Black Girls Nutrition Helps Women Eat Better—While Still Enjoying Food

Katia Powell designed the service specifically for women and girls of color.

Katia Powell

Katia Powell/Photo by Kyeana Jones Photography

Eleven years ago, Katia Powell decided, as she says, to stop digging her grave with her fork. Then 350 pounds, Powell threw away her junk food, walked into her local YMCA, and never looked back. Powered by a desire for a healthier life, she lost roughly 200 pounds over the course of two years.

Now, Powell, 37, is using that experience to help others escape the trap set by the standard American diet. She’s the founder of Black Girls Nutrition (BGN), a local group dedicated to helping women and girls of color eat healthfully without losing their identities.

“Any time that you ask someone to change the way that they eat—and it’s a person of color and they grew up eating a certain way—they identify with it. You are asking them to ultimately change themselves,” Powell says. “Is that sustainable? Probably not.”

Instead, BGN folds culture into its meal planning, helping women eat the foods they’ve always cooked and loved, just in a healthier way. The goal, Powell says, is maintaining positive associations with food, while helping habits jive with nutrition advice from BGN’s team of experts, which includes a population health expert, a psychologist, and a nutrition scientist.

The service launched unofficially in January—its official launch party is slated for September 21—and has already begun accepting clients. Powell says the system is still being built up technologically, but the goal is to have a primarily online platform, with quarterly in-person meet-ups for clients. The group is also working to integrate added “concierge” services, like kitchen overhauls and grocery shopping trips with dietitians.

The stakes are high for BGN’s success: Right now, 82 percent of African American women and 35 percent of African American children are obese. Further, Powell notes that many primarily black neighborhoods have relatively few places to buy healthy food, so residents must learn to make the best choices they can. “It’s about behavior change and access also,” she says.

But perhaps most importantly, Powell says, BGN wants women to eat well without losing the joy—the tradition, the sense of self, the memories, the fun—associated with food.

“So much happens around food,” she says. “Many of our most vivid and happiest occasions happen around food.”

BGN’s launch party will be free on 9/21, 6 p.m. Hatch Fenway, 401 Park Drive, Boston,