Weight loss, muscle gains, fat loss. These are just a few of the common concerns that I hear from dancers looking to adjust their lifestyles. And although we know that restrictive dieting isn’t a sustainable path towards these goals, it’s often a tempting route when striving to change the way we look. This is especially true since our culture places a ton of weight (pun intended) on one’s ability to lose weight (read more about this here).
Regardless, is it okay to have body goals? And can we strive for these changes in a sustainable way? Or do such goals require some bit of restrictive control over our eating and exercise habits?
Can dancers develop a lifestyle around 0 food restrictions while still caring about what they put into their bodies?
Before we dive into some answers, I need you to first realize that your goals, whatever they are, must be realistic. And while a licensed professional can help you formulate such goals, realize that when it comes to your body, no one person can actually dictate those goals. Family, friends, artistic directors, teachers, choreographers, and even health professionals like myself cannot dictate your body goals. In fact, even you cannot dictate this goal. Rather, your body and its genetic blueprint will dictate this goal.
And if you’re recovering from an eating disorder or currently stuck in a cycle of disordered eating, then body goals shouldn’t be your priority. If you’re not sure where you stand, then take this helpful quiz. From there, I’ll even send you a Free Starter Workbook to help you begin to break any potential restrictive habits.
Now, what if you’re a dancer who eats sufficiently throughout the day, does not follow restrictive dieting rules, and still wants to strive for some type of body goal? I get it. The concept of “changing our body” is drenched in our lives. Just realize that striving to “be healthier” should not translate into a desire to “be underweight.” This jeopardizes both long-term performance and health. This is also why prioritizing body goals (as opposed to prioritizing a more positive relationship with food and body) can become a slippery slope into the dieting world.
But nonetheless, let’s chat about 3 important points to consider if you are (kinda, sorta) striving for a *REALISTIC!* body goal…
Assess The Sustainability of Your Lifestyle
Ask yourself: are you making food and exercise choices that you can maintain long term no matter what curveballs life throws? Can you maintain these habits at a party? At a social outing? Or, are you forced to bring specific foods with you to these events or eat beforehand as a means to avoid the foods served? If your lifestyle choices are resulting in you missing out on other aspects of life (such as a social life) then you are likely not striving for realistic goals.
Drop The Moral Value Around Food
When we define our personal ethics and morals on our food choices, we ignite an unsustainable relationship with food, mealtimes, and eating. If we label ourselves as “being bad” or “being good” based on eating certain foods, then feelings of guilt and shame overwhelm mealtimes. The end result? An exhaustive road where eating centers more around fear than around fun. A negative mindset while eating is more unhealthy than any “unhealthy food” you might be ingesting.
Consider Gentle Nutrition
Not restricting your food choices doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider how foods make us feel, physically. We can utilize gentle nutrition (a concept I chat about here) to choose foods that support satiety, maintain sustained energy levels, promote digestive regularity, and even lend to a strong and flexible body composition. Foods like fresh fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, lean meats, whole eggs, and fish are nourishing options with a multitude of health benefits. But remember that your eating patterns as a whole, over time, matter most. And on the flip side, enjoying more indulgent options like cupcakes, french fries, and a cheesy slice of pizza won’t make or break your tong term health.
Ask yourself: how will this food make me feel, physically? Eating a cupcake 15 minutes before a show might not feel great in your tummy once you start dancing. This doesn’t mean the cupcake is “bad” or “unhealthy.” Rather, it means that there might be a better time to enjoy this option. A banana with nut butter, however, will likely offer you a more sustained boost in energy for showtime.