Your Body

Dangerous Dieting

Orthorexia can make you question every bite you take.

At 13 years old, Mackenzie* was like lots of other dancers her age. Having trained in jazz, tap and ballet since age 3, she’d begun using her hard-earned technique to dazzle the judges at competitions. Yet despite all the trophies, Mackenzie had a tough time enjoying her success. She couldn’t help but compare her body to her petite best friend, and she feared she might be “too curvy” to achieve her dreams of professional dancing.

Mackenzie began to fixate on healthy eating, doing tons of research on which foods were low-cal, low-fat and nutrient-rich. She obsessively kept a food journal to monitor her eating habits. But her mission to “purify” her diet didn’t stop there: Mackenzie started buying only organic groceries and ate nothing but salad with balsamic vinegar at restaurants. She was always trying the newest cleanse fad, and chugging water often took the place of eating meals.

“At first, my fixation led to a very slim, toned physique, and I had more confidence in the audition room,” Mackenzie says. But it was getting harder to ignore the dizzy spells she got when she stood up and how starved she felt most of the time.

Mackenzie’s breaking point came at age 16, when she worked on a project that required daily 10-hour rehearsals for several weeks. “My weight dropped until I couldn’t fit into any of my costumes, even with belts and safety pins,” she says. “During a few concerts, I grew nauseous and couldn’t muster up any energy to perform. After shows, I sometimes felt so starved that I’d end up binging.”

It was then that Mackenzie realized she had an eating disorder and needed to seek treatment. Through her own research and meetings with dietitians and therapists, she eventually determined that she had orthorexia, an extreme obsession with healthy eating.

Since orthorexia is a relatively new diagnosis in the world of disordered eating, some people aren’t sure what sets it apart from anorexia, or how it differs from simply being health-conscious. Here’s what you need to know.

 

People with orthorexia tend to develop rigid rules about what elements can and cannot be present in their food.

A Losing Proposition

What is orthorexia, anyway? “People with orthorexia can become obsessive about eating the ‘right’ foods and trying to be perfect about what they eat,” says Emily Harrison, a former Atlanta Ballet dancer and registered dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition. The prefix ortho- means “straight,” which is why orthorexia is the chosen term for rigid eating.

Travis Stewart, a St. Louis, MO-based licensed professional counselor, says the difference between orthorexia and anorexia has to do with your motivation for making food-related decisions. “Someone with anorexia may avoid pizza because of the calorie content, while someone with orthorexia may avoid it because the dough isn’t made of whole grains,” he says.

Harrison says the two biggest signs of orthorexia are when a dancer restricts her food so much that she doesn’t get enough fuel or nutrients, and when someone closes herself off socially and stops going out to eat because she’s unsure about the menu.

You may be thinking: Aren’t dancers supposed to be nutrition-savvy? Ask any dance teacher and the answer would be a resounding “yes.” The problem begins when the effects of your food choices become decidedly un-healthy. “There is nothing wrong with wanting to be in shape or healthy, but orthorexia starts when behavior becomes unusually rigid and restrictive,” says Judy Scheel, who runs the Cedar Associates mental health clinic in New York. Mackenzie reached that point when she began spending more time making food plans and jotting down calories and ingredients than actually eating.

Stewart says that many orthorexics experience a snowball effect, making progressively stricter rules until they eventually eat almost nothing. “For instance, someone might start by only shopping at Whole Foods, but then they begin questioning, ‘How do I know this is really organic? How do I know it’s the best?’ When you become orthorexic as opposed to just a health food nut, you become irrational,” he says, remembering one client who ate mostly celery since it was one of the few foods that she considered “safe.”

The Danger for Dancers

©iStock

The risks of orthorexia are especially high for dancers. Fatigue, achy bones and muscles, lack of stamina, dizziness, fainting and a higher risk of injuries like stress fractures are just a few of many common side effects. Long-term issues can include osteoporosis, lowered metabolism, decreased muscle mass and, ironically, higher body fat percentage—all of which can drastically affect performance. “It almost becomes a sabotage of what was intended in the first place,” Scheel says. “The disorder is a detriment for dancers, who are so dependent on their bodies for stamina.”

