Can Dancers Have their Cake and Eat It?

Every time I present something on food or eating plans there are questions around sweets and treats. I know you enjoy sugar and maybe even the burst of energy it gives…before the crash. I have quite a sweet tooth myself.

If you grabbed your Dancer’s Meal Plan Cheat Sheet, you likely saw that step one talks about assessing how much processed or packaged foods you’re eating. It’s essential to consistently assess your eating plan and habits to see which ones might be steering you away from your body and dance goals.

can dancers eat cake

So how much is too much?

It depends.

Sugar is linked to weight gain. So it should not be a stable or significant portion of your diet. Even if you maintain a lithe dancer’s body now, as you get older and after you stop dancing, that sugar will not continue to serve you. It tends to be one of of those food

I know, I know, I still haven’t given you an answer. The best answer I can give is that you need to really pay attention.

Find the balance for y.o.u.

You might find that a little something sweet each night (i.e. one homemade cookie or a square of dark chocolate) is all you really need to be satisfied. Or, you might feel better and balanced by having one luscious piece of cake or some ice-cream each week. Dairy free ice cream may be a better choice as dairy is inflammatory for some.

The number one thing is to find the balance that is sustainable. It should not impact your energy throughout the day – if you’re eating gummy bears or peanut butter cups every hour, that is likely affecting your performance. Try to steer clear of using sugar as a pick up for lagging energy.

The more you eat those empty foods, the more you crave them SO if scaling back feels like a major adjustment to you, you’re experiencing the very addictive effects of simple sugars.

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How to make the shift

To start making the shift away from excessive sugar in your diet replace any candies or sweets you’re eating with fruit or sweet vegetables (i.e. sweet potatoes or carrots). This way you’re “crowding out” those unhealthy foods with healthy ones and still addressing your desire for sweets.

Going more deeply into the potential harmful effects of sugars – research now shows that it is more closely linked to cancer, diabetes and serious heart ailments than ever expected before. We used to blame fat for such things but now know that healthy fats have a health promoting effect.

As with any change to the way you’re eating, it’s important that you make them gradually. If you currently eat cookies 7 days a week, cut back to just 5, then 3 and so on. That way you won’t experience major withdrawals and you’ll instead be able to sustain the positive shift.

Hidden sources of sugar to stay aware of…

While sugar is obvious in some foods like candy, cookies, cake, brownies, ice cream, etc., it’s also less obvious but found in many foods. Sugar is abundant in energy bars, soft drinks, packaged foods – breads, crackers and stereotypically savory snacks can contain sugar ingredients.

A good rule of thumb is to read the ingredients on any packaged foods you eat. Easy to grab, convenience food is often the biggest source of excess sugars. When food companies create snacks they try to put together the ideal combination of sugar, salt, and fat that makes a food addictive and yet not very satisfying – that way you keep coming back for more.

Other addictive foods you might want to moderate

Clearly, sugar is addictive but unfortunately, it’s not the only food to be wary of – most junk food has addictive qualities due to the combination of sugar, salt and fat it contains. You should also stay mindful of the role of caffeine, dairy, and refined carbohydrates as they can also have addictive qualities.

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If you find that you’re becoming dependent on any of those foods to pick up your energy, wake you up mid day or get you through a performance it’s possible they’re no longer fueling your best dancing. Slowly cut back or go cold turkey and see how you feel. Keep in mind if you cut something out altogether you might experience withdrawals!

Finding balance with food isn’t always easy but it is key to your dancing success. Want to learn the 5 – steps to creating your dancer’s meal plan? Grab the cheatsheet here.

The great cake debate
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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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