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

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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