• Creating SMART Goals for Dancers

    As we head into a new year, many of us dancers are looking to create a mental new start after last year. Unfortunately, the hardships of 2020 are not just going to go away when we start a new planner. Learning how to create smart goals for dancers can give us an opportunity to create something to work towards while developing a healthy relationship with food and with our body and career. This isn’t about willpower. This is about making realistic, sustainable, and healthy goals that can help us get out of a rut and help us feel physically, mentally, and emotionally our best. 

    I want to put out a reminder that you do not need to always have a goal. If you feel like you are in a hamster wheel trying to achieve personal growth, it can be helpful to distance yourself for a while and know that you don’t need to constantly be improving in order to be an amazing human. 

    A Road Map

    Goals are like a destination and we can use thoughtful planning to create a road map to this destination. Setting out towards a destination without a plan might prove to be frustrating after a while and may lead us to a place of burn out and feeling like we are going in circles. 

    Our goals can be big or small. Or we can have a series of smaller goals that provide stepping stones to reach one bigger goal. While we can have many goals at one time, I prefer to only focus on one or two so that I don’t become overwhelmed and quit mid pursuit. 

    Barriers to Goals

    In order to create thoughtful goals, I think it is important to look ahead and see if there are any roadblocks that we could encounter. This can not only help us create an action plan, but it can also help us to prepare so that we won’t be derailed as easily. 

    Some of the most common barriers involve time-management and financial burdens, but they can also include lack of physical, mental, and resource capabilities. For example, after having several surgeries, I know that creating a goal that involves running is not the best choice for my physical health in the long run because it is too intense on my joints. These barriers should not be discouraging, but recognizing them helps us to establish realistic and sustainable intentions. 

    Goals vs. Intentions

    I have a very type A personality, so it has been helpful for me to view goals more as intentions. By viewing my goals as intentions, it personally reminds me that it is okay if my goals/intentions need to change over time. Or that it can be healthy to take a break from pursuing a goal if needed for my overall well being. I can have flexibility to also change and adapt the methods I am using to reach a goal. 

    Creating smart goals for dancers, who tend to be very perfectionistic and driven, might be helpful to keep goals from becoming rigid, overly-intensive, and ultimately destructive. Creating healthy and sustainable goals means keeping our overall physical, mental, and emotional health first. 

    SMART Goals

    An acronym for goal setting that has personally helped me to create a road map for goals and intentions is SMART. Using this acronym can help you to create goals as a dancer. 

    • Specific goal is well-defined, detailed, and clear, not vague
    • Measurable – goal has specific measures in which to measure your progress in reaching your goal
    • Achievable – goal is attainable for you to reach
    • Relevant – goal is meaningful and realistic to who you are and what you want to achieve
    • Timely – goal includes a start date and timeline for achievement 

    A Real Example

    This year, I want to focus on establishing a practice of mindfulness in my daily routine. In the past, I have dedicated a few weeks or a month to a mindful morning routine here and there. It has helped me overtime to become more calm and present during the day, but I have never stuck to it long-term, even though I know the benefits. This makes the goal relevant to me. 

    Rather than just saying I want to pursue mindfulness this year, I want to create a plan for developing it into a habit. Using the SMART acronym, my goal, starting on January 1, 2021 and going forward for the whole year, I am going to set aside five minutes each morning to engage in a mindfulness practice. Each month I am going to change this practice so that it keeps a sense of freshness and creativity to the goal and also helps me find different habits that work for me. This might include a month of meditation, light stretching, breathing exercises, journaling, or noting. 

    By being specific and establishing a realistic practice and a timeline for this goal, I already have S, R, A, and T covered. While mindfulness is difficult to measure in a quantifiable way, at the end of each month, I want to reflect on any changes to my overall mental and emotional health. I want to note if I liked the mindfulness practice or if it was something that I dreaded doing. While all goals do not need to meet SMART standards, it can be a helpful tool for mapping out a goal or intention that will prove to be sustainable in the long run. 

    For when you feel like you are failing

    No matter how prepared and dedicated we are to pursuing a goal, life happens. 2020 has definitely taught us that we are not always in control, and that we need to adapt and change to fit our needs from day to day and week to week. While this can be disheartening for someone like me, it has helped me approach goals with more flexibility and self-compassion. 

    For goals to be sustainable, we must be open to changing and adapting them as well as the possibility of throwing them out and creating a new one altogether. Ultimately, goals are meant to serve our needs, improve upon our character and passions, and help us pursue personal growth in a positive way. 

    I want to know, what goals are you pursuing this year?

    If you want to learn more about creating smart goals for dancers, check out my YouTube video here. Want to learn more about what makes a healthy dancer? Check out my blog post here. 

