• Should Dancers Follow Clean Eating?

    “Clean eating is good, right?”.

    This is a question I have been asked over and over again by dancers who want to find the best fuel for their bodies. I respond with “well, sort of, sometimes…… not completely”. If there is one thing that I have learned about nutrition, strict rules that we place what foods we eat and what behaviors we have surrounding food can often lead to disordered eating patterns. Clean eating is not an exception. So let’s discuss, should dancers follow clean eating? 

    So, what is clean eating?

    Clean eating is a way of eating that maintains the proponents that eating whole foods and eliminating processed foods has certain health benefits. There are also different variations of clean eating that eliminate foods like oils, gluten, dairy, or even cooked foods altogether based on nutrition claims. You might hear people refer to certain foods or ingredients as “clean”, and many brands use the phrase “clean eating” in their advertising to appeal to health conscious consumers. These words and phrases are sometimes accompanied by other nutrition buzzwords like natural, detox, superfoods, etc. 

    Let’s talk about the good. Clean eating focuses on simple ingredients to prepare meals. These are foods that you can find easily in a store and prepare for yourself. There is also a focus on whole foods including whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and plant oils. As we have talked about in other posts, whole foods fuel our bodies with macro and micronutrients that help our bodies in their many functions and they also give us energy for a long day of dance. Clean eating might also encourage you to try new foods and new recipes at home, whether it be in trying a new ingredient or a new way to prepare a food. This might introduce you to new cuisines and flavors, and it might just lead you to find new favorites! 

    The negatives of Clean Eating

    Clean eating can also lead to some negative thoughts and behaviors, especially for dancers. With all of this focus on finding the “perfect” foods to ingest, it can lead to obsessive food behavior, which means that we are going to the extreme to control what goes in our body. This could involve a number of behaviors including restricting certain foods like oil, gluten, or dairy or even amount of calories based on health claims. Clean eating can also look like forcing yourself to eat the healthiest option available, even if that is not what your body wants and needs. This inflexibility when it comes to meals can bring social isolation because of fear of making food decisions at a friend’s house or at a restaurant. No one wants to go to a restaurant and eat a sad plate of raw veggies with no dressing while everyone else is enjoying delicious food that you wish you could enjoy as well. 

    Clean eating also assigns morality to food, categorizing foods into “good foods” or “bad foods”, leading us to reflect on our character and willpower based on our food decisions. This can bring guilt from food choices, fear and anxiety surrounding food decisions, and secret binge behaviors. All of these can turn into disordered eating and diagnosable eating disorders, and can create a sense of distrust in your body because you are not honoring what it really needs. Our bodies need balance and flexibility when it comes to nutrition, and clean eating ignores both of these. Finally, clean eating is time consuming, from food preparation to grocery shopping when there is such an obsession with food labels. It also takes the fun out of eating, especially if the foods you deem as “clean” are not ones that you necessarily enjoy. 

    Nutrition for Dancers

    Of course I encourage whole foods because of their nutrient content, but I also strongly believe that dancers should have play foods, which are simply foods that serve the purpose for you to simply enjoy! As dancers, it is natural to want to control every aspect of our lifestyle to support our dancing. Nutrition is often one of those areas that is focused on and obsessed over in order for dancers to experience control over their training. This is why I do not encourage dancers to follow the rules of clean eating. I want dancers to be able to learn about nutrition in a healthy, wholesome way, that leads them to strength and energy on and off the stage. If you are a dancer that struggles with clean eating and finding balance in nutrition, I encourage you to talk to a dietician or nutritionist, or you can always reach me here! Remember, food doesn’t just fuel your body, but also your mind and spirit as well! Make sure to watch my video about clean eating down below

  • Eating When I’m Not Hungry

    “Ugh, rehearsal was frustrating today, I just want to go home and eat chips and ice cream. i’m just eating when i’m not hungry”
    “I wasn’t even wanting anything sweet right now, but someone just brought cake to the studio and now I want a piece of it.”

    Have you ever experienced hunger or a craving for food that was not driven by your body actually needing food? It’s likely that you have, because this is totally normal to experience eating when you aren’t hungry! This type of hunger can actually give us a unique insight into what we are going through emotionally, and help us identify and understand food habits.

