More Advice For Grown-Up Dancers
FOR GROWN-UP DANCERS
to Foreground: "What Am I Going to Eat Tonight?"
Wennerstrand, CSW, DTR
to know what you think! Got a response to Anne's ideas? Or another
issue you want to talk about? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
If your letter is selected, you'll receive a free box of Luna Bars,
the whole nutrition bar for women. Men like it too! Special thanks
to Clif Bar.)
Boulder, Colorado writes: "I think I am fairly versed on nutrition
and good eating habits. However, I notice that about once a week
or more I have an uncontrollable urge to see how much I can eat.
It starts with feeling hungry and then turns into a contest with
myself to see how much I can ingest. The amount is usually equal
to about four meals worth of food in one sitting. I don't purge
afterwards but will often try and skip a few meals the next day.
I feel that if I could understand why I do this, I might be able
must negotiate a relationship with food in the same way that they
negotiate relationships with significant others in their life. Like
relationships with people, the way one relates to food can be affirming,
nurturing, sustaining and sensually gratifying. Or it can be depriving,
traumatizing, abusive, and even life-threatening. Eating problems
run the full spectrum: from depriving the self of food (anorexia),
to eating without regard to the body's physiological cues for hunger
and satiation (compulsive overeating), to preoccupation with purging
what has been ingested (bulimia). When eating has gone awry it represents
a complex response to psychological, interpersonal and cultural
experience. The dance world and the larger society's injunctions
about what it means to have the "right" body and be on the "right"
diet join and become a part of emotional life. Particularly difficult
for women, eating problems are rapidly becoming more prevalent among
men. This is complicated by the fact that dancers, both men and
women, are burdened with contradictory messages and aesthetic imperatives
about food and the body.
attempt to regulate their relationship with food in many ways. Early
in a dancer's career, if there is not an innate or reliable way
to soothe difficult feelings, they may begin to judge "a good or
bad day" solely on the ability to deprive or permit themselves food.
Further, distorted eating and body experiences are culturally normalized
(i.e., "You look great, did you lose weight?") Everyday body/self
and eating experiences contain and reveal the language of our inner
life and the narrative is scripted in the context of the dance field
and the consumer culture which values youth, thinness and beauty.
need a relationship with food that sustains life and supplies them
with nutrition and energy to function maximally as dance artists.
They may have chosen to value a body shape and size which fits in
with established aesthetic norms. Food needs to be a sensual, life-affirming
presence in our lives. So why do dancers so often have difficulty
feeding themselves in appropriate and life-giving ways?
about J., who is well-versed in nutrition and good eating. How is
it that, once a week or more, she goes home and starts out responding
to her physiological hunger through appropriate choice of food *but*
winds up ignoring her body signals for satiation or fullness?
I am thinking
about another dancer who reported that her binges had nothing to
do with physiological hunger but were responses to intense, out-of-control
feelings that she could experience at any time of the day but were
particularly acute when she was alone with herself at night. This
dancer punished herself by "yelling" at herself ("I'm such a pig,
a loser, fat, lazy ..."), calling herself names and exacerbating
the out-of-control feeling after binge. She would try to punish
herself for the binge by skipping subsequent meals, depriving herself
of food and increasing her exercise activities beyond her daily
dance class. She had even begun to think about using laxatives or
inducing vomiting. She began to instill food with a magical power
over herself. Her whole emotional life got collapsed into the symptoms
she experienced with food. Gradually, she would come to feel so
resentful and deprived again that she would set herself up for the
next binge without any regard to physiological hunger. Furthermore,
she was perplexed and greatly ashamed of this behavior. Through
work in therapy, the dancer was able to examine the "out-of-control"
feeling and identify what set off or "triggered" the binge.
started to make the connection that her use of food was an attempt
to take care of or soothe her anxiety about her career choices (see
Advice to Grown Up Dancers, 11-30, "When are You Going to Get a
Real Job?"). Underneath this were concerns about "not being
good enough" and anger towards teachers, choreographers and presenters
whom she perceived as denying her access to what she wanted. This
was completely out of her conscious awareness. She began to see
that many things could trigger the binge. It could be a thought,
a feeling, a memory, a look in the mirror, a glance or comment from
someone. A trigger could also be a specific achievement she had
accomplished. She realized through treatment that she was terrified
of other dancers' envy. Somehow it felt scary to actually have what
other dancers were working so hard to get. She feared this would
affect her friendships with other female dancers. This dancer learned
how to feel good about her accomplishments, take care of her emotional
life better and know and respond to her physical cues of hunger
and satiation with nutritious food choices. Gradually food problems
slipped into the background and she began to place her self-esteem,
relationships, creativity and commitment to a larger artistic vision
in the foreground.
are personal and complex. What I can write here only begins to address
the issue. Dancers with food problems need to develop compassion
and respect towards themselves, seeing the food behavior as an attempt
to deal with difficult relationships and feelings. If you are an
individual struggling with an eating problem, check out www.edreferral.com
for further information and to help locate treatment in your area.
(Thanks to my colleagues and mentors from the Women's Therapy Centre
in New York City who inspire me in this conceptualization of eating
problems.) I invite your questions and concerns. Write to me at
voyage consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new
eyes." -- Marcel Proust
has a private psychotherapy practice in New York City and is available
for individual, group and organizational consultation.
More Advice For Grown-Up Dancers