“Clean eating is good, right?”.
This is a question I have been asked over and over again by dancers who want to find the best fuel for their bodies. I respond with “well, sort of, sometimes…… not completely”. If there is one thing that I have learned about nutrition, strict rules that we place what foods we eat and what behaviors we have surrounding food can often lead to disordered eating patterns. Clean eating is not an exception. So let’s discuss, should dancers follow clean eating?
So, what is clean eating?
Clean eating is a way of eating that maintains the proponents that eating whole foods and eliminating processed foods has certain health benefits. There are also different variations of clean eating that eliminate foods like oils, gluten, dairy, or even cooked foods altogether based on nutrition claims. You might hear people refer to certain foods or ingredients as “clean”, and many brands use the phrase “clean eating” in their advertising to appeal to health conscious consumers. These words and phrases are sometimes accompanied by other nutrition buzzwords like natural, detox, superfoods, etc.
Let’s talk about the good. Clean eating focuses on simple ingredients to prepare meals. These are foods that you can find easily in a store and prepare for yourself. There is also a focus on whole foods including whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and plant oils. As we have talked about in other posts, whole foods fuel our bodies with macro and micronutrients that help our bodies in their many functions and they also give us energy for a long day of dance. Clean eating might also encourage you to try new foods and new recipes at home, whether it be in trying a new ingredient or a new way to prepare a food. This might introduce you to new cuisines and flavors, and it might just lead you to find new favorites!
The negatives of Clean Eating
Clean eating can also lead to some negative thoughts and behaviors, especially for dancers. With all of this focus on finding the “perfect” foods to ingest, it can lead to obsessive food behavior, which means that we are going to the extreme to control what goes in our body. This could involve a number of behaviors including restricting certain foods like oil, gluten, or dairy or even amount of calories based on health claims. Clean eating can also look like forcing yourself to eat the healthiest option available, even if that is not what your body wants and needs. This inflexibility when it comes to meals can bring social isolation because of fear of making food decisions at a friend’s house or at a restaurant. No one wants to go to a restaurant and eat a sad plate of raw veggies with no dressing while everyone else is enjoying delicious food that you wish you could enjoy as well.
Clean eating also assigns morality to food, categorizing foods into “good foods” or “bad foods”, leading us to reflect on our character and willpower based on our food decisions. This can bring guilt from food choices, fear and anxiety surrounding food decisions, and secret binge behaviors. All of these can turn into disordered eating and diagnosable eating disorders, and can create a sense of distrust in your body because you are not honoring what it really needs. Our bodies need balance and flexibility when it comes to nutrition, and clean eating ignores both of these. Finally, clean eating is time consuming, from food preparation to grocery shopping when there is such an obsession with food labels. It also takes the fun out of eating, especially if the foods you deem as “clean” are not ones that you necessarily enjoy.
Nutrition for Dancers
Of course I encourage whole foods because of their nutrient content, but I also strongly believe that dancers should have play foods, which are simply foods that serve the purpose for you to simply enjoy! As dancers, it is natural to want to control every aspect of our lifestyle to support our dancing. Nutrition is often one of those areas that is focused on and obsessed over in order for dancers to experience control over their training. This is why I do not encourage dancers to follow the rules of clean eating. I want dancers to be able to learn about nutrition in a healthy, wholesome way, that leads them to strength and energy on and off the stage. If you are a dancer that struggles with clean eating and finding balance in nutrition, I encourage you to talk to a dietician or nutritionist, or you can always reach me here! Remember, food doesn’t just fuel your body, but also your mind and spirit as well! Make sure to watch my video about clean eating down below!