because they're so concerned about what's going to be ordered at the table, they're going to have all this scale afterwards. And so it impacts all aspects of someone's life. That's why I think it's really important to take on a complex approach when talking about food and really get to the root of what's going on. Because it's just so much happening at the same time and everyone's situation is different. We have to like just take all those things into account.

Dr. Joy: How might somebody knew if there are some concerns where they may need to talk with a dietitian or a therapist about their relationship with food? What kinds of things should they be on the lookout for?

Jessica: Thinking about food all the time, that's the first one. I have like a whole assessment where it's like, you eat one meal and immediately you're thinking about the next meal. Do you feel like you have a lot of rules around food? I mentioned some of them, like you don't eat more than this amount of calories or you don't eat past 7pm. What happens when you're hungry after 7pm? Does that cause stress for you? Do you feel like you're obsessing about your body or your weight and like that's kind of getting in the way of your quality of life? Or even for many of my clients or people in general, like not wanting to see people or see friends. Or, oh, I'm actually not going to be in your wedding because I don't really like how I'm going to look in the dress. Those are just a couple of things to start with asking yourself, but I always recommend people do a consult, like with a dietitian or even with a therapist, just to explore that relationship further. Because I know dietitians, especially with like relationship with food... If you're having a dietitian who specializes in this, they're going to be able to quickly point out behaviors that may indicate that there is some kind of disconnect there.

Dr. Joy: Is there a HAES directory? Because I think, to your point earlier, Wendy, we want to avoid working with dietitians who are going to shame you or make you feel bad about it or not take in the totality of your experience. So can we look for people who have a HAES certification? How would we be able to find a dietitian that will approach things in the way that will be most helpful?

Wendy: There is a HAES resource where you could find providers. Not just dietitians, but even physicians and other health care providers. The website is and I can share that with you. It’s the Association for Size, Diversity and Health. For dietitians, generally, if you just google Health at Any Size dietitian and someone who's local to you, I'm sure that there will be options that will come up. Intuitive Eating dietitians, Health at Any Size dietitians, are usually very outspoken about their approach and so there's no questioning. Usually, they’re kind of front and center, they're like this is my approach. I would recommend if you're looking for a dietitian to go on their about page, and usually there, they'll talk about what their approach is. Like if their focus is more on like digestive health, they take on a Health at Every Size approach with digestive health. They're usually very specific with what they do and so just go on their about page.

Jessica: I have a really great resource that even goes beyond that for black and brown people. Whitney Trotter, who is a dietitian, her handle is @WhitneyTrotter.rd on Instagram. She compiled a BIPOC eating disorder provider list, and it's a Google spreadsheet of dietitians on one page, therapists on the other. You can look and see what their race, ethnicity is, other identities, like if someone identifies as queer or fat or whatever, and you would feel more comfortable working with that person. And then you could see like, what do they focus on? Is it eating disorders, is it disordered eating, is it intuitive eating? Many of them focus on all three of those things. This is an amazing resource, I'm so happy that she put this together.

Dr. Joy: Thank you for that, we will definitely include that in the show notes. Jess, another question for you. We've definitely seen an increase in black vegans, people who are wanting to live and appreciate a more plant-based lifestyle. Where does someone get started if they're thinking that they want to have a more plant-based lifestyle?

Jessica: The first thing that they should do is some reflection and ask yourself, why? Why do I want to have a more plant-based lifestyle, or vegan in particular? Is it because I feel like I need to, to be healthy? We know that that's not the case. Like we can still get some of those health benefits by incorporating more plant-based foods, but we don't have to go all the way to say that we're being vegan. I think just asking what is the motive. For many people, and I hundred percent respect this (and I feel conflicted myself ), with animal rights and animal cruelty, I think that that's a motivation that's very valid when it comes to going vegan. There might be some people who may just feel better. Like if they're really listening to their body and they're being honest, maybe they feel better eating vegan. There's a lot of people who don't though, where it's like, they feel worse and they're like I need meat and I feel better when I have meat.

I think really kind of exploring. I have a lot of clients who come thinking I'm going to be like, oh, you should eat vegan, let's talk about that. And really, I kind of challenge any assumptions that they might have about veganism. But if you look into it and you really do some reflection and you decide like, oh, this is something that's for me, for whatever reason, I think the number one place to start is Vegetarian Nutrition Resource. I can send the link for you guys for the show notes, but they have some really good handouts and studies and myth busters that I think is very helpful for people. I think most importantly, we want to make sure we're eating enough with a vegan diet because there's so much fiber.

Because there often tends to be more vegetables, you can be hungrier and so you might have to actually eat five meals a day, six meals a day, so that you're able to get enough calories in, enough energy, enough nutrition, enough protein. Whereas if you're eating a diet that includes meat, it might be a little bit easier to do that with less volume. Because I know that sometimes is a complaint for people following a vegan diet, where it's like, oh my god, it's a lot of volume, it's a lot of chewing. So making sure you’re eating enough. And then I think the same thing applies with the gentle nutrition—trying to get in a variety of food groups. Because I know many people, they just focus on the vegetables and like rice or whatever carb, and yet they're not thinking about protein, they're not thinking about fat. And in order to get all those vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, we have to have a variety at most meals.

Dr. Joy: Y'all have shared such a wealth of information. I'm so appreciative for you both. Tell us where we can stay connected with you, what is your website as well as any social media handles that you want to share.

Wendy: Our website is We also have a podcast called the Food Heaven podcast and you can find that on iTunes and Spotify and all the things. And then on Instagram, we are @FoodHeaven, that's where we're most active.

Jessica: Yes. And then if people are looking more specifically for intuitive eating within the BIPOC community, I do have a course. It's You can find it on there, and it's called Food Positive. And for anybody who is listening who wants to join the course, I am offering 50% off. The coupon code is Therapy, so you guys can do that. And that's pretty much like all the work that I do one on one with clients. Unfortunately, I'm not accepting any clients anymore, but that's another resource for folks.

Dr. Joy: We love it. We love a good discount code so we appreciate you sharing that. It sounds like y'all have also developed a very thorough resource list on your website.

Jessica: Exactly. Books... Yeah, the podcast is such a wealth of information too, because we've been doing it for so long. Every conversation is on there.

Dr. Joy: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Jessica & Wendy: Thank you.

Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Wendy and Jessica were able to share their expertise with us today. To learn more about them and their work, be sure to visit the show notes at And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It’s our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis and Gabby Gladney, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here