PREAMBLE: I have been in the area of strength and conditioning and working with the body for almost 20 years, but have always shied away from teaching nutrition. Because it can be such a messy topic. And I didn’t want to present yet another way of doing it, nor play yet another guru. But for almost as long, I have known and felt deeply that nutrition and everything that is connected to it has a huge impact not only on the appearance of the body, but on competitive performance, health, mood, and your whole experience of the activity you’re training for. After diving deeper into the matter over the past years, I am now taking a leap and have started teaching my approach to eating as part of my 10-week Adult Ballet Body Evolution online course, letting my students guide me on what they want. My sense is that eventually, I might spin this out as a seperate course, so if you ever want to get involved in it, feel free to get in touch at email@example.com.
This is also my very first post about nutrition on this blog. And I am still learning! Therefore, I am very curious to hear from you - does any of it resonate, do you want more, or should I just stay away from this whole topic? Enjoy the read!
Two Sides of the Ballet Body Story
We all know that body shape, body shaming, and body image, are sensitive topics in ballet. And one of the biggest breakthroughs, in both professional and amateur areas, has been to seriously debunk the glorifcation of the anorectic, androgyn, never-gone-through-puberty body type. The battle is certainly not over. It continues, and rightfully so.
While this a very positive development, I am seeing sort of a backlashing trend in the adult ballet community: Giving up on a healthy, strong, and lean ballet physique.
I am not sure how to phrase it, without offending someone. But I guess when you’re blogging, you can’t always not offend everyone. So I am just going to say it: It feels to me like there is almost a universal, more or less subtle acceptance of the overweight adult ballerina body. Hear me out.
While some admit struggling with it, there is sort of an apologetic, understanding undertone. Like, that you’re not in control of it. That it’s just not possible for a middle-aged woman who has started ballet late in her life to achieve the body of a dancer. Sometimes, carrying extra weight is almost celebrated as a symbol of being free from expectations and pressures, and as the result of radical self-acceptance. Or as a normal by-product of living a busy life with a full-time job, a family, and the like.
Body Weight Truth Bombs
The acceptance of all shapes and figures in adult ballet is liberating and great. And it always depends how much you are into it. It might not matter to you as much if you are just getting a nice workout from ballet a couple times a week. But if you do have some higher dance ambitions, and if you are striving to seriously improve your performance, then let me just insert a little reminder here (and I know you know, but it won’t hurt):
Extra bodyweight is a bigger obstacle to getting better at ballet than most other things combined.
Extra bodyweight puts you at greater risk for injuries.
Carrying extra weight is a highly inefficient way of moving in ballet and will tire you more quickly.
Nothing else, not even lack of strength, lack of flexibility, body height, has as more detrimental effect on your physical performance.
Don’t get me wrong. I have seen dancers in all shapes and sizes dance beautifully and gracefully. This is not an essay about having to look a certain way in ballet, and it’s certainly NOT an encouragement towards an unhealthy body image.
It’s more a….wake-up call maybe. A reminder that you deserve a body that supports your bold dance aspirations. Learning ballet is hard enough, and it makes sense to lessen any load you can.
And there is more.
There is an incredible beauty in having a body that truly reflects who you are. A body that reflects your love for ballet. A body that shows off your investment in your health, your strength, and your commitment to self-care.
Cause let’s face it - maybe, there is something behind the extra weight, and the casual non-chalance that you might display when talking about it.
Maybe fear, of not being able to change anything. Or maybe the idea of actually succeeding gives you anxiety. Or resistance to change and the uncertainty that comes with it. Maybe powerlessness, or overwhelm, of not finding the way through, or of having tried everything under the sun.
But more often than not, there is also some serious, positive ambition. A dream that is waiting to be fulfilled.
The Four Bodyweight Myths, Debunked
I don’t know about you, but it always stings me when women talk like they have no control over how they look and feel. That they’re just not in charge of the weight of their own bodies. Claiming that they “just don’t have the typical ballet figure”.
I have had many conversations around this topic, especially since I have started teaching my online strength and ballet body courses. Truly honest and beautiful conversations. And I see a few common themes, actually myths, around the topic of the adult ballet body(weight). So why don’t we examine them a bit - because just facing what is holding you back might change how you continue writing your story!
Myth 1: It’s too hard or impossible to achieve a toned dancer’s physique beyond a certain age, because fat is stored more easily, and there is age-related muscle loss.
This is an interesting one. And let’s get rid of it right away. In fact, this “myth” is not supported by scientific evidence. The main reason why we think that, now listen closely, is because it’s our everyday experience. We are so used to adults’ bodies deteriorating with increasing age that we think it’s normal.
Let me tell you it’s not.
