Dancers eat too. “My strength comes from fuel”
‘Dancers never eat’, I heard this time and time again from people outside the dance world, a misconception given that this is most certainly not true. You need food to fuel your body – again something I heard constantly from GPs, Dieticians and Psychologists – a fact I ultimately knew because no dancer can live off a restrictive diet.
I honestly believed that my dance ability had a correlation with my weight and the way I looked. My disorder took hold at age 12, but like may sufferers I did not feel my disordered habits were valid until my first diagnoses at age 17, Otherwise Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). To the sickly voice in my head that meant I wasn’t sick due to my normal BMI so even then, I felt I was not Valid.
I am a perfectionist, like many dancers. Obsessed with elevation and high kicks, all that mirror staring caused more harm than good. I felt that if I had control in one area of my life, everything would fall into place, or that I could use my eating disorder as as excuse for other discrepancies. “I didn’t succeed in dance because I looked too big”.
Dancers are athletes. The amount of physical strength, endurance and flexibility it takes to succeed is something I didn’t realise until I danced full time. One of the biggest issues with athletes and eating disorders is our muscle mass. At one point my BMI told me I was overweight. My ED was screaming, ultimately I knew that weight was made up of muscle, I looked no different to my healthy weight yet society told me I was too big. The acceptance that this was what it would take to achieve my dreams was difficult. I finally understood how discriminatory the BMI calculator actually is, excluding gender, race and muscle mass from the calculation.
There is no, one cause for eating disorders, often it’s a mixture of emotions and mental health struggles. I suffered much more than my horrible eating habits, over exercise, binging and calorie counting. Over the years I had accumulated a variety of issues: self-harm, panic attacks and suicide attempts included. Often these are covered over in the dance industry as they do not fit the stereotypical, ‘petite, graceful ballerina’. I was never able to receive treatment for this until later, for the fear of judgement from my peers and fellow dancers perceiving me as depressed or different, breaking stereotype in a negative way.
I never once had someone speak out about Eating Disorders, or Mental Health awareness, particularly in the dance community. The prevalence of eating disorders in dancers is far too high to have nobody speaking out. 14% of dancers suffer disordered eating, excluding other mental health issues which are just as common.
Dear the dancer reading this, know that You are not alone, You are valid and It does get better.