Trendy media outlets boast that "fit" is the new "skinny." Instagram bloggers encourage us to #eatclean. As our feeds populate with matcha-filled mornings and the deep hues of acai bowls, awareness of "healthy eating" seems to be at an all-time high.
Yet my experience as a registered dietitian in the dance industry shows me otherwise.
As a clinician, I've more recently found myself counseling less about "healthy eating" and more about how to fix broken relationships with body image and food. As a dancer, I get it.
Dancers continue to struggle with self-inflicted burdens surrounding their diet. Outdated ideas of an "ideal" body type promote pressure to achieve unrealistic perfection in an imperfect art form. We're burned out.
How do we find balance? Aside from day-to-day training, increased physical demands during peak times (think audition season and summer intensives) require dancers to adequately fuel their bodies. Here's the deal: The problem doesn't solely involve what we eat. Rather, it's buried in the confusion of how we should eat on a day-to-day basis.
Here are four ways to build a healthier relationship with food:
Maintain an Active Metabolism
Our body's metabolic flame is meant to continuously burn, providing us with the energy needed to perform at our best. The most effective way to maintain this revved metabolism is simply to provide it with functional (and delicious) foods regularly. Minimally processed, high-fiber meals and snacks should be eaten every two to three hours. Stretching the time between meals will cause this metabolic flame to dim, resulting in that worn-out feeling around 5 pm.
Focus on Foods to Include, Rather Than Foods to Avoid
Providing your body with all three macronutrients (complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats) at multiple times throughout your day is essential. Don't be scared of carbs—they fuel your movement. Healthy fats like chia seeds, ground flax seeds, nuts and avocados heal your body and reduce the stress from your active lifestyle.
But Don't be Scared of All Packaged Foods
As dancers, we're busy! Prepping smoothie bowls is not always realistic. Luckily, many food companies are now playing a role in combining trusted quality with convenience. "Healthy" food is out there, as supermarket shelves are lined with packages shouting claims like "high fiber," "gluten-free" and "low fat." Just read ingredient lists before front-of-the-box claims and even before the nutrition facts label. Ask yourself: Where is the fiber coming from? Choose foods high in wholesome ingredients like whole grains—quinoa, barley, oats, amaranth, to name a few. Is the sugar natural sugar from fruit or added sugar from refined sources (think malt and syrup)? These don't have to be eliminated, but should be monitored throughout your day. What are the sources of protein and fat? Look for nourishing additions like nuts, eggs and beans.
Admit to Your Love of Food
Food is culture. Food is fun. Food is social. Food is life. Don't fight cravings—embrace them! Whether you crave sweets, salty snacks or both, accept it and let yourself enjoy. This doesn't mean that we should create unnecessary temptations. Rather, decide on what you love and allow yourself to enjoy the best versions of these foods in moderation rather than restrict them. This attitude will help you balance indulgences without going overboard.