Variety is More than the Spice of Life

Dancers are creatures of habit. Why wouldn’t we be? Our art form demands it: we take technique class every day, do roughly the same exercises in the same order every day, and work on the same things over and over again. As creatures of habit and repetition, it’s natural that we would carry that thinking into our diets. How many of us eat the same thing for breakfast every day, because it’s fast, easy and we can predict our body’s reaction to it? Don’t worry- you’re not alone. When you have a strong, clean diet of whole foods, habit is not necessarily a bad thing. But we can all benefit from adding some variety to our diet and here’s why.

Think about kiwis and oranges for a minute: not only do they look and taste differently, but they also have different nutritional make-ups. We think that oranges are high in the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C at 139%, but kiwis are even higher at a whopping 273%! Kiwis are also high in vitamin K (89%), while oranges give us thiamin (12%) and calcium (8%). But neither fruit gives us much Vitamin B6 or potassium: for that, you’re better off eating bananas. So, while you might be an orange lover and be getting your daily allotment of fruit from oranges, look at what you’re missing out on by not eating other types of fruit.

The same comparisons can be done for whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and greens like kale and lettuce: if you get stuck on one over the other, you’re missing out on vital vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Here are a few simple tips to get out of your food rut:

When you grocery shop, aim to get at least three kinds of each food group.

  • Proteins: choose from both animal and vegetable sources, like eggs, salmon, and black beans. If you’re a vegetarian, try yogurt and tempeh in place of the animal products.
  • Whole grains: try different ones for breakfast (steel cut oats), lunch (quinoa), and dinner (wild rice).
  • Vegetables: go for color! For example, dark leafy greens like spinach, red peppers, and carrots, or beets, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
  • Fruits: go for different colors and textures: blueberries, oranges, and kiwis, or bananas, apples, and strawberries.
  • Healthy fats: walnuts, avocados, and olive oil.

When choosing foods, try to pick things that go together easily, like black beans, spinach, and eggs with a drizzle of olive oil, for example. Your dancing body needs a wide variety of nutrients, and keeping track of what those are and where to get them can be a big job. But choosing to vary your diet, by experimenting with the abundant choices of whole foods available is easy and fun, not to mention more exciting for your taste buds. So the next time you are shopping or eating out, try breaking out of your food rut and trying a few things outside of your comfort zone. If you want to do some research on what nutrients are found in your favorites foods (and the new ones you’re investigating), check out http://nutritiondata.self.com/.

About the Author


Elizabeth Sullivan, NYIBC Wellness Consultant, and the creator of the NYIBC Dancer Wellness and Nutrition Program, started dancing at age 8 in Albany, NY. She joined the Cleveland/San Jose Ballet at age 18 where she danced soloist and principal roles before leaving for the Boston Ballet in 1995. After two years in Boston, she hung up her pointe shoes, got her Bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College, and moved to Italy where she ran the Dartmouth College Rome Center. In 2009, Elizabeth earned a Master’s degree in Arts Administration at Columbia University and wrote her master’s thesis on pre-professional dancer wellness programs. In 2011, Elizabeth created the Creative Compass Wellness Curriculum for young performing artists to address the unique needs of this group (www.creativecompass.org). The curriculum was subsequently piloted at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy for Classical Ballet in New York City, where Elizabeth continues to teach and consult. She also works as a health and wellness consultant for young dancers and their parents in her private practice. Her research interests include the holistic health and wellness of performing artists, mental fitness, performance preparation, nutrition for the young dancer, and best practices in dance training.

If you like this post, you should also check out Elizabeth’s own blog for dancers: centeredstage.com

Applications to NYIBC 2013 are being accepted through December 15th, 2012. 
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Kiwi image by maestro garabito/escuela potosina

3 thoughts on “Variety is More than the Spice of Life

  1. Pingback: Mix it up: Why variety is important | Centered Stage

  2. Reblogged this on mysylph and commented:
    Elizabeth Sullivan writes this post and it is very, very welcome for dancers who have virtually no (well-intentioned) advice for eating properly for ballet. Mothers are concerned that their dancers are eating enough of the right foods to prevent injury, replace what is lost while sweating, and with the concern of the body image in a healthy and pro-active way. I think Ms. Sullivan zealously tries to assist dancers in maintaining a positive body image while eating the right foods (and enough of them) in order to prevent weight and health issues. A well-fed dancer is a happy dancer! I have not found better or more helpful information anywhere and recommend her blog highly. Keep on dancing!

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