Age-related deterioration, muscle loss, weight gain, is mainly due to today’s sedentary life style and a way of eating that - usually over a long period of time - trips up our metabolism big time. Even if you eat healthy. For example, eating fruit, certain vegetables and whole grains can trigger fat storage and block muscle volume maintenance and growth.
You can carry or re-build a young and powerful body way past middle age. This has been my experience on many levels. I am not saying this to show off, but rather to say that I am in no way special. I have a human body like you. And if that is still not enough evidence (and hey, it shouldn’t :-)), just take a bit of time and google some stories of “old” people achieving amazing physical feats. You will find more than you think.
Myth 2: You have to deprive yourself and can’t enjoy life if you want to achieve a toned, beautiful physique.
By depriving yourself you mean that you have to force yourself to eat less than you want, or that you cannot eat the things you love?
The first one is easily debunked. When consistently eating in a way that supports your body, in particular that nourishes your gut, any excess calories will be metabolized, i.e. digested by your gut bacteria or simply burned away as body heat.
The second one is a bit more tricky. But ask yourself: Why are you eating? Many people think it’s 1) because you need a certain amount of energy for going about your day or, more or less consciously, 2) to feel good and taken care of.
So let me comment on this. Re 1): I would not worry too much about it. Especially if you have some extra weight, you do not even need to cover the amount of calories you burn every day for a long time. And with the over-availaibilty of food nowadays, your energy demands are covered more quickly than you think. Re 2): Fair. Your choice. The question is: Are there more effective ways of achieving the same result of feeling good, in a way that gives you the body you want and lets you achieve the goals you are dreaming of?
There is only one motivation for eating: To fuel and nourish the body in a way that brings out the best in it. And the best of you. In a self-loving way. Once you get into the groove, what you love and what nourishes your body will gracefully align.
Myth 3: Some people can eat what they want and will not put on any weight, so that whole bodyweight thing is pretty much genetics.
Don’t get me even started on this one. Biggest BS, and I rarely use that term, ahem. First of all, even seemingly lean people may not be well-nourished, so let’s put that “they can eat what they want“ aside. Now, there may be individual differences and certain natural bodyweight set points, but those differences are slight. And second, please google “epigenetics” and get rid of that birth lottery excuse once and for all. Thank you.
Myth 4: I have tried everything under the sun, and it’s too overwhelming to figure out how to eat well. Everyone says something different!
I get that. And even though I don’t have to, but since I now spend most of my time in Canada, I truly wanna say “I’m sorry”. For all the nutrition myths, dogmas, experts, and confusion out there (especially on the Internet). Also know that if you have struggled to get rid of weight for a long time, you are not to blame. We have been sold on so many different nutritional “truths” over the past decades that it’s hard to keep up with them. The last thing you and I need is another proven system, or guru, or wonder diet, or shake.
What we need is an approach that taps into your body’s wisdom - a wisdom that has evolved since humans started populating this planet. Actually longer than that. In addition, we need to take into account how our environment has changed since humans started agriculture, and even more since our food production started to be heavily industrialized 50+ years ago. And how that has changed what we put into our bodies, and how that in turn has possibly thrown us off. Why seemingly “healthy” food might trigger weight gain and why. And this is independent of whether you choose to eat vegan, vegeterian, keto, or paleo. Or whatever.
Let me say this clearly: Loosing weight is simple. Humans have done it since they existed. It’s a matter of a few months, or a few more, depending on where you are at.
It might not be always easy, because changing habit takes some effort. But if you really choose to get the body you want - it’s all possible, and you already have everything you need (a body).
Here is how to avoid overwhelm: Don’t learn about nutrition. Learn about the body. Learn about your gut, your microbiome, your holobiome. From there, start with some small and simple changes. “The Plant Paradox” is a good book to start with. Depending on where you are, it might be a too radical approach - or it might be the start of a major breakthrough for you. In both cases, it will be highly educative. If you understand your body, the understanding of what to eat will come more naturally and without the overwhelm.
What do You Desire?
So, to wrap it up: I am not here to tell you what’s good for you. I can only give you information and some food (haha. But do you see the parallel?) for thought. It’s up to you to decide what you want.
But if you do carry extra weight around, have sort of arranged yourself with it, telling yourself that it’s ok when deep down it’s not -
give yourself permission to desire the body you want unapologetically.
understand that it’s all in your hands, and a matter of months.
take for granted that you are capable of shaping a healthy, strong, cared-for, and toned body at any time, at any age.
It’s totally ok to accept any bodyweight and shape, and love and stick to it. But if this acceptance is simply a strategy for covering up your true desires - then it might be wiser to bring them to life 🧡