  • Plant Based Food Inspiration for Dancers

    It can be tricky when going plant based, so I wanted to put together plant based food inspiration for dancers. When I first went vegan while I was in my last year of training professionally to become a ballet dancer, I was having a hard time finding information on how a dancer, or athlete, should go about it. It is important to consider caloric intake, macronutrient distribution, among other nutritional concerns as well as knowing how to recreate favorite meals and find new foods that your palate and your body will love. 

    A little recap

    If you want to check out my last blog post about important considerations that dancers should think about before going vegan or vegetarian, check it out here. Going plant based doesn’t mean that you have to be restrictive of macronutrients, calories, processed foods, or meal times, but there are variations of each that are. I always encourage dancers to strive for well rounded, balanced meals and snacks regardless of if they eat animal products or not. 

    As I stated in my last blog, going plant based is not for every dancer. Since we all have different bodies, our foods and meals that we eat will differ as well. For example, I rarely eat animal products because I do not like them and I enjoy plant based foods, I have other dance friends who love having animal foods as a part of their diet, and others who thrive somewhere in between. What matters is that you listen to your body and find what works best for you. 

    Let’s talk macronutrients

    If you remember from my posts about macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), you will know that each macronutrient is important for dancers to include in their meals and snacks to make sure that your meals and snacks will keep you fueled during dance. I’m going to just briefly recap their functions here, but if you want more information, I would highly encourage you to check out those posts or my videos that go along with them. 

    Carbohydrates

    Carbohydrates are important for dancers to have throughout their day because they are one of the main sources of energy for our body and our brain. They help our bodies physically and mentally get through long days in the studio and help to make sure that we don’t start using muscle as fuel. Carbohydrates are also an important source of fiber, which is important for our digestion.

    Simple carbohydrates, like fruit, are broken down quickly by the body are broken down quickly by the body. Many refined carbohydrates like white rice, white bread, and certain cereals, crackers, and other packaged foods can also be in the category. Because our body can use them quickly for fuel, they do not provide much staying power when eaten alone. I always suggest that dancers pair simple carbohydrates with a source of protein or fast for longer lasting, stable energy levels. One example would be having a piece of fruit with nut butter, rather than having the fruit by itself. 

    Complex carbohydrates provide lasting energy and fiber. These are found in whole grains like oats, quinoa, bulgar, brown rice, whole wheat, buckwheat, amaranth, couscous, and farro. Almost all vegetables are in this category as well. Everything from leafy greens, to cruciferous vegetables, starchy vegetables, and more. Beans and legumes like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils are also a great source of carbohydrates (and protein, but more on that in a second). Complex carbohydrates are great to have before dance to give your body energy, and after dance to replenish your energy. Complex carbohydrates can be great during the dance day, but some dancers might find that their food might not feel digested after eating a lot of them on a short break. 

    Protein  

    Proteins are known as the building block of our body, and it also plays a role in many of the chemical processes in our body. It is important for growing and maintaining muscle, supporting our joints, maintaining fluid balance, and so much more. Sometimes people think that animal sources are the only way to get in enough protein, but this is so far from being true! 

    Beans and legumes, like I mentioned earlier, are a great source of complex carbohydrates and protein! Tofu, tempeh and edamame are also great sources of plant based protein along with nuts and seeds. Whole grains like whole wheat and quinoa and even vegetables like kale, broccoli, and mushrooms have protein in them. There are many companies that make plant based protein options that are great mock meat alternatives if you are craving a burger, sausage, chicken, or other meat product. Many companies make fortified foods like plant based protein powder, snack bars, cereals, and non dairy products that can also have sources of protein that can especially be useful for dancers to incorporate if they struggle with eating enough protein rich foods. For vegetarians, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, and cheese are great sources of protein as well.

    Protein is an important macronutrient for dancers to consume throughout a day in the studio, but it is especially important to incorporate into meals and snacks after dancing to help your body recover. 

    Fat

    Last but certainly not least is fat. I know many dancers who hear the word “fat” and want to shy away from it, but fat is so important as a source of energy, to help us absorb vitamins, create hormones, and regulate our body temperature, as well as fat helps us to boost our brain function. 

    There are so many great plant sources of fat including nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, cashew and peanuts. Other sources include avocados, olives, olive oil and other plant oils, coconut, and even dark chocolate in a moderate amount. Vegetarians can find fat in eggs and dairy products. 

    With fat, you might find it easier for your body to digest higher fat foods before and after dance, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate some sources through the dance day to keep you full and fueled!

    Tying it all together for meals and snacks – plant based food inspiration for dancers

    For any dancer, plant based or not, planning your meals and snacks can be an important component in making sure your body stays energized and fueled for a long day of dance. When going plant based, some dancers might find it challenging in putting macronutrients together to form balanced meals and snacks. So let’s break it down!

    At breakfast, think of having complex carbohydrates with protein and a bit of fat. Oatmeal with fruit, nuts and seeds, a smoothie with protein powder and nut butter, tofu scramble with veggies and toast, avocado toast with chickpeas, or a yogurt parfait with fruit, granola, nuts and seeds are all great options. Lunch can be tricky due to the time and duration of your break in between rehearsals, so tapping into intuitive eating can be really helpful. Many dancers find success with a lunch that might feel light on the stomach, but is packed with calories for energy. A quinoa or pasta salad with olive oil dressing, a peanut butter and honey sandwich, hummus, avocado, and veggie wrap, and rice with edamame and avocado and sesame seeds are a few easy to make and easy to eat options. 

    For dancers, snacks are really important to keep your energy up throughout the day – trail mix, fruit and nut butter, yogurt and granola, hummus and crackers, dried fruit, or a protein bar are great snacks to explore. Some dancers like to bring a larger lunch and split it up between breaks, others like to eat more during a longer break and smaller snacks in smaller breaks. Whatever works best for you! 

    Finally, for dinner, we want to focus on replenishing our energy stores so our body can repair itself and get us ready for another day. After a long day of classes and rehearsals, our bodies might crave something hearty like a plant based chili with avocado and crackers, roasted vegetables and potatoes with beans or tempeh and a creamy sauce, pasta, a burrito bowl, plant based burger, or curry. The options are endless! Remember to pack in complex carbohydrates, protein and fat! 

    Nutritional concerns to watch out for 

    If you have never gone completely plant based, it can be a learning process in finding what foods fuel you, what meals and snacks help you feel your best, and what foods you enjoy. It is important to find balance with food, so if going vegan or vegetarian feels restrictive or unsatisfying, try adding a few animal based foods back in and see if that impacts how you feel. 

    Sometimes, it might be easier to change what you eat by taking it one step at a time rather than making a huge change all at once. Having a slower transition might make it easier on your digestion, energy levels, and on your brain to get used to a different way of shopping and cooking. 

    More than anything, remember to listen to your body. Putting a label to what you eat or sticking to a set of food rules will not make you healthy. Exploring what fuels your body and makes you feel your best is one of the most important steps you can make in keeping your body thriving in dance. 

    If you want to check out my video on plant based food inspiration for dancers, check it out here

    https://youtu.be/J6hZFXFmwG0

  • Going Vegan as a Dancer

    There are so many dancers who are curious about different ways of eating. Today, let’s explore going vegan as a dancer!

    So, can dancers be vegan?

    Becoming vegan or vegetarian is a trend in the dance world. Many dancers are automatically health conscious because our bodies are our instruments, so nutrition plays a role in our performance. On the other hand, dancers also have the tendency towards perfectionism. Restriction, dieting, food rules, and “clean” eating are ways that dancers exercise control over their bodies. When this happens, it can affect our nutrition, body image, and relationship with food. 

    I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that dancers should or should not be vegan or vegetarian. That is a completely personal decision and one that can be exercised in a healthy or unhealthy way. In fact, being vegan or vegetarian does not make someone ”healthy”. So, I want to talk about how dancers can thrive on a plant based way of eating and how intuitive eating can be incorporated into it. I want to show the right way that dancers can be vegan and still have a balanced, mindful approach towards eating. 

    What does being plant based/ vegan/ vegetarian mean?

    Labels can get confusing, so let’s define some terms. Someone who is vegetarian does not consume meat, poultry, or fish. They eat all fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts seeds, dairy products, eggs, and any other foods from plant sources.

    A vegan chooses to forgo animal products all together and relies only on foods that are from plants. There are also more restrictive variations of veganism that eliminate foods like oil, salt, grains, beans, or even cooked foods altogether. These are steeped in diet culture and often create unnecessary food rules based. When talking about veganism, I am referring to a well rounded, balanced, vegan diet that doesn’t eliminate foods beyond animal products.

    Many vegans also consider veganism to be a stand against animal cruelty in all sectors of the environment, protesting textiles like leather, down, snakeskin, fur, and other products. This extends to cruelty free, non-animal tested products under the premise of doing no harm. People might also choose to remove animal products from their diet based on finances, environmental concerns, and personal preference. 

    Plant based is a more blanket term that can cover both veganism and vegetarianism. It’s focus is on eating all or mostly plant foods with the possibility of supplementing in some animal products as needed.

