Your Body

Food Fight

iStock

“I get embarrassed when I order a larger meal than my friends when we’re out together,” says 16-year-old dancer Harmony*, who studies ballet, pointe, tap, contemporary and other styles. “When I’m eating something—even something healthy—and offer some to my dance friends, and they say, ‘No thanks, I’m watching what I eat,’ I immediately feel guilty.” And the feeling isn’t just spurred by other people: “I’m a perfectionist,” Harmony says, “and I’ve always had bad self-esteem when it comes to my body.”

Harmony’s not alone. Many dancers have a love/hate relationship with food—the need for energy is at war with the desire to be thin. While food guilt itself isn’t an eating disorder, Nadine Kaslow, a former professional ballet dancer who is now the resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet, notes that it can be a form of disordered eating: “The extent to which food guilt negatively impacts your life determines how far along the spectrum you are,” she says. “If food makes you feel bad about yourself, distracts you from schoolwork, distracts you in dance class or impacts social relationships, that’s problematic.”

Fighting food guilt takes both an attitude adjustment and lifestyle changes. Try these tips to alleviate guilt in the short term, and get on your way to beating it completely.

Change Your Attitude 

The biggest key to overcoming food guilt is realizing that food is not your enemy. It’s the fuel that keeps you dancing, strengthens your muscles and gives you stamina. Dancers need to develop good habits, says Emily Harrison, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and former professional ballet dancer who now runs Atlanta Ballet’s Centre for Dance Nutrition. “You have to give yourself permission to eat when your body is hungry,” she says. “Hunger is telling you something. Honor your body—your instrument—by listening to it.”

Longtime Mark Morris Dance Group member June Omura had a complicated relationship with food starting in her teen years. “When I was happy and busy, [food guilt] was never a problem,” she says. However, when she was auditioning and constantly feeling like her body type—5' 2" and “not a wraith”—wasn’t what people were looking for, she entered a cycle of restricting her food intake, secretly snacking on treats and then feeling guilty about it. Only once she joined MMDG did Omura find a balance, in part because she discovered that “as a professional dancer, the feeling of being hungry and trying to dance was torture. I felt panicked that I wouldn’t have the energy to do what I needed to do! I learned from experience that you can’t deprive your body and still function.”

To break the guilt cycle, Omura recommends that dancers learn about nutrition—in particular how carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, calcium and fats benefit your dancing body. Omura researched the effects of good nutrition on her own and you can do the same. Or ask your studio director to bring in a nutritionist to discuss healthy food choices with your class.

Start Snacking 

It may seem counterintuitive to fight food guilt by eating more often, but according to Harrison, “a lot of dancers go too long without eating—three to six hours at a stretch. Then, because they’re starving when they get home, they overeat. That’s where the guilt sets in: ‘I ate so much. I feel so bloated. I shouldn’t have done that.’ ”

Pack fresh fruit and veggies, trail mix or granola bars to eat between meals. “If you have that resource in your bag, you’re ready to eat without any guilt,” says Taylor Paige, a senior ballet major at University of the Arts in Philadelphia who often feels ashamed when she gives in to cravings and overindulges in unhealthy foods. She recommends choosing snacks that will give you energy to get through your day.

If you’re not sure if you’re eating for emotional rather than physical reasons, Harrison suggests keeping a journal. Write down when you get hungry, rating your hunger level from 1 to 10, and note what you eat in response. Examine your journal after a few weeks to see what strategies were successful. Knowing what your body wants and needs can help you plan accordingly. As a rule of thumb, Harrison says dancers should eat every 2 to 3 hours.

Treat Yourself 

Kaslow points out that while you do have to maintain a certain fitness level to be a dancer, depriving yourself of foods you crave can lead you to become obsessed with them. “It’s OK to enjoy food. You just have to be smart about it,” she says. “For instance, if you want chocolate, fill yourself up with healthy food first, and then have a piece.”

Indulging mindfully sometimes means planning ahead. “If you know you’re going to a birthday party, stick to healthier foods during the week,” Harrison says. When you arrive at the event, Paige suggests “scoping out the situation and figuring out which one item you really want. Choose one slice of cake and savor it.” Omura, meanwhile, eats healthily during the day but treats herself to a small serving of ice cream each night. Find a strategy that works for you and treat yourself to a reward for your hard work.

Go Easy on Yourself 

Even when you’re making healthy food choices, the food guilt might not disappear. A fellow dancer might comment on your meal, or brag about how she hasn’t eaten since yesterday. Or you could be stressed about something unrelated to dance, but it may manifest itself as food guilt and poor body image.

Remember that, contrary to the popular saying, you are not what you eat. “Food is not a moral issue; it’s not something that’s right or wrong,” says Kaslow. “What you eat shouldn’t influence your self-esteem. Who you are as a person has to do with what you contribute to society, your integrity and your relationships—it’s not about a scale or a slice of pizza.”

*Name has been changed

Dance News
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.

Keep reading... Show less

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

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
Dancer to Dancer
The School at Jacob's Pillow's contemporary program auditions (photo by Karli Cadel, courtesy Jacob's Pillow)

Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.

Keep reading... Show less

When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.

In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.

The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."

Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Leah Morrison in Trisha Brown's If You Couldn't See Me, in which the soloist never faces the audience (photo by Julia Cervantes, courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company)

Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.

She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.

Keep reading... Show less
Blankenbuehler (far left) with the rest of the "Hamilton" creative team scontent-iad3-1.cdninstagram.com

So book your tickets to Tulsa already, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body
Amanda LaCount showing off her skills (screenshot via YouTube)

There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Mark your calendars, bunheads! On Monday, January 29th, at 2:45 PM (EST)/11:45 AM (PST), Pacific Northwest Ballet will be streaming a live rehearsal of Act II of Kent Stowell's Swan Lake.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Tavaris Jones dancing with the Cleveland Cavaliers' Scream Team hip-hop crew

We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)

So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored