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Eat More, Do More

Eat More, Do More

A dancer-friend of mine once told me that she wished someone had imparted this piece of wisdom to her when she was training: rather than eating less (as many dancers seem to do), and feeling that she had to conserve her energy and be careful about not overdoing it, wouldn’t it have made more sense to eat more and do more? Yes! In fact, that is the way to go. The question is, what to eat and do more of?

When most of us think about eating more, we often think this means eating everything. We hear “eat more” and think, “Yes! I AM going to have dessert after lunch…AND dinner! And throw in that bag of chips!”

That’s not what I mean though. What I mean is to eat more whole foods, more REAL foods: more greens and veggies, more whole grains, more fruits, more beans. As athletes, dancers need adequate fuel, and that fuel cannot be substandard in quality. If you were taking a road trip across the country, would you fill your car with the dirtiest, cheapest gas you could find? You could, but you wouldn’t get very far and your car would be in a sad state after a few hours.

It’s a crude metaphor, but the same is true for your dancing body: if you fill it with processed foods, sugar, simple carbs, and/or junk food, you’re not going to much out of it. Most dancers I have worked with tend to eat very little actual food. Instead, they exist on snack foods: pretzels, nuts, rice cakes- nibbles of finger food rather than the real deal. And they usually think that they have good energy and strength; they don’t even know what they’re missing. Once we get them on a diet of whole foods, there are some pretty exciting changes like increased energy and power reserves they never experienced before.

Once you have adequate fuel, you’ll know you can do more- you’ll feel stronger and more energetic. You’ll have the fuel for the cross training which is so critical to improving. (What kind of cross training to do depends on your body, what kind of dancing you’re doing, and previous injuries you’ve sustained. Check out this post from a few weeks ago about fitness and this link to a Dance Spirit article on cross training.)

You’ll also have energy to get through your day. It used to surprise me to hear young dancers talk about how tired they were all of the time- then I realized how little they were eating and it made perfect sense. Of course you slow down when there is no fuel in the system: your body is conserving energy. And with low/no fuel, your dancing suffers. But with a full tank of whole foods that is regularly replenished, your body will be capable of amazing things. How else do we explain marathon runners, mountain climbers, and cyclists? Are we saying that dancers aren’t capable of that level of exertion? I think not. I think most dancers can do a lot more than they think- the trouble is, without adequate fuel, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.

Nutrition at the Birmingham Royal Ballet: a Mixed Bag

 

This article about the nutrition of dancers with Birmingham Royal Ballet principal dancers Victoria Marr and Matthew Lawrence, got me thinking. If you haven’t read it, take a peek.  Here’s what it’s got me thinking about…

1. Two-thumbs-up for the shift away from telling “heavier” dancers to stop eating, and instead directing them to company resources like nutritionists.

Even better that “things have gone to the nth degree with nutrition” (Marr) and dancers are even getting their bone density tested. (A wellness advocate’s dream…)

2. Two thumbs down for the ever-rigid ballet aesthetic which turns away beautiful dancers if they “don’t have the right shape.”

“You still have to be quite skinny and you have to have long, lean muscle. There’s no getting away from that. Ballet is all about aesthetics,” says Marr. I know this, but it still pains me.

3. Two half-sies thumbs for both interviewees eating whatever they like, according to the article. It’s great that they do not feel constrained, but it’s a little sad that they confess to eating “rubbish,” including “Kit-Kat bars” and “chips.”

On the one hand, they are professional adults who can eat whatever they want, but with so much access to nutrition and care, how did they end up with such low-quality snacks? I’m all for splurging, but aim high and go for the good stuff. (Like…Mast Brothers chocolate, for example. Why waste your calories on junk?)

4. Two palms up in the “huh?” gesture for Marr’s conflicting comments on food amounts: on the one hand, she says there is a “preconceived idea that dancers have to keep their food intake down in order to keep quite skinny,” which she claims is untrue, but then she confirms it by saying, “I don’t need to eat inordinate amounts of food to get the energy I need. You don’t really. It’s a myth.”

So, dancers don’t have to eat “inordinate amounts” of food to get the energy they need?

Problems: 1) “inordinate” is too subjective: what does that mean, exactly? and 2) everyone is different.

While Marr may not need to eat a lot, that generalization shouldn’t be applied to all dancers. Furthermore, many dancers do lower their overall caloric intake in order to achieve the proper look. By the time they become professionals, they are so used to eating that way it may feel totally normal. It doesn’t change the fact that compared to an average person, dancers eat considerably less food.

