Food – friend or foe? Part 1
Sorry it’s been awhile between posts – I’ve been busy growing a baby and surviving the silly season! I’ve also found myself with gestational diabetes… :-( Fortunately for me, it’s very mild and only lasts during pregnancy, but it has meant having a diet plan and monitoring my carb & sugar intake, which takes me back to that familiar place of focusing on food that I remember only too well from my dancing days. Hence the subject of today’s post (and my next one): Food – Friend or Foe? Enjoy!
I’ve always said that every dancer has a unique relationship with food.
As dancers, your body is your instrument and so how your body looks can easily affect how you feel about yourself (your self-confidence) and how others perceive you – including your teachers & directors.
All dancers want to look good, feel good and receive praise from people they look up to. So it is very tempting for dancers to try to use food as a way to manipulate their appearance with the hope of manipulating all those other feel-good factors like self-worth and approval along with it.
If only it were so easy.
We all know how this can go horribly wrong for some dancers, who find that their focus on food becomes stronger than their focus on enjoying health, life and dance and that their experiment in controlling food ends up controlling them. Anorexia & Bulimia Nervosa are well-known pitfalls among dancers that take huge amounts of courage and perseverance to overcome.
But even without a diagnosable eating disorder, most dancers fall into at least some food traps that skew a healthy relationship with food and make it a foe (or enemy) rather than a friend. Here are some examples, do any of these sound familiar?
Food as foe:
- Have you ever skipped a meal in order to look skinnier in your leotard, thinking it will boost your confidence and other people’s opinions of you, even if only for a short time?
- Have you ever made it to lunchtime on a day like that and felt like you were giving in to the most sinfully indulgent desire EVER just by having lunch?
- Have you ever declined eating something fatty or sweet in public but then gone home and eaten some in private?
- Have you ever felt bad about your appearance only to go and comfort yourself by eating lots of ice-cream or chocolate that actually makes you feel even worse about yourself?
- Have you ever labeled a certain type of food as “Bad” or out-of-bounds, to be avoided at all costs, or had strict rules about food and eating?
I remember a time when I was a budding ballet dancer, I was at my brother’s place and he was cooking dinner. He poured, what in my mind was an obscene amount of oil into the frying pan. I gasped out loud and my brother said to me, “What? Are you afraid of fat?”
No-one had ever said it to me so directly before, but he hit the nail on the head: I was afraid of fat. Fat was a dreaded enemy that meant terrible things for me: gaining weight, getting pimples, being a failure, hating my body, hating myself, not being disciplined enough, being the biggest and worst in my ballet class… and the list went on!
You see, it’s when dancers start thinking that food & eating has power to control their sense of self-worth and feelings of success as dancers that things go really wrong.
Food and eating becomes loaded with emotional energy. You either feel great pride & self-control over your appetite and your appearance when you stick to your food-rules and resist eating or you feel deep shame & self-hatred when you give in.
The very natural and essential instinct to eat and nourish your body becomes an emotional tug-of-war. Even small decisions about what to eat or when to eat can be really stressful. Sometimes, dancers become secretive about their eating to avoid exposing the battle that is going on in their minds.
It’s easy for your relationship with food to take over as one of the main indicators of how you feel about yourself. Focusing on food can seem to help you avoid having to feel some of the uncomfortable feelings you have about yourself and your weaknesses, but it can also mean you forget all the rest of the good things that contribute to your self-worth.
So, how can you tilt the balance back toward the healthy side? …We’ll look into that more in my next post!
But for now, just have a think about these things:
- What ways has food and eating become a “power-play” for you?
- When do you notice yourself becoming anxious about your appearance and eating?
- What would look different about your life if you had a healthy relationship with food?
Stay tuned for Part 2! Remember, I’m here to help, so if you’d like some support or have any questions about eating & body-image please drop me a line or leave a comment.