    I want you to remember that eating out of non-biological hunger isn’t a bad thing, and sometimes it can be a part of a normal and healthy human experience, but other times it can be our attempt to stifle negative emotions, which is something that we need to be aware of. Taste hunger, practical hunger and emotional hunger are three different types of hunger outside of the typical biological hunger that we are going to be discovering today. 

    Eating a food because it sounds good, or just because the occasion calls for it, is what we call taste hunger.

    Taste hunger often involves play foods, or foods whose primary function might not be nutritional value but serve the purpose of being foods that we love and enjoy, often bringing together a special experience and connecting us with others. Think cake at a birthday party, stuffing and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, Christmas cookies, or even just a spontaneous decision to get a delicious looking treat in the bakery case at a coffee shop. Food isn’t just fuel, it has culture, celebration and pleasure attached to it.

    Sometimes if we are strict with our eating, we might have food rules established that deem these foods as “bad” or ones that should be “avoided”. This might leave us feeling guilty after eating these foods and then potentially overeating them because our body doesn’t know when it will have this food again. Intuitive eating seeks to normalize all foods because they all have their place in balanced nutrition. It is perfectly valid to honor this type of hunger if a food sounds good, looks tasty, or if the occasion calls for it even if you aren’t biologically hungry. When you satisfy this hunger, knowing that you can eat these foods whenever you want, you might notice that you just need a small piece to feel satisfied. So the next time someone brings your favorite cookies to the studio and you want one, enjoy it! 

    The next type of hunger is practical hunger.

    This is when you plan meals and snack times ahead to fit your schedule and eat in order to prevent intense hunger in the future. For dancers, this is a really important one to make sure that our bodies are fueled so we can focus in the studio. It is important to eat before dance, on breaks and before performances even if you aren’t necessarily hungry. This doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself to have a full meal to the point where you feel overly stuffed, but having a light meal or snack is a good idea to avoid intense hunger and energy dips during a rehearsal or a  performance.

    This is all about planning ahead to bring enough food with us to be sure we will have enough energy to get through long and intense days of dance. If you notice that you have eaten all of the food you brought with you but you still have hours until your next meal, use this information to prepare differently next time. Or, if you notice that you are coming home from dance with insatiable hunger, try finding ways to add more to your meals and snacks during the day.


    Lastly, emotional hunger is when we knowingly or unknowingly use food or the physical act of eating to comfort or to try and cover up or quench uncomfortable feelings.

    When you experience this type of hunger, you might be feeling emotions like boredom, frustration, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, anger, low self esteem or exhaustion. Food can often serve as a comfort and can deliver positive emotions, even just temporarily. It is normal to crave foods that will make you feel better and to eat when you aren’t even hungry. You might encounter emotional hunger with eating a pint of ice cream after a frustrating casting change, or eating a chocolate bar if your day is frustrating and chocolate is honestly the only thing that adds some pleasure to your day.

    Sometimes this hunger can feel out of control, and I want to express that this is totally normal to experience. There is nothing wrong with you or your hunger cues. Emotional hunger can actually be a great tool that gives us insight into what we are experiencing emotionally. It is totally okay to eat when we experience emotional hunger, but it is important to know that a temporary food distraction isn’t going to get rid of whatever emotion we are experiencing. 

    If I notice that I keep going back into the kitchen to get multiple cookies or chocolate, or if I keep grabbing handfuls of tortilla chips, it is usually because I am stressed, frustrated, tired or sad. At this point of my snacking, I’m probably not really even enjoying the food I’m eating, but I continue to try and make myself feel better. Sometimes I don’t even recognize that it’s emotional hunger until after the fact, but when I identify that I am feeling emotions rather than biological hunger, I use tools to deal with the uncomfortable emotions.

    What are some ways to deal with these emotions?

    Writing in a journal, talking with a friend, family member or therapist, going on a walk, doing some like stretching, or taking a few deep breaths are just some ways that help me identify and deal with these emotions. What helps you process emotions might be different from my list, but it is helpful to have some that you can utilize when the time calls for it. It is important to not feel guilty or beat yourself up if you experience emotional hunger.

    It takes an incredible amount of self reflection to start honoring your feelings without food, and it will not be perfect, and that’s okay! Sometimes you will eat even if you aren’t hungry. Remember, your body is incredibly smart, and emotional hunger is often your body raising a red flag to help you notice emotions that are going on. So when this happens, thank your body, recognize that your emotions are valid and honor them. 

