The desire to lose weight is very much at the forefront of our culture, which is unfortunately encompassed by aesthetic ideals (a topic I discuss here). It’s understandable when a dancer comes to me with the goal to lose weight. Diet culture has conditioned us into thinking that a specific body ideal is a key to success.
Simultaneously, the health and wellness world is evolving with powerful movements like intuitive eating, food freedom, and body acceptance. Much of my social media presence centers around my non-restrictive approach to eating. As a Registered Dietitian for dancers, I’m all about teaching dancers how to engage in health-promoting behaviors. This embodies sustainable lifestyle changes. The problem is that “lifestyle changes” in today’s world of wellness culture often involve restrictive eating habits, food rules & body control.
So, where does weight loss fit into a non-diet lifestyle?
Can dancers lose weight and still maintain a non-diet lifestyle?
Every dancer is entitled to body autonomy and if that involves wanting to lose weight, then so be it. It’s not my place to convince anyone of dropping that desire for weight loss (especially as someone with thin privilege). But here’s the deal: my work as a dietitian for dancers does not embody weight loss. As a clinician, it’s my ethical duty to educate dancers about the hard facts of systemic fatphobia and dieting, especially when we know that:
- Weight loss does not equate to better health.
- Long term weight loss is impossible for 95-98% of dieters.
- Long term “successful” dieters are often partaking in severe disordered eating habits.
- The negative health impacts of weight cycling outweigh any supposed benefits to extereme weight loss.
When weight loss is the primary goal of our “lifestyle changes,” we risk short-term habits like restrictive eating and overexercising. These habits leave us tired, frustrated, dissatisfied, chronically hungry, constantly thinking about food, and likely to, eventually, eat past a point of physical comfort. Despite the level of control you feel is needed to achieve your goal weight, your body will eventually do what it needs to do. Family, friends, artistic directors, teachers, and choreographers cannot dictate your body weight goals. In fact, even you cannot dictate this goal and I, despite being a medical professional, certainly cannot dictate that goal. Rather, your body and its genetic blueprint, dictate this goal. We call this our set point weight.
What is my set point weight?
I’ve previously discussed how to define a healthy weight for dancers. In regard to your set point, it’s the weight range at which your body feels most comfortable. It’s like the “sweet spot!” Contrary to assumption, identifying your set point weight range involves focusing on your feelings and behaviors, NOT your weight! When you’re at your set point, you:
- Are not micromanaging your weight.
- Are maintaining your weight within a range.
- Are honoring your hunger and fullness cues in a way that feels good.
- Are able to move your body in a way that doesn’t feel excessive or compulsive.
Weight loss for dancers
I truly believe that we can reach a point of happiness within our bodies without having to sacrifice the very foods that we love. I also believe that dancers can be successful and have fulfilling careers without having to diet. However, it makes sense when a dancer hesitates to work with me in fear that this approach will not get them to their weight goal.
I’m not going to guarantee you weight loss, and if anyone does guarantee you this, then I question the sustainability of that goal. Weight loss can come from us working together. In fact, I work with many dancers who, along their journey towards food freedom, end up losing weight. I also work with dancers who eventually gain weight. And last, I even work with dancers who simply maintain their weight. Will weight loss eventually happen? It might! The facts about body composition, however, make it nearly impossible for me to guarantee this to you.
Here’s what I can guarantee you: together, we can work to equip you with a lifestyle that’s both sustainable and enjoyable. Your goal can focus on feeling strong, energized, and confident in both your body and in your food choices.