I'll start off by saying I've never had any form of eating disorder, diagnosed or undiagnosed. I don't know that half of the food struggle spectrum, but I can definitely see the reasoning and thoughts that lead many dancers into the downward spiral. If you or anyone you know has suffered from an eating disorder, I am truly sorry and hope that recovery is in the future, underway, and/or successful. I'm not offering any kind of revolutionary change, or steps to help anyone change, I'm just sharing my personal story and the steps I hope I can take in the future.
It's no secret that food is a problem for dancers. I've featured a few recipes on this blog, but I never really talked about food in general. It's a touchy subject for me as well, probably because I experience something many young girls, women, and certainly dancers suffer from:
Food guilt. This article from DanceSpirit, Food Fight, gave me the term, because before coming across this term, I really felt like I had a mild eating disorder. In a way, I suppose I still do feel that way. For both dance physicality and emotional reasons, food started to take over my mind and my life this past year. I started constantly thinking about food, anticipating my next meal, planning out snacks, counting calories, and doing research on diet, nutrition, and health. I started going to the gym. I made a decision that I needed to lose 5-10 pounds in order to look the part of a dancer. Sounds good right?
Fast forward 9 months (present day): everything has changed except my mindset, and not in a good way. Food guilt is worse than ever. I started eating when I wasn't hungry and doing so regularly. I stopped counting calories, but only because I was too scared to see what I was eating in a day. I slipped back and forth between "no it's okay, I'm beautiful the way I am" and "this is horrifying, I need to lose weight and be healthier" extremely fluidly and rapidly. I ate past when I was full all the time. I gained 4 pounds (doesn't sound horrible, I know). Outwardly, my eating habits may not be that different from a year ago when I barely thought about what I ate, but inwardly, I was a bubbling mass of guilt. I'm not sure why I'm writing in past tense, because the situation is pretty much the same right now, although it's not at its worst.
The worst thing is the feelings I get from food. I automatically think of eating something if I haven't eaten in a few hours or if I see food or items that remind me of food (I have a ceramic cupcake-shaped jar on my desk). I think extremely healthy most of the time ("I'm hungry, what's the healthiest thing I can get? Handful of almonds, good"), but for some reason, if I see the food, it's ridiculously hard for me to turn it down. Even if it isn't food that I particularly love, I feel a constant need to eat. And at the end of the day, the sugar from eating 3 peaches isn't that different from eating a piece of chocolate. Overeating is my source of gaining weight, and the worst part is that I'm hyperaware of that fact. You'd think awareness is the first step towards recovery, but I find myself spiraling down ever farther.
I don't really have much to offer except my goals. I want to start counting my calories again, or at the very least start writing down all the foods I eat. On Monday, my entire family is planning to start a 14 day diet. I don't really believe in these fad diets that promise weight loss by following a strict plan of foods, but I'm doing this one because I believe that having a strict goal plus family guidance and support will help my mind let go of the food. While I'm extremely worried about my weight (I know I shouldn't be), I know that the most important thing at this point is to help my mind develop a healthy working relationship with food. I have the knowledge and willpower to employ a healthy diet, I just need some kind of kick or message to get my emotions in line.
Let it be known that I love food (a little too much) and that everyone else out there with food guilt, you're not alone and you're not crazy. We just all need a little help. Please feel free to share your stories, tips, or contact me personally!