    The topics of food and nutrition are so much larger than just what properties different foods have. Foods can have emotions, memories and habits attached to them that make the scope of studying nutrition so much bigger. I often talk about how we have to fuel our bodies AND our minds as dancers. These are equally important in becoming a healthy, well-rounded dancer and person.

    Experiencing emotional hunger especially can be difficult to navigate.

    I would encourage you to reach out to a nutrition and/or mental health professional so you can get the support you need! You can always reach out to me here! I hope this helps you to recognize what your body needs and encourages you to honor your body’s cues so that you can be the best version of yourself inside and outside of the studio. 

    Watch my video here!

  • Hunger and Fullness Scale with Intuitive Eating

    I dropped my dance bag right inside of my front door, and it all of a sudden hit me. My body went from zero to hangry REAL quick. I was all of a sudden at the very bottom of the hunger and fullness scale. You know what I mean, the irritable emotions, feeling exhausted, lacking energy, empty stomach, a slight headache, and that feeling that I could eat whatever is in front of me. I end up heating up some leftovers, followed by a bowl of cereal, some trail mix, an apple, and chocolate. It seems like I can’t get full until I hit this point where I feel really uncomfortable from eating too much. 

    Does that scenario sound familiar to you? 

    I was so used to not listening to my hunger and fullness cues, that it felt like my body was constantly in a pendulum. There was never a happy medium. 

    When I was first introduced to Intuitive Eating, I heard about the hunger and fullness scale. “Great”, I thought, “another thing to keep track of, and I don’t even know when I’m hungry or full until it’s blatantly obvious”. With time, I learned how this scale isn’t a rule or a restriction, but a tool that we can use to gauge hunger and fullness levels and discover any correlations between the amount we eat, when we eat, and what we eat with what food decisions we make and what cravings we have. 

    The hunger and fullness scale I am referencing  is taken directly from Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s book on Intuitive Eating. I will have a link to their book down below, and seriously, this book has been so helpful the past few years on my Intuitive Eating Journey. 

    Okay, so let’s talk about this hunger and fullness scale.
    0     empty
    1     ravenous
    2     hangry
    3     ready to eat
    4     pangs
    5     neutral
    6     getting there
    7     satisfied
    8     full
    9     stuffed
    10   sick

    On the left side of the scale (near zero), is when you feel completely empty and depleted. This is usually accompanied by our worst hunger cues and probably some not so savory emotions. Obviously, we don’t want to wait to eat until we reach this point. At the 1-2 mark is a ravenous hunger level. You could probably settle for any food, regardless of if it was something you really wanted, and we are also likely to be so hungry that we often will swing in the opposite direction and blow way past our fullness cues.

    Around the 3-4 level of hunger is when we start to see the signs of hunger set in. We feel ready to eat food, but we still feel like we can eat mindfully and make food decisions based on what we are actually craving and need, and not just based on what is in front of us. This is ideally the point where we want to consume a meal or snack before we get into that hunger danger zone. 

    If you struggle with noticing your more subtle hunger cues, try to be conscious of not going more than five waking hours without eating.

    It is helpful before and during meals to pause and notice your hunger levels and hunger cues. Are there any patterns with your eating habits and times that you tend to get hungry? Is there a correlation between how much you ate or what foods you ate and how long you went without getting hungry again? You might notice that the farther you end up on the hunger scale, the higher your fullness level is likely to end up at when you finish eating. Deprivation and restriction are key factors in backlash eating. So, when you honor your hunger, it’s easier to honor your fullness.

    You might also notice that your hunger levels change from day to day. If you have a day off after a grueling performance weekend, it’s totally normal to be really hungry and feel like you need to eat more than what you normally need on a day without major physical activity. Your body is always striving to maintain equilibrium, so it might be just trying to play catch up, so make sure to continue to honor your hunger even if you feel like you “shouldn’t” be hungry. 

    The neutral point.

    The midpoint on the hunger and fullness scale is a neutral point. You might not feel necessarily hungry or full, and food might not even cross your mind. If you eat at this point, you might notice that you aren’t as interested in what you are eating. Of course it’s okay to eat if you aren’t totally hungry – it’s just information and data to collect!

    Fullness side of the scale

    Towards the right side of the hunger and fullness scale helps us gauge our fullness levels. The 6-7 mark is when we feel content with our fullness level. Your stomach might feel pleasantly filled and food might start to lose its initial satisfaction with each bite. Ideally this is the fullness level when we are ready to finish eating. If we still have food on our plate, you can save it for later and eat it when you are hungry again. If you have finished your plate and you haven’t reached this point, it’s totally fine to get more food!

