Can dancers create a positive relationship with food?
What does it mean to have a healthy relationship with food? Too often dancers will attempt to manipulate their food choices, cutting out entire food groups and avoiding their favorite foods, with presumptions that they’re supporting performance and/or achieving a specific weight goal. But this just results in worse body dissatisfaction and risks the development of eating disorders.
As a dancer, your relationship with food plays a key role in the sustainability of your career. This not only involves eating previously deemed “bad” foods, but also, utilizes self-discovery to understand how your thoughts, emotions, and feelings of satisfaction also play a role in your food choices. But for many dancers, especially those struggling in their relationships with food, it can feel overwhelming to strive for a goal that encompasses a truly positive relationship with food. Instead, the goal is to build a WORKING relationship with food. One that is not stagnant, neither positive nor negative… but rather, continuously evolving.
A healthy relationship with food allows dancers to understand cravings from a place of non-judgmental curiosity. Rather than feeling ashamed of these desires, we embrace our body’s communication skills. We utilize evidence-based nutrition knowledge to learn what our body needs both at the moment and in the future. It’s a learning process! Eventually, you can discover what foods support you physically and mentally. Dancers can utilize this step-by-step guide to improve their relationship with food.
Step #1: Unlearn The Dieting Mentality
The first stage of The Healthy Dancer framework involves learning about how to Dismantle Dancer Diet Culture. Diet culture is a system of beliefs that idolizes weight loss. This is unfortunately exacerbated in the dance industry. To learn more about diet culture and how to detangle it, read this article.
Step #2: Grant Unconditional Permission
Remove any rule or condition that you’ve placed upon your food and/or exercise choices. So, for example, banish thoughts of “saving” calories or “burning off” XYZ. Reflect upon the foods that bring you joy and consider journaling a list. From there, begin reintroducing these foods (totally okay to do it one at a time!). For help, read this article.
Step #3: Practice Food Neutrality
Viewing food through a neutral lens strips the moral value from food in a way that removes the judgment, shame, stress, and guilt associated with those foods. Read this article to learn more about using food neutrality as a tool to unlearn the “good” and “bad” messaging around food.
Step #4: Consider Food Flexibility
Food Flexibility allows dancers to adapt to an ever-changing food environment. The more flexible you are in your food choices, the more willing you are to move through life’s vast experiences with agility and ease. Read this article to learn more about how you can increase your food flexibility as a dancer.
Step #5: Try Mindful Eating Practices
Mindful eating is a tool on your everyday journey of building a balanced relationship with food. It involves bringing all of your senses to the table. As you do this, you’ll be better equipped to process your body’s feedback in determining what foods support you and what foods do not support you. This might involve whether or not you experience stomach distress, higher feelings of satisfaction, and higher (or lower) energy levels. To learn more about how dancers can integrate mindful eating techniques into their day, read this article.
If you think that turning to restrictive dieting, utilizing “clean” eating, or relying heavily on nutrition supplements is your best bet to improve performance, then I challenge you to first work on healing your relationship with food and movement. Eating more (both in amount and variety) throughout your day, along with moving less, might be the best nourishment your body needs to leverage your long-term performance potential.