When the cat food started smelling good, I knew I had a problem.
I'd always considered eating disorders to be extreme. Someone who never eats. Someone who weighs less than 100 pounds. Someone who gets hospitalized.
My behavior didn't fit the mental health definition of an eating disorder. I ignored it because I didn't know how to articulate it. It took me several years after the cat food smelled good to have the language to describe what was going on.
When it comes to what you should be eating, rumors often catch on like wildfire. Dietitian Rachel Fine, who works with dancers in New York City, shares the most misguided nutrition strategies she's recently encountered.
Although the ketogenic diet has been around since the 1920s as an epilepsy treatment for children, it's experiencing a new wave of popularity. Thanks in part to social media, where "healthy" keto-friendly recipe videos are going viral, the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is gaining ground. But is it safe for dancers?
We checked in with Rachel Fine, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of To The Pointe Nutrition, to see what eating keto means for dancers.
Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.
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.
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When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
As much as dancers might love touring, the road can be a tough place to get the nutrition you need. "A lot of things are out of your control on tour—you won't be able to eat the way you do at home," says Heidi Skolnik, a certified dietitian nutritionist who has worked with dancers at the School of American Ballet. But preparing for common challenges can help you keep up some semblance of your normal routine.
In the '90s, low-fat diets were as popular as boy bands. But by the early 2000s, the high-fat, high-protein Atkins and South Beach diets had people stocking up on steak and eggs. Now, avocado toast is arguably trendier than *NSYNC ever was, and fat is no longer thought of as a naughty f-word.
But there's still some skepticism around how necessary fats are in a well-rounded diet, particularly among dancers. Before you reach for that grass-fed double bacon cheeseburger, make sure you know the difference between rumors and reality.
I'm naturally thin and have been living on fast food such as burgers, fries and pizza. Now I'm trying to eat better to prepare for auditions. I know the basics, like choosing good carbs, protein and fat, but it's hard to make smart choices when I'm grocery shopping. Any ideas?
—S.H., New York, NY
Dance Magazine has been writing about fitness and nutrition for dancers since before the phrase dance medicine existed. For our 90th anniversary, we took a look through our archives to find out how we've advised readers through the years. It turns out, some of our health coverage stands the test of time better than others.
Your gut is a hot topic in nutrition right now. Experts say a healthy microbiome (the makeup of bacteria in our bodies) is associated with everything from a reduced risk of infection to a more efficient metabolism.
But can we actually make our inner bacterial population healthier?
In a perfect world, we would get all the nutrients we need from hearty, healthy (and delicious!) meals. "Food is where vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are in their most natural form and can be best used by the body," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Hospital.
But for dancers—who are asking so much of their bodies but might be watching calories—even a relatively healthy diet doesn't necessarily mean you're fueling your body for optimal performance. Adding a supplement or vitamin to your regimen could give you the boost you've been missing.
Which should you consider?
It's nearly turkey time! But first, make way for the last-minute grocery-store shuffle. If you haven't completed your shopping yet, you'll want to me sure these Thanksgiving staples are on your list. Not only are they tasty, but they're great for dancers!
Brussels sprouts: Whether they're cooked in a cast-iron pan or shaved and tossed into a salad, it seems like Brussels sprouts are the latest buzz-worthy vegetable. Just one-half cup provides 81 percent of your daily vitamin C and more than your daily dose of vitamin K. (Got a nasty blister from pointework? Vitamin K helps with clotting.) Plus, Brussels sprouts are a good source of dietary fiber.
Sweet potatoes: This vegetable is a vitamin A superstar. One medium sweet potato has more than four times the amount you need daily. Vitamin A helps make and maintain healthy skin, bones and soft tissue and promotes good eyesight. Basically, your dancing body couldn't do its job without it!
Cranberries: With all the savory foods on the Thanksgiving spread, you'll be grateful for this tart-tasting berry to balance things out. Cranberries may prevent urinary tract infections, and they offer several other health benefits. They're a good source of vitamin C, are packed with antioxidants that may lower your risk of certain cancers and have been linked with better oral health.
