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Intuitive Eating and Performance-Focused Eating

They can coexist.

When it comes to food, there’s always something buzzy or popular going around. Oftentimes, the food suggestions you’ll find are about eating less or dieting in some way. Intuitive eating is not about either of those things.

Instead, intuitive eating is about just what it sounds like: listening to your body and giving it what it needs and wants.

For dancers, intuitive eating is essential. You also have to consider making food choices that will enhance and support athletic performance. Coupling those two priorities is possible but requires some intentionality.

intuitive eating

In case you’re not familiar with intuitive eating, here are the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  6. Feel your Fullness
  7. Cope with your Emotions with Kindness
  8. Respect your Body
  9. Movement — Feel the Difference
  10. Honor your Health — Gentle Nutrition

This is a beautiful and likely aspirational way to approach food for some of you. Dancers tend to have a lot of guilt and shame around food; you might even experience guilt when you’ve eaten a “normal” or “reasonable” amount of something. Embracing the tenants of intuitive eating (above) will likely help you release some of the guilt around food.

If you’re struggling to incorporate these principles into your approach to food, start small. Take some time to tune into your body. Calorie counting and dieting intrinsically lead to ignoring your body’s cues.

If you’re tracking your calories every day, make your step #1 to stop.

That one simple action combined with tuning back into your body can help with making peace with food, honoring your hunger, discovering the satisfaction factor, and respecting your body.

Since you’re using your body at such a high level, it’s essential that you pay attention to #10 and honor your health through gentle nutrition. In order to ensure that you’re not focusing on “healthy” food and ignoring all the other elements of intuitive eating, you have to make sure you’re creating health-focused meals you love.

When you eat something that you might consider “unhealthy,” let your goal be to have a neutral response to it. So often we think the foods we eat make us good or bad. It’s all just food, and when you can release any strong emotions around it, you’ll have a much easier time considering how it made you feel physically and then move on.

Make adjustments over time.

When you first start eating intuitively, you might go overboard. You might end up eating foods that were off limits for years, and at times, you might have a hard time stopping when you’re full or choosing the foods that make you feel your best.

Diving into intuitive eating requires that you give yourself lots of love, grace, and understanding.

The Whole Dancer approach to food and healthy eating for dancers encompasses so many Intuitive Eating Principles. At the same time, it acknowledges that you might have aesthetic- or performance-focused body goals, and those goals can in fact come from a healthy place.

You can bring Intuitive Eating into your life and still think about how the food you choose is impacting performance. Identify the foods you love eating that also give you sustained energy. When you find foods that support your strength and help you achieve and maintain your personal best body, following your body’s cues becomes so much easier.


Photo by Nate Johnston on Unsplash

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For Dancers: Intuitive Eating + Eating for Performance
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Jess Spinner

Jess is a former professional ballet dancer turned Holistic Health, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Coach for high level dancers. She founded The Whole Dancer in 2015 after identifying a greater need for balance, wellness and support in the dance world. Since The Whole Dancer was founded, Jess has worked with 100's of dancers worldwide at top companies and schools. She has been featured in or written for Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher Magazine, Pointe Magazine, and Dance Spirit Magazine.

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