Moving Toward Recovery

If you suspect you might have orthorexia, it’s important that you reach out for help. The first step is talking to someone you trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher or counselor. That person can then help you determine what the right course of action might be. For Mackenzie, getting help meant working with a counselor and spending six weeks in a residential treatment facility. Today, at age 19, she’s in recovery and getting better every day. “I have far less fear in social settings,” she says. “I’m finding the freedom to choose foods that I enjoy.”

RED FLAGS

Here are the two main signs that you, or someone you care about, may be orthorexic:

➺    Your eating habits are so restrictive that they regularly prevent

you from getting the fuel and nutrients your body needs to function properly.

➺    You are so concerned about what you’re eating that it keeps you from being able to eat in social situations.

For More Information

The Centre for Dance Nutrition

dancernutrition.com

National Eating Disorders Association

nationaleatingdisorders.org

*name has been changed

via YouTube

Beyoncé's choreographer + Beyoncé's dance captain + the greatest duets of our generation = dance video greatness. Yes, it may seem too good to be true, but the dance gods have gifted us with this very sequence—and it's the best thing we've seen in a long time.

Keep reading... Show less
Future Star winner Kaitlyn Chapa (photo by Rainbow Dance Media Center, courtesy Jennifer Chapa)

Dance Spirit is beyond excited to announce the first round of 2017 Future Star winners! Every year, DS partners with competitions to recognize dancers with exceptional presence and ability. The second round of winners will be featured in our January issue, so stay tuned!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Erin Baiano

You're obsessed with class videos. We're obsessed with class videos. The passion, energy, and talent showcased in these clips, which give us an insider-y peek at the commercial dance world's hottest classes, are totally irresistible.

But at what point does the phenomenon go from being a good thing to a bad thing for dancers and the dance world? Is the focus on filming distracting from the work dancers are supposed to be doing in class? Are overproduced videos presenting a dangerously misleading picture of the dance world? Is the pressure to be a class video star becoming too much for dancers to handle? These are some of the questions A-list dancer and choreographer Ian Eastwood—no stranger to the class video himself—has been asking on Twitter. And they've sparked a lively, important debate.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!

Keep reading... Show less

It's time for a tutu test! So many iconic ballets, so many beautiful tutus. Can you figure out which ballet each of these costumes comes from?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Kalani, Kendall, and Chloe (courtesy Anne Watkins)

Our favorite drama-filled, dance reality show may have ended this past fall, but "Dance Moms" stars Chloe, Kalani, and Kendall aren't about to let that end their dance careers. In fact, these dancing kweens are taking their moves to a city near you with their Irreplaceables Tour! The girls are going all out for the three-week dance production, which is taking them across the country. And these dazzling dancers aren't just content with showing off their dance skillz—they want to pass along their tips and tricks in a dance workshop where they'll lead fans in stretches and dance routines from the show.

Dance Spirit caught up with Chloe, Kalani, and Kendall to find out what they love about tour life and where they see themselves five years from now.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Matthew Bourne's "Nutcracker" (photo by Simon Annand, courtesy Raw PR)

When most of us think of The Nutcracker, we imagine a growing Christmas tree, dancing mice, and a little girl named Clara (or Marie) traveling to the Land of Sweets. But companies around the world have been reinventing the holiday classic, changing the storyline or adding their own spectacular sets and characters. To get in the Nutcracker spirit this season, check out these out-of-the-box productions.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Screenshot via YouTube

Shut up and take my money!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Katarina leading an assisted-living class (photo by Mary Y. Jakimier, courtesy Jakimier)

Aspiring ballerina Katarina Jakimier, a Dallas, TX, native, was just 12 when Dance Spirit first featured her, highlighting the innovative pointe shoe recycling program she created in her community. Now 16, Jakimier is still studying ballet intensively—this past fall she started training at the John Cranko Schule in Stuttgart, Germany—and is still on a mission to make the world a better place. Recently, she founded the Silver Swans Ballet Program, which allows senior citizens in retirement homes to experience the magic of ballet, and to reap all of its health benefits. Here, she tells us how the initiative came to be. —Courtney Bowers

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
courtesy Red Is Dancing

Distance, schmistance.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored