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WHY DANCERS DIETS DON’T WORK

Different diets are thrown around in the ballet industry today as carelessly as month-old pointe shoes. From Ketogenic, paleo, carb-restrictive, intermittent fasting and turning vegan for weight loss, there’s no shortage of fad diets dancers are continuously cycling through in the hopes of losing or maintaining their weight. 

However, not only are 95% of diets are proven unsuccessful (1) most diets are often a gateway into developing disordered eating habits. 

If 59% of young female teens are actively dieting (2), yet very few (if any) are seeing any positive results, why do dancers continue to fall into the unhealthy, endless, dieting rabbit-hole of horrors, and what can we do about changing this?

Let’s start with why diets don’t work. 

THREE reasons weight loss diets fail: 

  1. Neurological.
    I once ate an entire cheesecake in 20 minutes.
    Why? Because someone told me to restrict myself from all sugar.
    When you’re dieting your body becomes more responsive to food (especially tasty looking food). Not only do you desire more of what you’re restricting yourself from, the food actually becomes more appetizing and tempting because the reward value of you receiving it has just skyrocketed.
    Basically, resisting anything makes it harder to resist.
    Annoying, I know.
  2. Hormonal Changes.
    Dieting alters our hormones (and that’s fire we really don’t want to be playing with!).
    As you lose body fat the different hormones in your body change (and the changes, they’re not good!)
    The hormones that actually help us feel full decrease. While the hormones that make you feel hungry, increase.
    So the less you eat, the hungrier you become and less less likely to even feel full given the same amount of food.
    Sorry to break your bubble dancers, but your body isn’t simply going to ‘get used’ to eating less or restricting certain foods from your diet.
  3. Biological Changes.
    If you’re looking for one of the best ways to slow down your metabolism, step right up and adopt a new fad diet.
    The key factor that the majority of dancers fail to believe when starting a diet is that at a biological level, your metabolism will slow down.
    Your body is really gosh darn smart. Your body uses calories in the most efficient way it knows how. Great if you’re starving to death. Not so great when you’re forcing your body into starvation mode.
    Your body will find a way to run on fewer calories, however it will hold onto those calories like a toddler holding onto his favorite candy!
    Your body is saying it’s hungry and will hold onto dear life to those calories to protect you. 

Who To Trust? 

Since the invention of the web in 1989 and the rise of social media, we have never before had such open access to global education. 
However as John Naisbitt so perfectly once said; 

“We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.” 

We live in a world where influencers, who major in affiliate marketing, are selling us skinny teas, and quick fix, fad diet books. Where slapping on a metaphorical bandaid is the preferred desired path to take, and where our healthcare professionals with the actual knowledge to positively change the problem are placed on the back burner along with psychologists and conditioning coaches.
So if the World Wide Web is feeding us incorrect information and scientific studies are funded and flawed by the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical or supplement industries, how do we know who to trust? 

The answer, I believe, lies within you. 

And by you, I mean you as a dancer, teacher, young man, woman or company director must take your education into your very own hands.
Here are some tips on how: 

  • Actively seek out correct education through reputable sources.
    If time and funds are permitted, take a course on nutrition or the human body.  You don’t need to have a University degree to be knowledgeable on your basic body functions or what food even is. A course on the basics of how your body works and what nutrients is will take you a long way to understanding your body more and knowing when to call BS on fad diet claims. 
    (This is something Train Like a Ballerina has been working tirelessly on for over 2 years to produce. We’ll be sharing more information on the TLB Academy very soon!)
  • Learn how to spot a fad diet.
    We’ve all fallen victim to change-room chatter or being swayed into purchasing something we didn’t ever really need, (6th black ballet skirt and ballerina tea: I’m looking at you). Or a friend claiming their ‘low-carb diet’, made them drop 2 kgs in 2 weeks. Remember fad diets are made to temp you so resisting will never be easy. Fad diets are also often hard to spot especially if it appears to include lots of nutrients, regular meals and loaded with promises and guarantees. However at their core are restrictive, nutrient depleting and lack nutrients that your body needs to maintain good health.
    The definition of a fad diet, is a diet that promote squick weight loss without taking into effect the nutrients your body needs (3) If it’s not sustainable for life, it’s a fad diet.
  • Only give advice on nutrition if you are unwaveringly confident that the information you’re sharing will not cause any harm.
    Do your research before sharing any knowledge. When doing your research pay particular attention to who funded or backed the study or article.
    According to the analysis firm Research and Markets (4) the global market for weight loss products and services was valued at $254.9 billion in 2021 and is expected to hit $377.3 billion by 2026. This means there are a lot of people making a lot of money off people buying into their fake diets and fallacies.
    On top of that, companies make it tough for us by hiding the source of their funding of their articles and studies in the fine print. It may take you a few minutes to find, but it’s not impossible. Take the time to find the sources and remember that any company selling you a ‘diet’ or short term weight loss plan wants you to fail so you come back and buy from them again. Think about that next time you whip out your credit card to purchase the new exciting express weight loss plan.

  • What is the best method for maintaining weight then?
    If you’ve reached the end of this article you most likely have one question you feel I’ve gloriously failed to answer.
    If I shouldn’t do fad diets, how the heck do I maintain my weight then?
    The answer to this is, there isn’t a secret. Maintaining a healthy weight is not something you can purchase nor buy in a bottle. There’s no quick fix, express schedule or diet smoothie that is going to help you. Maintaining a health weight is laced with variables including your age, genetics, physical exercise and mental health (just to name a few) and finding what works (and doesn’t work) for you, your body and your lifestyle will constantly evolving. The secrets to weight loss and weight maintenance lie in educating yourself on how your body functions, consuming nutrient-dense foods in a wide variety with minimal processed foods, finding the right conditioning program for you and looking after your mental health. If you need help with any of these, our team can help!
  • Find a professional you trust.
    Enter Train Like a Ballerina and our TLB TEAM of health professionals. We know how hard it can be googling dieticians, psychologists or health coaches that specialise in dancers’ health. Which is why we’ve spent years sourcing the absolute best in their field.
    Check out the TLB team page and reach out to any of our certified professionals for any help, questions or assistance you may need.
    https://trainlikeaballerina.com/about/

Bottom Line
Maintaining a healthy weight is multifaceted and involves not only how you choose to fuel your body but how you move, think and feel as well. 
If you’re struggling with weight management we strongly advise not to follow any ‘diet’ and instead reach out to one of our TLB team health experts instead and take the time to educate yourself correctly so you’re never again a victim to another fad diet. 

Author: Louisa Paterson is the Founder of Train Like a Ballerina and a Certified Specialist in Strength and Conditioning for dancers with a bachelors in Nutrition.


Resources: 
(1) https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-people-diet-lose-weight-and-gain-it-all-back
(2) https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/get-facts-eating-disorders-infographics
(3) What is a Fad Diet: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9476-fad-diets
(4 )Statistics on the fad diet industry: https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/5393446/global-weight-loss-products-and-services-market

Disclaimer: 
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.