    When you find yourself nearing this point, take a second and pause to check your fullness level and how your body feels. Satiety can feel different to different people, you might feel stomach fullness, satisfaction, or even just nothingness. Your stomach might have expanded a little bit, and if you had any hangry feelings before you started eating, you might feel pleasant and more calm and happy instead. 

    At level 8, this is when we are full and might start to feel a little uncomfortable and maybe a bit lethargic. 9 is when we are stuffed, food probably isn’t actually satisfying your taste buds anymore, and we might be at this point by overcompensating if we were super hungry before we started eating, or if we are using food as a comfort or coping mechanism. At a 10, this is when we feel sick and very uncomfortable after overfilling our bodies.

    making peace with fullness

    Now, I want to make it clear that it is totally fine to eat past your fullness level, especially as you adjust to a more intuitive and less restrictive style of eating. It is not something to feel guilty about or beat yourself up over. If you are finding yourself continually at the 8-10 mark after eating, it might be helpful to talk to a nutrition profession about what you are experiencing, what emotions are present, and how you are honoring your hunger. If you are struggling to identify your fullness cues, it might help to eat without distraction so that you can check in with your body periodically during meals and snacks to see where your fullness and satiety levels are at. This doesn’t have to be every meal, but it is a helpful tool for when you need it. 

    As I mentioned before, we are more likely to blow past our fullness level when we have been restricting food, if we aren’t honoring our hunger when our body is telling us it needs food, or we are not giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat. When you truly feel satisfied with your eating experience, by honoring what your body wants, and not forcing yourself to eat just an apple when you need something more substantial, you might find that you are able to honor your fullness and that you are not continually going back to the kitchen to find satisfaction. 

    Dancers have several unique challenges when it comes to honoring hunger cues. You might not get a positive look from your director or teacher if you pull out a snack in the middle of a class or rehearsal, and you might not always be able to eat a large, filling meal in the middle of a long day of rehearsals or performances. 

    So, what can dancers do?

    Planning ahead is key! If it suits your body, try having a filling, balanced breakfast in the morning. This could be something like a hearty bowl of oatmeal, eggs with toast, a smoothie bowl, or a veggie hash. For the day, bring snacks and lunches to the studio that are easy to eat and aren’t just snack foods. Even if you have to eat your lunch in several portions, having a quinoa salad, a sandwich or wrap, grain bowl, sushi, etc. are easy to eat and provide energy and are also filling without making you feel overly stuffed.

    Make sure to also pack snacks like fruit and nut butter, yogurt and granola, cheese and crackers, or  hummus and veggies. These are all easy to prepare and quick to eat as well. Remember the dinner predicament that I always experienced that I mentioned at the beginning? For dinner, I learned to have a satisfying meal or meal components already prepared to give myself variety depending on what I was craving after dance. If I wanted to add something extra like toasted almonds, sliced avocado, or extra chickpeas, I can add it quickly to make my dinner more satisfying. 

    Physical activity can also stifle our hunger cues.

    This is why it’s so easy for dancers to not eat much during the day and feel fine, but come home and immediately realize that they have 30 seconds until they get a shovel to funnel food into their mouth. So, this is important to recognize when you are dancing. Even if you aren’t necessarily hungry, if you are on a break and it has been several hours since you last ate, try to eat a little something and monitor how your stomach feels and how your energy levels are. It’s usually better to take a few extra bites then to realize 10 minutes into your next rehearsal that your stomach is trying to play along with the music. 

    I hope this was able to give you some insight into what the heck a hunger and fullness scale is, and how paying some extra attention to our emotions and our stomach can help us not get to the point where we need to eat everything now or we need to lie down because we are so full. As you progress with Intuitive Eating, you might find that you don’t necessarily need to use the hunger and fullness scale at every meal. Listening to your body’s cues becomes second nature! In the beginning, it’s going to be totally normal to go past your hunger and fullness limits, and that’s okay! It’s a learning experience and something that you can use to identify patterns in the future. 

    Make sure you check out my video on the Intuitive Eating hunger and fullness scale below. I have so many other videos on the What Fuels a Dancer YouTube channel where I talk about balanced nutrition for dancers. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I would love to talk more with you here! 

    Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works