• Intuitive Eating Hunger & Fullness Scale

    I dropped my dance bag right inside of my front door, and it all of a sudden hit me. I went from zero to hangry REAL quick. 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 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!

    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. 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! 

    Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works

    https://www.amazon.com/Intuitive-Eating-Revolutionary-Program-Works/dp/1250004047/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

  • Food Essentials for Dance – Fat

    We are officially on the last macronutrient this week! You made it! I think it’s important to highlight the differences between carbohydrates, protein, and fat, and how our bodies use them to support our physical and mental health. There are so many “diets” that completely cut out or severely restrict the intake of a certain macronutrient, often for the goal of achieving a certain body image. For dancers, I have found that many focus on carbohydrates and protein, but try to limit fat as much as possible under the false pretense that it will make them “fat”. Well, I am here to debunk that myth and show you why fat is an important nutrient in fueling our bodies. 

    Why is fat important?

    Fat is needed in our bodies to absorb fat soluble vitamins, like Vitamin A, D, E, and K. It also cushions and insulates our organs, making sure that they stay protected. Fat is also an important structural component to each one of our cells, and in fact, most of our brain is actually made up of fat! Fat also regulates our hormones, body temperature, and immune function to help our bodies stay balanced. 

    As dancers, fat is an important energy source in exercise that lasts longer than 20 minutes – basically every class and rehearsal! Fats with carbohydrates make sure that we have sustained, usable energy levels so that we can stay energized for a long day at dance. Fat also helps to control our inflammation levels, which is important for dancers in day to day recovery as well as dancers who are in a longer recovery period from injuries. 

    It is recommended that we get 20%-35% of our total caloric intake from fat. Just like carbohydrates and protein, the amount of fat that a dancer’s body needs will differ from their peers, and a dancer’s needs might even change over time. Using a more intuitive eating approach to nutrition can help guide dancers to discover these changes in their body. Several symptoms might pop up if you are consistently neglecting to intake fat – you might become hungry soon after you eat, long periods of exercise leave you feeling overly fatigued, or you might experience achy joints or chronic inflammation. Brain fog, dry skin, vitamin deficiencies and even mood shifts can also be present. If you experience any of these and you are concerned about your nutrition intake, it is always best to talk to a nutrition professional so you can make sure you are getting proper nutrient intake for your body. 

    Fat adds flavor to our food, so foods that are manufactured to be low fat or no fat (think ice cream, packaged foods, dressings, yogurt, etc.) usually have quite a bit of added sugar in them in order to make up for the lack of flavor. If you rely on a lot of low fat or nonfat food products, you might notice that your hunger and energy levels are more unstable. If this is something you observe, try having the full fat alternatives to these foods and see if they provide more satiety to your meal. 

    There are three broad categories of fats that we find in our food, and their nutrition profiles differ based on their molecular structure. 

    Unsaturated fats, which are fats that tend to be more liquid at room temperature, are the most important type of fat for us to include in our meals and snacks. Foods like eggs, olive oil, safflower oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocados, olives, and peanut butter are all in this category. These foods are also packed with vitamins and minerals that are so important for our bodies to thrive on.

    Saturated fats tend to be more solid at room temperature. It is recommended to keep your intake of saturated fats at less than 6%-10% of your daily caloric intake because in excess they aren’t as good for our heart and artery health, but they definitely still have their place in well rounded nutrition. Always remember that when it comes to anything in life, but especially nutrition, balance is key, and more doesn’t mean better! Foods like pork, beef, chicken, whole fat dairy products like butter, whole milk, yogurt, and cheese, and plant oils like coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter are all in this category. 

    Trans fats are the last category that we will cover. What makes them different from unsaturated and saturated fats are that they do not have any known health benefits for our body, so they should not be intentionally included in our day to day nutrition. Almost all trans fats are manufactured and are found in foods like margarine, fried foods, and frozen and packaged foods. Because of awareness surrounding negative health concerns linked to trans fats like heart disease, stroke, inflammation, and other chronic issues, they are being found less and less in our food system. Food manufacturers are becoming more aware, and this is a good thing!

    How can dancers use fat in nutrition to their advantage?

    Fats are digested much slower than carbohydrates and protein, so this is important to know when thinking about how to fuel your body during the day. Eating a lot of high fat, slow digesting foods before dance might make you feel tired, sluggish, or heavy in your stomach because they take longer for your body to break down. Before and during class, rehearsals, and performances, focus more on consuming carbohydrates with moderate amounts of protein and a little bit of fat. So for breakfast, this could look like incorporating foods like scrambled eggs, full fat yogurt, avocado on toast, nut butter, or other nuts and seeds into your morning. During the day, snacks like a piece of fruit with nut butter, hummus with veggies, yogurt, trail mix, hard boiled eggs, and chia pudding are some great options. With lunch, think about adding in foods like chicken, beans, avocado, hummus, or an olive oil dressing to your meal. 