5. And, finally, two thumbs up for proper screening. That neither Marr nor Lawrence have faced issues around their weight at BRB made me think about the selection process. Most companies have a rigorous screening process wherein dancers who do not fit the aesthetic of the company are not usually hired. I used to think this was terrible, but I have come around to understanding the potential good of this practice.

If a company has a strict aesthetic, then I think it’s correct that they screen and hire appropriately. Is there anything more disheartening than landing the much-coveted contract, only to be told you must lose weight?

Until the ballet aesthetic changes worldwide, dancers should not be hired at one weight on the condition that they drop to another before they are considered stage-worthy. Surely, this practice leads to a greater number of physical and psychological problems.

Ultimately, I like to think the ballet world will be forced to alter its aesthetic to accept more “normal”-sized dancers. But until then, it seems imperative to not put dancers in the position of having to lose weight in order to keep their jobs, which is why being particular about the aesthetic right out of the gate seems like a better choice to me.

But enough of what I thought. What was your impression of the article?

Cook Once ... Eat All Week

Cook Once and Eat All Week

This post was originally published on Beyond the Gold– NY International Ballet Competition’s blog. It’s on how you can cook and eat homemade meals all week without spending your life in the kitchen. It’s easier than you might think….!

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I happen to love the phrase, “Cook once, eat twice.” But in my kitchen, it’s cook once, eat four or five times. I love to eat well, but I am not willing to spend a lot of time cooking during the week unless it’s a family event. So, here are some of my tips for cooking/prepping once and eating many times- these are very simple ideas, but I hope they get you thinking!

I usually pick a day when I cook three or four main ingredients and then have them in the fridge as building blocks for the week. My trick is that I cook them in the simplest way possible, usually steaming for veggies and greens and basic prep (without flavoring) for beans and grains. That way, every time I eat, I can add different flavors to create a whole new dish.

For example: Ingredients:

  • Kale: steamed
  • Wild Rice: boiled
  • Cannellini beans: soaked for 24 hours, then boiled until soft.

Meals

Warm or cold

  • Mix kale, wild rice and cannellini beans
  • Toss with tahini, splash of lemon, ground black pepper, salt

Cold

  • Slice up and add cherry tomatoes, avocado, pine nuts (toast them if you like)
  • Add cold kale
  • Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper

Cold

  • Cannellini beans and wild rice
  • Add feta, cucumber, kalamata olives, tomatoes
  • Toss with olive oil, vinegar, fresh oregano/basil, salt and pepper

Warm

  • Saute cannellini beans and wild rice with sesame oil, salt and pepper
  • As a side, sauté the kale in sesame oil with some sesame seeds

In addition to these simple ideas, you now have a green, a grain and a protein, all ready to be eaten in any other creative way you want.

Some other staples that are great to cook ahead of time and keep on hand as building blocks are:

  • Quinoa (good cold, hot and as a breakfast cereal)
  • Brown Rice
  • Kasha (Buckwheat)
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • All beans: so good hot or cold and very easy to dress up in different flavors

 

 

 

 

Ballet Saved by Fattening Up Ballerinas

I am definitely not a fan of the headline of this Huffington Post article, “How Fattening Up Will Save Ballet,” but the content is worth a read. It’s by author Deirdre Kelly, whose new book bears the equally controversial title: “Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection.”

Oy. Talk about stirring things up.

Big Takeaway

The basic takeaway of the article is that ballerinas are being “allowed” to be at healthier weights than they used to be, and that this will “save” ballet. She points out that medical experts have long stated the dangers of ballet’s required extreme thinness (true). She also notes that companies today place more emphasis on injury prevention and dancer health than they did in the past (also true). However, that emphasis does not rule out their desire for thin dancers, as displayed onstage.

Kelly writes, “Ballerinas today are again embracing the breasts and hips which first made them objects of desire way back in the day. They are turning their backs on the radical cosmetic surgeries and punitive dieting that stripped them of their identities as full-fledged women in the modern era.”

But is it True?

While I admire Kelly’s desire to highlight the female dancers today who break the hyper-thin mold of the classical ballerina, I am not sure I see the broad changes in the field that she sees. Thinness is still a requirement and a pressure that young students and professionals alike experience with shocking regularity.

And I’m not so sure our companies present such a wide variety of body types that aspiring dancers feel there is room for their diversity. When companies make that rare exception, dancers often get singled out for not fitting the mold. (Recall: NYCB principal Jenifer Ringer criticized in the New York Times just two years ago… see here.)

And Her Point?

Kelly goes on to say that she wrote the book to restore dignity to the ballerina- dignity that was lost in the years when dancers had to submit to extreme thinness. “[Ballet] is where the ballerina is in control of her body in determining her own destiny.”

I both agree and disagree with this statement and will share my personal thoughts later. First, what do you think?