Although New York City Ballet dancer Emilie Gerrity is eating her breakfast alone, she's proactive about making healthy choices. Could her fluffy roommate be holding her accountable? Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.
It's 9 pm, and you're just getting home from rehearsal. Exhausted, you grab a meal from the freezer. You know it's not the healthiest choice, but hey, it's quick. In just three minutes, dinner will be served.
It's an easy trap to fall into, especially if you live alone. That's the focus of a recent paper published in the journal Nutrition Reviews. Researchers in Australia analyzed 41 existing studies to examine any links between one's nutrition and living solo. The findings pointed to more than one negative correlation: Those who live by themselves tend to eat a less diverse selection of foods overall, and they had a lower consumption of certain types of foods, such as fruits, vegetables and fish.
What's behind the dented diets? Researchers pinpointed several reasons. When you eat by yourself, you may be more likely to prepare something simple (therefore passing up key nutrients you need as a dancer) and you're also less likely to consider portion control. The rising cost of groceries, especially in urban dance hubs, often prompts shoppers to opt for cheaper, less nutrient-dense foods over expensive, but healthier, items like fish and fresh produce.
Even if you don't live alone, you may still fall prey to this trap when eating by yourself. So what's a dancer to do? For starters, check out "The Cost of Fuel," which outlines practical shopping tips for dancers on a budget—everything from where to shop to what to buy, and how to save and when to splurge. If you do have roommates or live with family, try to make shared mealtime a priority as often as you can. In this case, a little peer pressure can't hurt, since you're more likely to make healthier choices when others are around. If you're on your own, invite a friend over to try out some new recipes. Bon appetite!
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company member Shayla-Vie Jenkins gets creative in the kitchen with veggies. Photo by Kyle Froman for Dance Magazine.
Eating a balanced diet is key to getting the nutrients you need to fuel your dancing body. But here's something you may not have considered: Is there enough healthy food to go around? The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that we eat 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables daily, but according to research released by the group last week, there's only 1.7 cups per person available.
And as of 2013, nearly half of what's available is potatoes and tomatoes, and lettuce takes third place. Man—and when I say "man" I mean "dancer"—cannot subsist on potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce alone. Aside from scouting your regular grocery's produce section, what can you do to make sure you're getting the variety you need?
- Head to your local farmers' market and stock up. Depending on where you live, many seasonal markets are open into October and November. Buy large amounts of produce, eat what you need and freeze the rest. Blanching—boiling and then submerging vegetables in an ice water bath—before freezing them will help lock in the freshness and nutrients for later. I promise you, it only takes a few minutes. And farmers' markets typically offer the most in-season veggies!
- Gather a group of friends and go pumpkin picking. Yes, it's nostalgic (I shamelessly go every year), but pumpkins are packed with goodness, like vitamin A, which helps with eye health; a high ratio of fiber to calories per cup, to keep you feeling full; and more potassium in one cup than a banana.
- Grow your own veggies. City dwellers, you don't need to have a green thumb or a backyard to dabble in gardening. Windowsill and fire-escape plots count, too, and are particularly good for beans, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions.
- And if the kid inside of you still hates broccoli or isn't keen on certain veggies, kick things up a notch and add spices to create more flavor. Experiment with roasting, grilling and steaming for slight differences in taste, too.
Despite how many hours dancers spend in rehearsal getting performance-ready, many overlook one last crucial detail: the show-day nutrition plan.
“It's all about preparation," says Emily C. Harrison, a former dancer who now runs Dancer Nutrition, LLC. “To have a good performance, you give your time to rehearsals and making sure your body is in good shape. Why not also take the time to plan your meals and snacks? It's just as important as your pre-show warm-up."
The last thing you want to be thinking about onstage is an empty, over-caffeinated or bloated stomach. Luckily, with a little planning ahead, you can make sure these all-too-common nutrition mistakes don't get in the way of your best performance.