Many dancers struggle with knowing how, when, and what to fuel themselves with. A high frequency of food and nutrition misinformation causes dancers to strive for unrealistic goals at mealtimes (like attempting to abide by specific calorie counts) and and compensating for cycles of “over”-eating.
How can you determine if your current meal plan is supporting you? There are specific signs to look out for. Once identified, you’ll be better equipped to build an eating routine that supports your daily routine. This article will uncover the five most common eating pitfalls among dancers and how to prevent and resolve them.
You’re Feeling Drained On Non-Dance Days
First, I commend you for taking the rest day! Days away from the studio can be challenging for dancers, but this time to recuperate is essential for the maintenance of a strong body. It’s normal to feel tired and fatigued on rest days (let’s face it, you move A lot during the week!) But if you’re noticing a pattern of feeling overwhelmingly drained on rest days, then it’s time to examine your current eating routine.
Dancer meal plan pitfall: Busy days make it easy to unintentionally under-fuel. This means that on less busy days, your body is likely to play catch-up.
Dancer meal plan solution: Despite misconceptions to eat less when moving less, it’s normal to experience increases in your hunger cues on rest days; honor them. Additionally, map out a flexible eating routine for your busy days that prioritizes regular eating times (aim for a meal or snack every 2-4 hours depending on your schedule and activity level). But time constraints make this challenging, plan emergency snacks (here’s a complete snack guide to get started).
You’re Always Hungry
Hunger cues are tricky for dancers. From increased activity levels to daily multitasking, hunger cues often go unnoticed. Because of this, dancers who solely rely on their hunger cues to eat can risk falling into patterns of under-fueling. These periods are often followed by experiences of compulsive eating, which result from appetite surges later in the day.
Chronic hunger can also result from imbalanced meals and snacks. Fat is a macronutrient known to promote satiety at and between meal times. Fiber, a functional component of many carboydrate-rich foods, also increases the staying power of your meals and snacks. For dancers experimenting with either low fat or low carb lifestyles, chronic hunger is often a side effect.
Dancer meal plan pitfall: If you’re constantly hungry, it could mean you’re not getting enough calories. Or, perhaps cultural food beliefs are tempting you to skimp on foods rich in fat and carbohydrates.
Dancer meal plan resolution: Aim to increase the staying power of your meals by prioritizing the balance of all three macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat).
You’re Overly Worried About Your Food Choices
“Clean” eating lifestyles (as discussed in this article) are common among dancers. The focus on nutrition in these eating routines might sound glamourous in the support of a dancer’s health and performance, but these restrictive plans are a gateway to disordered eating. The prevalence of dancer diet culture makes it especially challenging to identify helpful eating routines from harmful ones. The normalization and glorification of disordered eating like food avoidance and exhaustive exercise routines are extremely problematic.
Dancer meal plan pitfall: Obsessing over the “right” foods and ingredients leaves dancers feeling mental burnout, especially when those options are deemed “clean” or acceptable, or unavailable.
Dancer meal plan resolution: With many eating opportunities each day every day, realize that your performance (and health) are a product of much more than just your day-to-day food choices. Patterns over time play a role. Practice inclusion, not exclusion and consider The Healthy Dancer® Food Flexibility Algorithm when deciding which foods to choose.
You’re Setting Unrealistic Expectations
Many dancers hear the phrase “meal planning” and immediately channel Pinterest-worthy bento boxes filled with colorful wraps and made-from-scratch snacks. But this expectation can lead dancers into all-or-nothing thinking, especially when time constraints make planning ahead a major challenge. The result? We end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.
Dancer meal plan pitfall: You’re attempting to perfect the Pinterest version of “meal planning,” pressuring yourself to cook from scratch.
Dancer meal plan resolution: Simple tips for meal planning can be found here. Take 5-10 minutes to plan ahead, but consider life’s tendency to get in the way when you least expect it. Consider how you can utilize convenience items. Here are ideas:
- Adding frozen veggies to pasta.
- Top oatmeal with pre-cut fruit.
- Pair hummus packs with chips.
- Include bars and packable snacks in your dance bag.
Remember: shortcuts are NOT lazy. Relying on convenience foods helps to reduce barriers to cooking and eating.
You’re Trying A One-Size-Fits-All Approach
Similar to how every dancer’s body is unique, every dancer’s food and nutrition needs are unique. Consulting with a licensed nutrition professional (a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) is encouraged if you’re struggling to identify types or an amount of food that feels supportive of your body and your dancing.
Dancer meal plan pitfall: You’re striving for a plan that might work for one dancer, but not for another. Every dancer’s nutrition needs are unique and therefore, a personalized approach is important.
Dancer meal plan resolution: consulting with a licensed professional is helpful, especially if you continue to struggle with the pitfalls mentioned despite implementing the suggested resolutions. Here are a few helpful articles to consider when formulating an eating routine that works:
- How many calories do I need?
- What should my cross-training routine look like?
- How can my relationship with food help me, not hinder me?