    After you have finished dancing, it is important to refuel your body, so focus on eating foods with fat, protein, and some complex carbohydrates. Fish and meats are a great option for incorporating protein and fat, or if you prefer meatless options, add in some beans, tempeh, or eggs. Boost your meal by adding in another source of fat like avocado, tahini, olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, or seeds to your dinner as well. Having a dessert at night like dark chocolate, chocolate covered almonds, coconut milk ice cream or pudding, or hot chocolate with full fat milk are some great options to add some extra fats and enjoy something sweet at the end of the day. 

    Carbohydrates, fat, and protein, make up a macronutrient triangle that provides the nutrient needs of our body. Fat, just like the other two macronutrients, are important to include in your meals and snacks throughout the day to keep your body fueled for long days in the studio. If you have any questions, make sure to leave a comment down below!

  • Food Essentials for Dance – Protein

    In the fitness world, protein is sometimes held up higher than the other macronutrients. And, protein is definitely necessary for our bodies to function, and it is incredibly important for dancers to support growth and muscle development. BUT, the focus on protein consumption is sometimes taken to an extreme. Having a well balanced foodscape with protein, carbohydrates, and fat will ultimately help dancers and athletes get the proper nutrition they need to fuel their bodies. With that out of the way, let’s dive deeper into protein – what it is, where do we find it, and how can it help dancers in their training and recovery. 

    So first off, what is protein? Protein is often referred to as the “building block of life” because our skin, bones, muscles, hair, nails, and cartilage are predominately made up of protein. It also helps to manufacture our hormones to help our body maintain homeostasis. Protein also supports our immune function and energy level. In fact, the enzymes in some proteins facilitate the many chemical reactions in our body, like our metabolism and digestion. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which is what the body uses to build up the muscles, bones, and tissues in our body and support all of the processes that we just talked about. Now, I know this is getting a bit technical, but amino acids come into play with our nutrition needs. There are around 20 different amino acids, and our body can actually produce 10 of them on our own. BUT, we HAVE to get the others from what we eat. So as you can see, having adequate protein amounts as well as having diversified protein intake is important for our body to function. 

    Whew, that was a lot, but you made it! I promise this is not a science lesson! Okay, so how does this translate to your nutritional need as a dancer? Because proteins are building blocks, they make sure that our muscles and bones develop, stay strong, and recover, which is important for all dancers, but especially for students. Proteins also work with carbohydrates to breakdown and deliver glucose effectively, which means sustained energy throughout long dance days. For those long theater weeks, protein makes sure our immune system stays strong with antibodies. And for women, protein is important during our monthly cycle because protein helps to balance our hormones. 

    Our protein needs will shift based on our age, gender, muscle development, and activity level, so the recommended range is from 10%-35% of your total caloric intake. Keep in mind that as a dancer, and especially when you are growing, your body more likely will want to be on the higher end of that percentage. What I always like to highlight though is that every body is different, with different nutritional needs when it comes to food. It will take time to figure out just how much protein your body needs, and remember, this can even change for you day to day, so it is always important to listen to your body.. As a guide, here are some signs that you might not be getting enough protein – if you have frequent and long lasting aches, pains, and muscle soreness, thinning hair, brittle nails, feeling hungry soon after eating, low energy levels and muscle loss. 

    When we think of protein sources, often meat is the first type of food that comes to mind. Whole food animal products are great sources of protein, but there are also a lot of plant foods that have a great protein content as well. Chicken, beef, pork, eggs, and dairy products like whole milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese are all on the high protein list. Plant sources of protein include whole grains, quinoa, beans, legumes, peas, tempeh, tofu, edamame, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, and even seaweed. The great thing about plant sources of protein are that they are usually cheaper in price, and they have many vitamins and minerals that animal food do not have. Protein products like protein powder and bars can have their place in a dancer’s day, but they are not necessary for everyone. They can be a great option to have in moderation, especially if you know that you struggle with getting protein throughout the day. But, they should not be relied on as your main source of protein. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get your protein from multiple different foods to have a complete protein profile in your nutrition. So get creative, and try new meal and snack combinations! 

    Many dancers worry about getting enough protein in, but really all you need is some thoughtful planning. Focus on incorporating a few protein rich foods in every meal and snack, and it should be plenty to satisfy your protein needs. As mentioned earlier, protein helps to keep our energy levels stable, so it is important to eat protein throughout the day, but especially at the beginning of the day and after you finish dancing to help with muscle growth and repair. Some examples of a protein packed breakfasts before dance include oatmeal topped with peanut butter, hemp seeds, and fruit. Or have a smoothie with flax, chia, and hemp seeds. Egg or tofu scrambles are also great options, and are great for adding in some veggies in the morning. Experiment with your breakfast and see what fuels you up for classes and rehearsals, and what helps you stay full, fueled, and focused without that sluggish feeling. During the day, snacks like hummus with veggies or whole grain pita, an apple or banana with nut butter, hard boiled eggs, edamame, yogurt and granola, or a trail mix are all fast and easy options. You can also think about incorporating foods like quinoa, chickpeas, brown rice, or chicken in with your lunches. After dance, focus on having a meal with ingredients like whole grains, beans, legumes, tempeh, and/or animal sources to help your body repair and recover. 

    I hope this post helped you learn more about protein and its function in the body. And, I hope that you have been inspired to try some new foods or meal combinations! The last macronutrient that we will focus on is fat, so be sure to stay tuned.