Health and wellness influencers tell us that we need to change. According to their social feeds, it’s time to attain a “new” idolized representation of health. We’re convinced that if we do “X” then we’ll successfully achieve our “best body.”
Success is an individual. How we define success differs tremendously based on our personal goals. Dancers, who often establish high standards for themselves, commonly struggle to experience personal success as they strive to perfect an imperfect art. When these high standards are translated into food and body, dancers become vulnerable to the detrimental costs of body-related media messages.
While navigating the intense physical demands of dance, food and body image often become a burden. Antiquated ideas of an “ideal” body type promote pressure to achieve unsustainable lifestyles. Perfectionism may drive motivation, but when coupled with the drive for success in a body-conscious sport, perfectionism can orchestrate a journey towards psychological burnout and physical injury.
The road to rebuilding one’s relationship with food can be daunting as we attempt to balance the use of food in optimizing one’s performance with the use of food in rediscovering one’s personal enjoyment. Finding a middle ground between “healthy” and “ too healthy” is further distorted with the masses of misinformation surrounding health.
With a confusing road to navigate, how can dancers rebuild their relationship with food?
Find Structure, But with Fluidity
Perfectionists thrive with structure. Think about a ballet class: we continuously build on a predictable framework of barre and center, followed by work across the floor, petit allegro, and grand allegro. Similarly, map out a schedule that incorporates meals and snacks throughout your day. To best sustain energy levels, avoid gaps longer than 3-4 hours. Most importantly, your meal plan must allow for fluidity. Avoid restrictive food choices and regimens like “clean eating” or “grain-free,” which can set the stage for obsessive patterns and disordered eating behaviors.
Honor Your Cravings
The more we restrict our favorite foods, the more inclined we are to enter a binge- and restrict-cycle. Caution: “light” and “healthy” alternatives as these may do more harm than good. Cauliflower pizza is trendy, but if you’re truly craving pizza, enjoy the real deal. You’ll feel more satisfied in the long run.
Focus on What Foods to Include, Rather Than What Foods to Avoid
Providing your body with all three macronutrients (complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats) at multiple times throughout your day is essential. Don’t fear carbs—they fuel your movement. Healthy fats, such as those in avocadoes, nuts, and oils heal your body and reduce the stress from your active lifestyle. Creating a balanced plate is key to fueling a sustainable lifestyle.
Make Choices, Not Rules
We’re often pulled between opposing philosophies surrounding health. Between low carb, high fat, low fat, etc… the masses of information create a confusing landscape that leaves us second-guessing our food choices. Prioritize realistic goals and remember that restrictive rules are unsustainable. If performance is your goal, then fuel before the show. However, performance should not always be your reasoning when it comes to day-to-day food choices. Personal enjoyment is key to long-lasting healthy habits. If you’re craving cookies, consider a balanced meal before the show and enjoy cookies as a post-show snack.
Define Imperfection as Your New Perfection
A healthy relationship with food is one that incorporates nutrient-dense options, like nuts, fruit, and whole grains while also making infinite room for unapologetic enjoyments, like cookies, cake, burgers, and fries! Loosening the reigns of rigidity around your food choices is key. Granting yourself full permission to enjoy all foods is the goal.