Intuitive Eating for dancers combines an integrative approach alongside performance-based nutrition.
Food is essential to a dancer’s performance. Intuitive eating is a non-diet lifestyle that teaches dancers how to have a healthy relationship with food and body. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Counselor of Intuitive Eating for dancers, I utilize The Healthy Dancer approach to uniquely combine the principles of intuitive eating with performance-based eating. This intricate balance is designed to support sustainable goals for dancers.
As you begin to challenge food and body beliefs, you learn how to eat in a way that honors your health to the degree that you choose, not the degree set forth by dancer diet culture. This article will uncover the nuances of intuitive eating for dancers and guide you through the process. Don’t forget to scroll down for your free downloadable guide for how dancers can start eating intuitively.
What is Intuitive Eating?
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Feel Your Fullness
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
- Respect Your Body
- Movement—Feel the Difference
- Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
For dancers, intuitive eating can benefit performance.
These principles formulate the backbone of The Healthy Dancer® framework, which is designed to educate dancers about building sustainable habits. We’re all born intuitive eaters. As babies, we cry when hungry and turn our chin when satiated. At some point between childhood and adulthood, diet culture impedes our abilities to fuel. Messages around weight loss, weight management, what’s “clean,” and what’s “unhealthy” infiltrate our ability to make choices based upon personal preferences.
Why should dancers consider intuitive eating?
Intuitive eaters rebuild trust from within, rather than from relying on external food rules, calorie counts, and rigid meal plans. Through this practice, intuitive eaters learn how to make choices based on their body’s signals of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. But while honoring hunger and satiety cues, and rediscovering satisfaction is part of the process, it’s not nearly the entirety of it. In fact, this over-simplification of Intuitive Eating often leads to a major misunderstanding of this work (a topic I cover in this article- Is it a privilege to eat intuitively?).
Intuitive eating supports a dynamic relationship with food that also considers compassionate curiosity towards our emotions and basic human needs. It emphasizes the importance of judgment-free respect for our bodies. And for dancers specifically, it allows us to shift the focus of our dancing away from unrealistic body ideals and rather, towards technique and artistry.
A certified counselor of Intuitive Eating
Disordered eating introduced itself to me in the dance studio. At the time, my desire to eat “healthfully” was a supposedly harmless reason to seek nutrition advice and subsequent diet change. My intention was to sharpen, strengthen, and ultimately “perfect” my technical dance skills; it made sense (so I thought) to “perfect” my food choices.
I was wrong.
My type-A perfectionist personality took this idea from 0 to 200. My harmless intentions quickly turned into a rigid lifestyle with little room for error. Eventually, I burnt out. On a mission to detangle the confusion around “health,” I eventually transitioned into a career in dietetics with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition science, a master’s degree in clinical nutrition, and advanced certification in sports nutrition. It’s safe to say that I’ve got the nutrition part covered. After working as a clinical dietitian for two years, I decided to return to dance and open doors to my practice To The Pointe Nutrition. This allows me to utilize an evidence-based approach to help dancers optimize performance.
The Problems With A Weight-Normative Approach
A weight-normative approach to nutrition emphasizes weight loss and weight management to prevent and treat illness. Having come from a weight-normative dietetics education, my job description as a dietitian was to educate others about “healthy lifestyle choices” and the maintenance of “healthy weights.”
But I soon realized that the unfortunate epidemic of disordered eating vividly depicts a culture that needs shifting. Though my experience and credentials prove me an expert in nutrition, I know that health involves WAY more than just our food choices. In fact, true “health” is not one-size-fits-all, and when it comes to body size, evidence supports that “diet and lifestyle” influence only a fraction of it. In comparison, genetics and environmental factors like accessibility to affordable and nutrient-dense foods, access to clean water, access to appropriate healthcare, racism, and weight bias, have WAY more of an influence. Check out this article to learn more about the systemic oppression of diet culture and the social determinants of health.
A Holistic and Non-Diet Approach to Food for Dancers
After being introduced to Intuitive Eating and the weight-inclusive paradigm, I knew that this was the path needed not just for myself and the dancers I work with, but also for the dance industry at large. As a weight-inclusive Counselor of Intuitive Eating and Certified Specialist in Eating Disorders, I can educate dancers about how to utilize compassionate self-care as a way to heal from diet culture. Through this work, we acknowledge and dismantle weight bias and promote an industry that is inclusive to all dancers in terms of body size, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, and social status. Dancers can utilize self-discovery to connect food and body through a holistic lens.
Can Dancers Benefit from Intuitive Eating?
Absolutely. Because of the unfortunate body ideals of our industry, dancers are known to be three times more likely to struggle with an eating disorder. Dancers are vulnerable to overwhelming food rules, which increase a dancer’s susceptibility to feelings of food guilt and compensatory eating (a binge-and-restrict cycle). This limits both their physical performance and artistic potential.
Instead of making food choices based on calorie goals or what’s “good” or “healthy,” you discover what foods satisfy both your body and your soul. Eventually, you build trust with yourself around “tempting” foods that either you or society has previously deemed off-limits.
Okay, but I rarely feel hungry!
Busy schedules and above-average activity levels make it challenging for dancers to practice body attunement around hunger cues. Therefore, intuitive eating is best when used in conjunction with performance nutrition. This integrative approach specifically helps dancers rebuild and sustain self-trust while understanding how to fuel adequately for performance. Click here to learn more about how to navigate missing hunger cues.
And remember: intuitive eating is not the same as “The Hunger/Fullness Diet.” As mentioned earlier, intuitive eating supports a dynamic relationship with food that challenges food and body beliefs and utilizes gentle nutrition to navigate scenarios like busy schedules, food accessibility, chronic health conditions, and food allergies.
I’m a dancer and I want to try Intuitive Eating. How do I begin?
To start, consider the fourth edition of the book (here’s a link) and workbook for practice. If you’re a teen, I highly encourage you to work through the Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens. From there, you’ll want to consider speaking with a board-certified Intuitive Eating and weight inclusive Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Skeptical? Here’s a list of common intuitive eating myths, debunked.
The Healthy Dancer® is designed to educate dancers about this intricate integration between performance nutrition and Intuitive Eating. You’ll learn how to build sustainable habits not only to support your performance and recovery needs but also to support a working relationship with both your plate and your body. More specifically, dancers learn how to:
- Reject the dieting mentality.
- Build body awareness toward our intuitive feelings of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.
- Challenge food rules.
- Dismantle stigmatizing body beliefs.
- Allow for unconditional permission to eat without guilt or shame.
- Learn how to incorporate nutrition science into a balanced lifestyle.
- Experience joyful movement.
If you’re contemplating whether or not this approach is for you, reach out. I’m here to support you! Understand that evidence-based education helps not only to fuel your performance but also to support your mental and emotional well-being.