Can dancers eat dessert everyday? How much dessert is too much? Is dessert unhealthy? Dancers often question whether or not dessert can be a staple in their diet. This article will guide your decisions around dessert and offer a perspective shift in a way that supports your abilities on stage and off.
Can dancers eat dessert everyday?
In short, yes. But the answer is more nuanced if we’re considering how our food choices impact our overall wellbeing. I’ve previously discussed the differences between food choices and food rules (click here to learn more). First, realize that restrictive food rules can leave you feeling unsatisfied and if we’re placing regimented rules around when or how often we eat dessert, then we’re more likely to develop an all-or-nothing relationship with it.
Now, this all-or-nothing approach is sometimes experienced when first starting to heal from diet cuture. It may take trial and error to learn what amounts of those “off limit” foods feel good. I am a dietitian and a dancer and I can confidently tell you that I eat dessert everyday. My daily dessert habit doesn’t leave me feeling physically unwell, mentally unsatisfied, or emotionally stressed out. I’ve learned how to honor my sweet tooth in an amount that feels great. This didn’t happen overnight.
Consider how it will feel if you were to eat ALL of the dessert ALL of the time. Will that experience feel satisfying? Or will it leave you feeling physically unwell? These are questions to consider; questions for exploration. Technically, you can eat dessert anytime you desire it (if and when it’s accessible). You have unconditional permission to do this (a concept I discuss here). The question is not about whether you “should” eat dessert everyday, but rather, if this is something you want to eat, how can you do so in a way that supports you.
If dessert is something that you’re stressing over, then use it as an experience for exploration. Make it a purpose to give yourself time for mindful eating experiences with dessert. Consider the tastes, textures, and mouthfeel of w choice. A food journal might help. Check out this article to learn more about mindful eating. You’d be surprised how this slows down your eating, allowing you to prioritize body attunement in the form of your hunger and fullness cues. This proactive approach will help you through the logistics of healing your relationship with sweet treats.
Should I healthify my dessert?
You can eat the regular versions without it destroying your health and performance goals. You don’t need to sneak veggies into your brownies or swap ingredients with “healthier” alternatives. An imminent step in the process will also be to break your fears around sugar, a topic I discuss in this article.
But on the flip side, realize that diet culture doesn’t own the rights to these healthy options and if you enjoy them, then they’re completely valid for you to include! Sneaking avocadoes into your brownies boosts it’s healthy fat content. There’s nothing wrong with that!
Bottom line: you have permission to enjoy BOTH options: the nutrient-dense dessert and the not-so-“healthy” dessert. But here’s the caveat… there are TWO questions to consider:
- Will my choice leave me feeling satisfied? Here’s an article that teaches you more about satisfaction and the important role it plays in your meals.
- Do I feel stress or anxiety if and when the healthy choice is not available? If so, then you need to reconsider your intent with dessert and your food rules.
The Healthy Dancer Food Flexibility Algorithm
Gentle nutrition and food flexibility, as tools of The Healthy Dancer® framework, can help you in your decision-making around dessert. These tools can guide you when desiphering between those desserts deemed “healthy” (like fruit) and those more indulgent options (I’m talking about that brownie sundae with EXTRA fudge!) Similar to how we approach all foods, let’s utilize The Healthy Dancer® Food Flexibility Algorithm to navigate your sweet treats.
What’s My Intent?
The first place to start is with the intent behind your choices. Diet culture often suggests that intent be related to body weight. When it comes to dessert, I encourage you to utilize food as a tool for enjoyment and fun, not for weight manipulation (I realize that this is easier said than done… here’s why).
Your reason for eating dessert shouldn’t only be because you’re rejecting diet culture. That rebel mindset might lead you to entitlement eating. Your reasons for wanting dessert should be internal; to satisfy a desire for an experience that supports you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Physically, dessert provides calories and energy. Mentally, dessert satisfies a craving. Emotionally, dessert offers comfort during an otherwise uncomfortable situation.
What am I craving?
Now, consider your desire. Cravings are born from positive-emotional experiences with food. They intensify with deprivation: simply put: the longer you go without eating a specific food, the more likely you are to crave it. On the biological level, hormones like neuropeptide-Y and leptin drive cravings, specifically for energy-dense foods rich in carbohydrates and fat, respectively. Consider your cravings and desires. Ask yourself: what will enable me to feel satisfied?
What is accessible to me at this moment?
If you’re craving the nostalgia of an ice cream sundae, then that option would support you at this moment. If it’s accessible to you, then great. But while listening to satiety cues and discovering satisfaction are both aspects of intuitive eating, they’re not the entirety.
A major part of intuitive eating that often gets lost in translation is the importance of food accessibility (learn more about this misconception and how to navigate through it). Contrary to only prioritizing satisfaction, intuitive eaters prioritize their body’s need for calories as nourishment. If you’re hoping for a freshly-based option, but all that’s available is an option deemed “highly processed” or “sugary,” then that is what will support your body at this moment. Food neutrality, a topic you can learn more about here, strips the glorification of some foods (most often “clean,” “whole” foods) and demonization of other foods (most often “processed” foods). Food neutrality for dancers reduces the shame and guilt often associated with foods that may be more accessible.
Can I apply gentle nutrition?
This goes back to that question of whether or not we need to “healthify” our desserts. The answer will depend largely on your self-exploration of what satisfies you. For me, buttery cookies with the extra-large chocolate chunks are an absolute favorite, mainly because of a nostalgia. From experience, I’ve learned that replacing butter with a “healthified” version leaves me feeling unsatisfied and disconnected. I know that when it comes to chocolate chunk cookies, I prefer the real deal when it’s accessible to me.
Now, let’s say I’m gearing up for an evening performance. I know that a balanced snack will support my energy for the show. Since the cookies are denser, I might feel nauseous if eating them at that moment. But to satisfy the late-afternoon sweet tooth, I’ll opt for a chocolatey protein smoothie instead. As an intuitive eater, I trust that I have permission to enjoy those cookies if and when they will be available to me.
Reflect and Learn
At this point, reflect upon what works and what doesn’t work. Our food choices might not be perfect 100% of the time. Sometimes, we’ll leave dessert feeling satisfied, and other times, we’ll feel disappointed. Going back to that intent, if your priority is enjoyment, then go with the real deal if it’s accessible. If your priority is energy or performance, then you may need to integrate a bit more gentle nutrition into your choice.
Fun fact: I avoided dessert for years fearing that once I started, I’d never stop. Finally breaking free from that fear helps to strip the point of deprivation. From here, you’re left with a mindset of abundance knowing that come tomorrow, you could eat dessert if and when you desire it. Remember: your health and performance are products of patterns of behaviors. Utilize The Healthy Dancer Food Flexibility Algorithm to build trust with yourself and ALL foods.