Nutrition is an essential part of life; the fuel we take in feeds us on all levels and contributes to our state of mental and physical health. This is far from new information, but it becomes more profound as we get older and more aware of ourselves. As a dancer and someone who uses the body as a career tool, it is even more important to maintain dance nutrition.
In my twenties I felt indestructible. My body would do anything I asked of it and I paid little attention to what I was eating as long as it was low in calories. Performing on a ship, drinking a little or a lot on a daily basis was normal and the food in the mess (cafeteria) was at times so uninspiring we lived on cans of tuna in our cabins. I was always fairly healthy, eating home-grown vegetables and fruit and never being allowed to eat fast food, but those decisions in my adult life were based mostly on the aesthetics of my dancer’s body in its show costumes and not how it felt internally.
In my early thirties my life changed. It sounds dramatic to speak in those terms, but the differences in my diet led to a gradual but steady improvement in my mental and therefore physical state.
A torn calf muscle while teaching a show and my immediate visit to my doctor (Chinese medicine/ acupuncturist/ Chinese psychiatrist/ general life guru and miracle worker) highlighted my need to make a change.
The tear on my gall bladder line due to my inability to emotionally change direction or move forward in my life after a hurtful break-up led to the suggestion that I cut various foods out of my diet for three months (and afterwards permanently). No dairy, alcohol, sugar or wheat.
Dairy was easy, I had already removed it from my diet years before, on the same doctor’s recommendation. During one of my early visits to him for a sore neck, he made me feel the back of my rib cage and there was something gritty under my skin, apparently dairy I wasn’t digesting. I was unaware I had any kind of dairy intolerance although I did suffer from digestive pains every now and again. As soon as I cut the dairy out, those went away and I lost a few pounds – that layer over my rib cage must have been a layer all over my body! Abstaining from the glass of wine after work or the weekend drink with friends was the most difficult, partly because it was a habitual relaxation at the end of the day and because it was difficult for most of my friends to understand and accept that I wasn’t going to join them in their revelry. It’s well known that alcohol is a depressant and alters a person’s perceptions and emotions. Although, I can’t categorically attest to its being solely responsible for the improvement in my emotional state, I’m sure it was greatly influential and continues to be. I do cheat and have one or two alcoholic drinks per month but I don’t sleep nearly as well on those nights!
I work with twenty-somethings every day, still blissfully unaware that the way they treat their body now will affect it later.
As dancers, we warm up diligently and take care of our muscular body obsessively from the outside with relatively little consideration for feeding its internal needs with high-octane protein choices. These dancers may be enlightened at the first sign of injury, or positively influenced by nutrition-conscious friends, and alternatively some may never feel the need to make dietary adjustments to make themselves healthy or happy.
While I am committed to the conscious nutrition that works for me, I am careful not to exhort my views to others since every single body is different and what is good for me may make somebody else sick. Educated nutritionists are widespread and research is readily available. It’s important to know exactly what is in the food we are buying – even cooking everything from scratch doesn’t protect against parasites, antibiotics in meat or genetically modified foods, and our bodies are affected by everything we ingest even if we cannot feel its impact. Everyone tends to have an opinion about what you should or shouldn’t eat and it’s easy to be influenced by friends who feel they can’t have a great time unless YOU have a drink! These days I own my body and I know what makes it happy.
Also by Katie Hurrey: