National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

            This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and an important week for dance educators.  As a dance educator I have taught students with diagnosed eating disorders, I have had parents come to me in tears looking for guidance and support, I have had students come to me wanting to know how to help their friends, and I have had the privilege to be a student’s point person during the recovery process. 

            Dance is an activity that forces people to face their bodies daily.  Dancers stare at themselves in full mirrors, they need to be able to accept their bodies strengths as well as weaknesses, and they need to learn to be critical of how their bodies move without being critical of their actual bodies.  One of our jobs as dance educators is to teach them how to do these things and still develop a positive self-image.  Ignoring eating disorders and pretending they do not exist will not make them go away – educating the dance community about healthy eating, what really happens when we diet, what eating disorders are and how to recognize them, and how dangerous they can be will start us in the right direction.

            The Healthy Dancer’s celebration of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week usually involves covering the dance studio mirrors with paper and asking each student to write 3 things he or she like about him/herself on the paper.  By the end of the week, all of my dancers have enjoyed a week without mirrors and self-judgment and have instead focused on their positive qualities.

            The National Eating Disorder Association is a great resource for those suffering from disorders, parents, coaches, and educators, and I am always willing to share my experiences as an educator if you simply send me an email.

            In order to celebrate on this blog, I have gathered snippets from all of my past posts relating to nutrition and eating disorders for you to browse through, and The Healthy Dancer is sponsoring a giveaway in conjunction with the dancers who created Barre – The Real Food Bar.  Click on this link to find out how to win these healthy energy bars that are made from only real, whole food ingredients and taste delicious, too!

Dancer Health:  Fueling the Body Efficiently
When people prepare for a long road trip, they fill their cars with gasoline and make certain that they choose the type of fuel that will keep their cars running efficiently.  Food is the body’s fuel, and if the body is going to run efficiently, we need to be mindful of the food we use for energy.  Read more....

What to Eat Before and After Class or Rehearsal     
Dance students attend classes and rehearsals after already completing a long day at school.  It is at the time when most people begin to experience the “afternoon slump” that dancers are expected to begin the next part of their day.  Classes are starting and are often followed by rehearsals and require enormous amounts of energy.  Eating intelligently will help dancers perform at their best and feel good while doing it.  Read more...

Dancers and Body Image
Dancers are given the opportunity to observe themselves daily in full-length mirrors while wearing only tights and a leotard and must learn to live in harmony with their bodies.  They, unlike other athletes, are constantly faced with the challenge of developing the muscles required to perform well while making certain that the lines they produce are clean and aesthetically pleasing to the audience.  Read more...

Eating Disorders:  What Are They?
A dancer’s struggle with body image, when coupled with environmental and societal pressures to look a certain way or be a certain weight, often leads to dieting which can be a dangerous road for any athlete to travel.  Suddenly decreasing caloric intake, while energy demands remain high, leaves the body unable to function optimally and can cause a dancer to feel inadequate, out of control and depressed.  Read more...

Eating Disorders:  What's Happening on the Inside?
The human body is amazing and will go to great lengths to protect itself, and that is exactly why eating disorders are so devastating….    Read more...

Eating Disorders:  How Can Dance Educators and Parents Lower the Risk?
Dancers compete individually in an aesthetic sport, placing them in the high-risk category for developing an eating disorder.  What can dance educators and parents do to lower the risk for their dancers and children?  Read more...

Anorexia Athletica:  When Exercising Becomes a Bad Thing
Anorexia athletica is a disorder described as using exercise to change the size, shape, or composition of the body in a compulsive manner.  Individuals with this disorder have a constant pre-occupation with exercise and develop a dependence on exercise that is similar to an addiction.  Read more...


What does Eating Normally Mean?

"Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." ~Voltaire

         Food – it’s the body’s fuel, it sustains us, helps us celebrate, comforts us, tempts us, and is everywhere.  Both those dealing with obesity and those dealing with eating disorders worry about what they are eating, when they are eating, and how often they are eating.  Companies market foods in ways to entice, and nutritionists focus on educating people about food’s benefits.  In the United States, we have become a society pre-occupied with food on many different levels.  

           Dancers are individuals who constantly judge themselves and those around them harshly and are prone to developing poor body images.  While not all dancers may have full-blown eating disorders, it would be difficult to find a dancer who does not think twice about the quantities of food he or she consumes and how it will affect the size and shape of his or her body.  While dancers need to be educated about healthy eating, they also need to know that food should never be judged as “good” or “bad” or cause feelings of guilt.

            Registered dietician and social worker, Ellyn Satter developed a definition of “Normal Eating” that is worth sharing so that dancers realize while there are times to eat healthy to fuel their sport, there are also times to eat for fun,  to celebrate, or just because!  The secret for healthy eating is knowing what to eat when….

What is Normal Eating?
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.

For more about eating competence (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see to purchase books and to review other resources.Copyright © 2012 by Ellyn Satter

         In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and in an effort to promote healthy eating, The Healthy Dancer is hosting a giveaway in collaboration with Julia Erickson and Aaron Ingley at Barre.  Julia and Aaron are professional dancers from Pittsburg Ballet Theatre that developed a food bar that dancers could depend upon to supply energy, would be easy to digest, would contain only all-natural whole foods, and would taste good.  They began making barres in 2010, and they continue to supply dancers and athletes with a good tasting, wholesome snack that provides real energy.  The barres come in three flavors:  black swan chocolate berry which combines cocoa and cranberries, pirouette cinnamon pecan which pairs cinnamon with nuts, and ballerina spirulina which contains coconut and spirulina.  One lucky winner will receive 6 bars in our giveaway – 2 of each flavor. 

Here's what you need to know to enter:

1.     To be entered, you must comment on this post telling me your favorite energy food AND your favorite celebratory food.
2.     The contest ends on March 6, 2013 at 11:59 PM, EST.  Comments posted after that time will not be considered eligible entries.
3.     You must subscribe to our email list, as winners will be announced through this blog via email. 
4.     The winner will receive 6 Barres – 2 black swan chocolate berry, 2 pirouette cinnamon pecan & 2 ballerina spirulina.
5.     Due to shipping restrictions, winners can only be selected from those with a valid shipping address in the Continental United States.
6.    The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced through an email via The Healthy Dancer and on the blog.
7.    The winner will have 48 hours to respond to the email to claim the prize and submit a shipping address.  If the winner fails to respond within the 48 hours, another winner will be randomly chosen.
8.   By entering this contest, you agree to the above terms and confirm that you have a valid shipping address in the Continental United States.


Anorexia Athletica: When Exercising Becomes a Bad Thing


“The pursuit of perfection is, in truth, an empty endless cycle that leaves us emotionally and spiritually bereft, as a preoccupation with external appearance undermines inner beauty.”  
                                                                                 – Margo Maine

          The last week in February is designated National Eating Disorder Awareness Week in the United States.  Eating disorders are a concern for all of us in the dance community because dancers are constantly competing to maintain an aesthetically pleasing appearance and are at a high risk for developing them.  In the past I have written several posts about body image in dancers, eating disorders, damage caused by eating disorders, and what dance educators can do to help discourage eating disorders.  This post addresses a disorder that often goes hand in hand with eating disorders but is not discussed very often.

            Anorexia athletica is a disorder described as using exercise to change the size, shape, or composition of the body in a compulsive manner.  Individuals with this disorder have a constant pre-occupation with exercise and develop a dependence on exercise that is similar to an addiction.

            Exercise and physical activity are ways to improve overall health, improve mood, and contribute to a positive psychological state.  Moderate exercise has also been shown to increase the activity of the immune system thereby helping to ward off illness.

            However, as with anything in life, when taken to an extreme, even exercise can become harmful.  For those who are battling anorexia athletica, exercise becomes something they must do.  They schedule everything in their lives around their exercise sessions, and when they are unable to exercise, they experience feelings of guilt, anxiety, restlessness, and extreme irritation.  These individuals often use exercise as a punishment for eating too much.  Since exercise burns calories, these individuals work to burn off all the calories they ingest.  As a result, the amount an individual exercises becomes an indicator of self-worth.

            Because exercise becomes a necessity for these individuals, they exercise to an extreme, continuing to exercise even when sick, injured, or in pain.

            Excessive exercise often burns more calories than an individual can ingest and creates a lack of energy, or an energy deficit.  In extreme cases the body may resort to burning muscle mass for fuel.  Constant bouts of extreme exercise can result in overuse injuries like stress fractures and muscle tears and cause the body to release large amounts of cortisol and adrenaline.  These hormones increase blood pressure, cause insomnia, and decrease the ability of the immune system to fight off illness and disease.

            Studies like the one published in Comprehensive Psychiatry in 2008 have found that anorexia athletica is common among those who are also diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that is an irrational fear of gaining weight that results in restricting food intake, often to the point of starvation. (1)  When paired together, these two disorders are a deadly combination.

            A disturbing research study published in 1993 found that dancers are at risk for developing anorexia athletica.  When compared with field hockey players and marathon runners, a mixed group of modern and ballet dancers scored significantly higher on tests measuring exercise dependence. (2)

            It is important for all dance educators to know about this disorder since they often work with dancers who are dieting to maintain a certain body shape and size.  Excessive exercise is often applauded in dance and dance educators encourage taking extra technique classes and cross-training.  It is imperative that educators be certain the students are seeking additional training for the right reasons, or they could be encouraging destructive behavior that could have horrible consequences.

 (1) Grave, R.D., Calugi, S. & Marchesi, G. (2008) Compulsive exercise to control shape or weight in eating disorders: prevalence, associated features, and treatment outcome.  Comprehensive Psychiatry, 49(4), 346-52.
(2) Pierce, E.F., Daleng, M.L., & McGowan, R.W. (1993) Scores on exercise dependence among dancers. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 76(2), 531-5.

Making Dance Available to Every Child

           "The creativity of the arts and the joy of music should be central to the education of every American child." - Richard W. Riley

          “Make Dance Education a Right of Every Child at Any Level of Schooling” is the title of a petition that was started by Dr. Radi Shafie, a professional dancer and parent, from New Mexico who believes in the National Dance Education Organization Child’s Bill of Rights in Dance.  Dr. Shafie’s plan is to submit this petition to the White House by February 15, 2013.  Accumulating signatures on this petition should be an easy task when one considers the benefits that dance offers.

            Because dance is a physical activity, it provides a means for improving health by increasing muscular strength and flexibility, creating neural pathways, developing kinesthetic and proprioceptive skills, and increasing metabolic rates.  Dance also helps develop the right brain hemisphere and reaches kinesthetic and tactile learners through active, experiential learning.  Several studies, which are detailed in my post, The Case for Dance in Public Education, have shown that dance can be used to increase reading scores, increase scores on tests of creativity, and improve abstract thinking.

            Allowing each child the right to benefit from everything dance offers, seems to be a no-brainer, yet the petition needs to gather a total of 100,000 signatures by this Friday and has only accumulated 1560 signatures so far.  There are numerous dancers and dance educators across the United States.  They perform on community stages, in regional and professional companies, and on Broadway as a result of the influence dance has had on their lives.  Dance educators exist in private studios, dance company schools, private schools, magnet schools, universities, and schools lucky enough to have dance as part of their curriculum.  So…where are they and why has this petition not gathered more signatures?

            A general lack of understanding has caused many to remain hesitant about adding their names to the petition.  Many dance educators will not sign this document because they fear it will change the role of dance educators in the private sector.  They fear that, by making dance available to all, we would eliminate the need for private studios and extracurricular dance classes.  It is important to understand that, if dance were to be included in the public school curriculum, it would be very different from the types of classes that students attend at private studios after school.  In an educational setting, dance and movement are used in an integrative manner to help reinforce the traditional learning that occurs in the typical classroom.

            Integrating dance in the classroom involves using movement to illustrate concepts introduced in the general curriculum.  Students might be taught multicultural dance forms while learning about other countries.   Students are taught to use movement to solve various problems or puzzles posed in other classes such as determining how the solar system works or how a right angle is formed.  Using dance and movement reinforces what is being learned traditionally, reaches students that might not respond to traditional, educational approaches, encourages teamwork, and encourages creative thinking.

            Although the actual solutions must satisfy given parameters, no dance creation can ever be wrong.  This approach showcases multiple solutions and encourages seeing things from multiple perspectives.  Additionally, students are taught to communicate in a new way, learn how to collaborate with others, are taught to think creatively, are forced to use the higher order skills of analyzing and synthesizing information, and develop self-esteem and self-confidence while becoming invested in their work.

            Schools like Bates Middle School in Annapolis, Maryland have found that using an arts integrative approach to learning reaches all of the children, re-energizes their interest in learning, and teaches an appreciation for the arts.

            This educational approach is a positive one for everyone involved.  Students benefit from a new approach to learning, classroom teachers benefit by reaching students in new ways, dance educators are given the opportunity to offer dance to everyone, and private dance schools will benefit because, as more students are exposed to dance, more will become interested in pursuing the art form in the specialized way that private dance schools provide.

            Making dance a part of every child’s educational experience would be beneficial for everyone…makes you want to sign this petition now, doesn’t it?

            Last spring, thanks to a generous grant from the Guilford Foundation for Education, geometry came to life through dance and movement at an elementary school in Guilford, Connecticut.  If you are interested in obtaining a copy of that curriculum, click on this link.