Does your mom say you’ll catch a cold if you go outside with wet hair in winter? Have you heard a juice cleanse will help you lose weight? Want to go for a jog, but anxious because someone told you running isn’t good for dancers? With all the old wives’ tales and wellness fads floating around, it can be hard to discern truth from myth. DS spoke to three health professionals to get the facts—and they just might surprise you.
MYTH: Vegan or gluten-free treats are healthier than their non-vegan or gluten-containing counterparts.
False. “Just because something is gluten-free doesn’t automatically make it a health food,” says Emily C. Harrison, a registered dietitian at the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education. These kinds of treats tend to have added sugars to improve flavor. Vegan snacks can be healthy options if they include fruits and vegetables. But be smart: “You can be vegan and eat just chocolate and peanuts all day long,” Harrison says. “If all you’re eating is junk, that’s a problem.”
MYTH: Dancers shouldn’t run.
False. “It’s important for dancers to cross-train,” says Michelina Cassella, PT, former director of physical therapy at Boston Ballet and Boston Children’s Hospital. “You need to get your heart rate up to build endurance.” She recommends running one mile, three times a week, in supportive shoes on a soft track or treadmill. Just remember to stretch your calves and hamstrings after each run—running tends to tighten your muscles. And if you feel any pain in your hips, knees or ankles, stop running and consult your doctor or physical therapist.
MYTH: A juice cleanse can help me lose weight.
True—sort of. Yes, most juice cleanses and detox diets are very low-calorie. The issue is that they give you much less than what your body actually needs to dance. “If that’s all you drink for 24 hours or more, your body will go into survival mode,” warns Harrison. Instead of a highly restrictive diet, use juice as a supplement. Drink it with breakfast, or sip on it throughout the day.
MYTH: If you eat within 20 minutes of dancing, you’ll get cramps.
True and false. If you’re in the middle of a really tough show, you may need to eat during intermission to get the energy you need to jump back onstage. A granola bar or piece of fruit will give you a boost without making your stomach cramp. But don’t try to wolf down an entire meal during intermission. “If you eat too much right before you dance, then you’re going to cramp or throw up,” says Harrison. “Think smaller, more frequent meals.”
MYTH: Frozen yogurt is healthy.
True and false. Yogurt is healthy because it contains probiotics, tiny organisms that help strengthen your immune system. It’s also a good source of calcium. But frozen yogurt is not much different from ice cream. “It has tons of sugar even without the toppings,” says Harrison. “Add the toppings, and it’s a tremendous amount of sugar.” She suggests ordering a kiddie size and avoiding all the extras at self-serve places.
MYTH: You’ll catch a cold if you go outside in the winter with wet hair.
False. Damp or wet hair might give you the chills in frigid temperatures, but it won’t make you sick. “A cold is a virus that you can catch from another person, not from cold exposure,” says James T. Reinprecht, MD, of Abington Health in Pennsylvania.
MYTH: If I walk around with my feet turned out, my turnout will improve.
False. Turnout has to do with the construction of your hip joints, and walking with your feet turned out isn’t going to improve mobility in the hip. In fact, the “dancer waddle” might actually cause problems. “If you force from the knee down, you’re going to do damage to your knees,” warns Cassella. Focus on walking in parallel to maintain the health of your joints.
MYTH: If you’re flexible, it’s OK to do splits without warming up.
False. “Splits put a lot of torque on the hip joints and the pelvis,” says Cassella. “It’s harmful to do any kind of split if you’re not already stretched out.” If you don’t have a good stretching regimen yet, consult a physical therapist or trainer to learn how to stretch safely.