Summer Intensive Prep Part I :

Navigating a New Food Situation

Summer Intensives mean a lot of new things…new teachers, new competition, new environment and of course a new food situation. I’ve worked with a number of dancer’s who saw their relationship with food shift at Summer Intensive.

To ensure that things stay healthy and balanced, it’s important to think about what you’ll face this summer and decide how you’ll tackle it.

My first Summer Intensive was a food turning point.

At 13, it was the first time I was making all of my meal decisions on my own. No more parental input or guidance. I settled quickly into a little friend group and those girls ended up being big food influences for me.

Interestingly enough, they didn’t under eat but rather anticipated all the energy they’d be spending in classes and tended to overeat. I followed along willingly.

Rather than making more balanced choices and keeping with the same portions I was used to at home, I easily double or tripled my consumption at meals. At breakfast I distinctly remember eating 2-3 bowls of different cereal plus fruit and other sides.

While I was away I really thought nothing of the shift in food choices and at 13 I was blissfully unaware that anything might have changed with my body. When I returned to my home studio, this is when I experienced a major shift in body image and awareness.

My year round teacher patted me on the thigh and simply said, “That wasn’t there before.”

It was only then that it even occurred to me that I might’ve gained weight while I was away. It was then that I stepped on the scale for the first time and decided that the number needed to be lower. It was then that I started the habit of stepping on the scale numerous times each and every day and measuring my worth based on what I saw.

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So, surprising as it might sound, my eating experience at a single summer intensive had a huge impact on the trajectory of my relationship with food and my body.

After that first summer away, my goal at summer intensives was to eat as little as possible because it was a rare opportunity to lose weight away from the watchful eye of my mother.

Whether you’ll be heading to your first summer intensive or you’ve been away a number of times, it’s important to think about how you’ve handled the food situation in the past and how you might approach it this time.

My #1 piece of eating away from home advice is : eat as close to how you do at home while you’re away.

If you eat oatmeal at home, look for oatmeal at intensive. If you usually have brown rice, protein and vegetables for dinner while you’re home, look for something similar at intensive.

There are usually treats and desserts available at dining halls at intensive and it’s totally OK to have the occasional dessert – in fact I’d encourage it 😉 but if you don’t typically have ice cream and cake for dessert every night when you’re home, don’t go that route at intensive.

Eating away from home tip #2 : Pay attention to how hungry you are.

It is totally understandable that you might be hungrier at intensive than you are at home. After all, in all likelihood you’ll be dancing more than usual…if you in fact dance more at home keep that in mind as well.

Rather than making a choice ahead of time that you’re going to eat more to make sure you have the energy for the additional hours, listen to your body.

After you have what might be a typical dinner, if you’re still hungry go for seconds or some fruit or even a dessert (I recommend eating dessert when you’re still hungry, not when you’re feeling stuffed from dinner).

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If you’re allowed, it’s also a good idea to have healthy snacks in your dorm. That way, in a pinch, you’ll have a snack you can enjoy a bit later at night when hunger might strike again.

Eating away suggestion #3 : don’t adopt the eating styles of others.

Other dancers may eat more or less than you. It’s possible they’ve found what works for them, it’s also possible they’re shifting their food habits and as another possibility, they could be under eating or over eating because they’re taking advantage of the food freedom intensive has to offer.

Without knowing someone else’s history with food and their bodies or how they eat when they’re home, it’s impossible to know if they’re a healthy role model worth emulating even if they have the “perfect” ballet body.

Final Summer Intensive Food Thoughts…

Stick to how you eat at home as closely as possible. Always, and especially at intensive, strive to listen to your body and give it what it needs – no more, no less. And finally, stay focused on discovering what works for you.

Want more tips on tackling the food situation at intensive? Sign up for the upcoming FREE online workshop “Be a Summer Intensive Star”!! Prep for success at your Summer Intensive.

Summer Intensive Prep Part I : Navigating a New Food Situation

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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