A holistic approach to nutrition for dancers is a topic that I’ve been asked a lot about this past Fall. Your relationship with food doesn’t have to be obsessive or compulsive. Dancers can learn how to utilize food as a tool that supports their whole selves: mind, body, and soul.
What is a holistic approach to nutrition for dancers?
A holistic approach is not prescriptive but rather, guided. Dancers utilize self-discovery to inform their decisions around food and movement. Ultimately, this supports a dancer’s whole being, including their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Many dancers believe that in order to pursue a successful career, one needs to focus 200% of their energy on their dancing. While motivation and determination are major players in a dancer’s performance, it’s essential that dancers learn how to balance the vast experiences in life outside of the studio. A holistic approach to dance nutrition formulates a plan for the individual dancer who strives to discover what works for them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to holistic nutrition for dancers.
Dancer nutrition as a key player to performance
As mentioned in this article, dancers can benefit from understanding the benefits of nutrition not only to support their physical endurance and strength but also to reduce their risk of injury. But with an excess of nutrition information flooding our social feeds, dancers who strive for a holistic approach often stumble into patterns of “clean eating.” This is often the result of extrapolated research that is used to suggest the avoidance of certain foods and ingredients like saturated fats (ie. butter), “refined” sugars, and other processed foods (read more about this here).
Did you know that dancers are three times more likely to struggle with an eating disorder when compared to the general population? Because of the vulnerable nature of dancers to perfectionism, disordered eating, and eating disorders, it’s critical that dancers, dance educators, and dance parents rely on sound sources for nutrition-, weight- and lifestyle-related education.
How can dancers integrate holistic nutrition and performance nutrition?
First, you’ll want to address your relationship with food in order to dismantle destructive messages of diet- and wellness- culture and make peace with the very foods you might feel are “bad,” “unhealthy,” or “off-limits.” This encompasses the first two stages of The Healthy Dancer framework. Through this work, we detangle the confusion behind food guilt and emotional eating, two aspects that dancers often feel might be limiting to their long-term success both on the stage and off the stage. Simultaneously, we utilize compassionate self-care to rebuild our relationships with our bodies.
Utilize self-discovery to formulate a holistic approach to nutrition for dancers
A holistic approach to nutrition for dancers goes beyond just listening to hunger and fullness cues. In the pursuit of creating a supportive relationship with food, dancers learn how to decipher between the five different types of hunger to support their physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Dancers learn how to decipher between:
- Physical (or Biological) Hunger, which can be felt as hunger pangs, stomach discomfort, a grumbling tummy, light-headedness, “hanger,” irritability, fatigue, and headaches. Read this article to learn more.
- Taste Hunger, which exemplifies how food plays a major role in celebrations, holidays, cultural traditions, and social settings. Read this article to learn more.
- Practical Hunger to plan for busy (and active) schedules.
- Emotional Hunger, which honors your emotional connection to food as a very human (and normal) experience without shame or ridicule. Read this article to learn more.
- Rebound Hunger, which is is a temporary phase that results from deprivation and best when navigated alongside the help of a licensed professional.
To pursue a holistic approach to nutrition for dancers, it’s recommended that dancers learn how to integrate the principles of intuitive eating with performance nutrition in order to utilize an evidence-based approach to fueling their bodies and minds. Seeking support from a credentialed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD or RDN) or Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LD or LDN) is recommended for nutrition support. This work can be further advanced with a supportive interdisciplinary team that includes mental health therapists and coaches. Here are additional resources to get started:
- Understand the role of the three macronutrients on your plate and in your body.
- 3 Common Dance Nutrition Questions, Answered
- Intuitive Eating For Dancers
The Healthy Dancer® Elite Program is available for dancers interested in leveling up their nutrition. This program includes personalized support in the form of bi-monthly coaching calls and virtual guidance. Group coaching is another economical option that is available bi-annually through The Healthy Dancer® Summer Intensive and The Healthy Dancer® Winter Intensive. These offer an ongoing community, professional masterclasses, workshops, and more.