    Going vegan as a dancer, or vegetarian, or plant based doesn’t have to be restrictive, but I want to also talk about the right and wrong way to go about it. 

    My personal experience with going vegan as a dancer

    I want to share my personal story and journey with veganism because it highlights the right and wrong way a dancer can go about becoming plant based. I first tried veganism after a knee dislocation injury in 2014. During my time off, I researched anti-inflammatory foods and ways of eating. I read articles and watched videos about veganism, and I also heard testimonials from individuals who were able to heal their relationship with food while being vegan. More of that in a later post. 

    Ultimately, I discovered that I really like eating vegan. Going vegan as a dancer ended up pretty easy because I loved the foods I was eating, and I didn’t really miss any animal foods. Looking back though, I was still trying to eat too “cleanly” and I was adopting similar food rules to what I had before. When I started dancing professionally that fall, I started eating all foods again. I wasn’t feeling satisfied and fueled, and I wanted to feel more “normal” when going out to eat or eating with friends. 

    After a year, I noticed that I didn’t feel my best after eating animal products. So for the next few years, I started eating more plant based meals. I was not as restrictive as before, but I still held on to a lot of food rules made me feel guilt and anxiety surrounding what I ate. 

    Over the past three years, I have slowly been learning how to have a healthy relationship with food, without restriction, through intuitive eating. I continue to eat plant based now because that is what feels best for my body for now and I don’t crave animal products. I LOVE plant based foods. I genuinely look forward to the foods I eat and I do not restrict macronutrients, calories, or processed foods. 

    All that being said, I am never going to put myself in a box and say that this way of eating will be the best for me for the rest of my life. A few years ago, I was really craving eggs. So after I had a few eggs over the course of a week, that craving went away and I haven’t wanted them since. But that could change. I also don’t want to be flexible in situations where I want to try a certain food, or if I am being hosted in someone else’s home. 

    Intuitive Eating and going plant based

    I truly believe that when we listen to our bodies, follow a balanced approach to eating, and follow our hunger cues and cravings, we will not only enjoy our food, but we will also be able to fuel our bodies with proper nutrition to fuel our dancing. Going vegan as a dancer is not for everyone. It’s a decision that is individual to you! It is also not all or nothing. You might enjoy having a plant based breakfast before dance, or you might enjoy eating fewer animal products, but you don’t have to eliminate all animal foods when trying a more plant based style of eating. 

    Dancers can still eat intuitively while being vegan or vegetarian by listening to your body’s cravings and cues, and by paying attention to your hunger and fullness and satiety levels before, during, and after meals. Intuitive eating also means listening to your cravings for what your body really wants to eat and enjoying that food without shame or guilt. This means it is important to focus more on how your body feels rather than trying to manipulate your physical appearance. If eating vegan or vegetarian makes you feel strong, fueled, and at your best, then great! 

    Why you shouldn’t go vegan as a dancer

    This brings me to reasons and circumstances in which dancers should not go plant based. If you are struggling with disordered eating or food rules, eating plant based can become another way to exercise control over what you eat and can reinforce negative eating patterns and behaviors. Some dancers decide to try veganism because they see it as a “healthier” or “cleaner” way to eat. This can also lead to disordered eating patterns and anxiety surrounding food decisions.

    Dancers might also choose veganism in an effort to look a certain way. Again, I do not encourage dancers to become vegan or vegetarian if their reasoning is purely physical. This can lead to a poor relationship with food and with your body because physical change is held above how food makes you feel. Pursuing veganism or vegetarianism under any of these circumstances can lead us away from intuitive eating because we are potentially trying to override our body’s cravings and cues. 

    Last thoughts on going plant based

    If you decide to go plant based as a dancer, it is important to take a careful look at the reasons why you want to go vegan or vegetarian. Is it aligned with your internal cravings and cues, or is it based on food rules and control? 

    It is also important to talk to your doctor or nutrition professional about what is right for you. They can monitor your health markers to be sure that you are receiving the proper nutrition that your body needs. A medical professional can also request any required blood work to detect and correct nutritional deficiencies that you might currently have or ones that you might develop in the future. This does not mean that dancers who go plant based will be nutritionally deficient, but some thought and careful planning might be required for certain nutrients. 

    Like with any diet change, I want dancers to take a look at their reasons and priorities for doing so. Ultimately, every dancer is different and has different nutritional needs based on taste, energy expenditure, stress and activity levels, and so much more. For some, going plant based may feel natural because it follows what they intuitively want. For other dancers, it might feel too restrictive. The great thing about intuitive eating is that you can choose the foods and way of eating that is right for you!

    You can watch my video about this topic HERE.