So about a week ago I got an email from a loyal Legal Ballerina reader asking about a little bit of a diet dilemma. I thought her question is something that a lot of adults can relate to, so with her permission, I am going to post her email and my response. I hope this helps and enjoy!
(Get ready – this is a long one!)
Adult Ballet Beginner writes:
“How do you hang with the diet thing? I went through weight issues after quitting dance but over the decades have mainly conquered the beast. And yet those last 7-8 lbs, the ones that no one but me cares about, that wouldn’t matter if I didn’t want to prance around in a leotard and tights balanced on two of my toes. I can’t make them go away. The best I’ve managed is half, and then I gain those back. (Cue the memory of the ballet teacher I had at age eight screaming at me, “Never say, ‘I can’t!’ in front of an entire class of 8-year-olds who could all do splits but me…ah, memories.)
Anyway, how do you navigate the mental and emotional aspects of dieting? I understand nutrition. I can count the heck out of calories and plan the stuffing out of a high-protein, mostly-low-carb diet. I can put small nutritious snacks in my bag and eat them when I’m hungry or before class so I don’t starve or space out. I can drive to the gym and (most of the time) enter the gym and do both cardio and weight resistance plus stretching, on a good day. I can drag in and do even-just-20 minutes at least half the time on a bad day. I take walks and do yoga. I can mix it up and even do a Zumba or Barre Vite class if I really want to spaz out just to stop taking myself so seriously and see if my hair will unwind from the ballet bun! I have even (and at this point in the email you may be about to suggest this) sought and received professional help.
Unfortunately, the one thing I apparently cannot do is stick to the diet enough to just get back down to a fighting ballet weight. Anytime something bothers me, I eventually eat my way through it (and stuff is always bothering me, because I’m a sensitive flower, and socially awkward, and I want my teachers to adore me). I know that things shouldn’t bother me this much and that I am very lucky, among other reasons, to get to be dancing in my forties.
Well by now you may think I’m a little insane for telling you all this, but if you do have a word of advice I assure you I will be eternally grateful.”
Now, as to your question regarding dieting. Dieting isn’t easy. You are restricting yourself from eating the things you enjoy and that’s no fun. Especially when you are an emotional eater, as you have indicated in your email. Your task to lose those extra pounds will be exceptionally daunting given that you will have to stop a bad habit as well. But fear not young grasshopper, I believe your goal is completely doable. You are not seeking to lose tens of pounds; only pounds!! Although I realize those can be the toughest. I myself often struggle with losing the last couple. Let me queue you into my little secrets that will hopefully help you reach your goal.
It comes down the food and thought. Allow me to elaborate.
(1) Cut out sugared drinks (in fact drink water all day if you can), high calorie condiments and toppings (cheese, mayo, oil, bacon – yes bacon, or anything that adds calories!!), and processed foods as much as possible. Eat protein and veggies. Period. Lots of it.
You can easily avoid adding a lot of calories in your diet by cutting out any sugary drinks. One can of regular Coke has 120 cal in it. Personally, I would rather eat my calories than drink them. Wouldn’t you?
As for condiments or any toppings with calories, That is also easy to cut out. I have never been a real fan of mayonnaise or adding oil to anything so it is really easy for me to exclude it. If you think about it, she’s really doesn’t taste like anything. It’s the consistency that is the most delicious part of cheese. You can have a hamburger. Just don’t add the cheese. Boom – thats 60 cal. you just cut out! Stick with the main dish. Don’t add a lot of fancy because fancy equals high calories. Unless the fancy is involving vegetables. For example, spaghetti sauce is super delicious and has very low calories and is very healthy for you.
And then we come to the processed food concept. This is the most difficult for people to actually do. I’m not saying to cut it out completely. All I’m saying is to limit your intake during the day. And when you do eat processed foods, try to make them whole grain and earlier in the day so you have time to burn it off.
Eat your protein and veggies!! If you don’t eat meat – eat nuts. Do protein shakes. I make them every morning. Don’t worry about the calories involved. Those are stored differently in your body.
Veggies are a given, but are often thought of as gross allllll day long. I put spinach in my morning protein shakes. I eat baby carrots and humus for snacks. Veggies are a natural laxative! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a nice poop?!?!
(2) Your mind is your biggest enemy when it comes to dieting. No one likes abstaining from delicious food. Hence why so many people fail. So, it’s important to ask yourself one simple question – how important is losing this weight is to you???? And then follow it up with – if you do lose the weight, will it make you happy???
I mean – we are talking about a couple of pounds here. If you succeed, it probably wont change your life. Some people may not even notice that you lost it. (Boo). So, is the worth all the effort to lose it? If your answer is “yes” then it’s time to move to the next step.
It’s time you develop a new relationship with food. Food is your comfort. Like a blanket to a toddler. Except a blanket doesn’t make you fat. So you need to let the blanket go. Throw it away. Burn it. Whatever you need to do to stop holding on to the security you feel when you put a donut in your mouth. Because, guess what – This is a mental game. Food will not make your problems go away. It won’t make you feel better in the long run. A binge usually makes you feel worse, right?? Whatever is stressing you needs to be dealt with. Either create a new “blanket” or resolve the stress. Honestly, it’s easier to find a new blanket. So try exercise (healthily). Ballet has been my blanket as of late!!! I feel stress – I have my weekly classes. Also, I started running again. It has been amazing. Use your body to let the tension go (if you catch my drift. Ha!).
Food is your energy; your sustinence. That is all. Try to create a new relationship with it. It takes time, but it is possible. You just have to decide that it can’t solve your problems or make you feel better. It’s just something that makes us life and breathe. Take the power away and you will find the strength to reach your goal.
I am not interested in promoting a bad habit. That being – eating disorder. I have been through it and would not wish that experience in my worse enemy. ….well maybe. (Ha!) I am only trying to help people in their short and long term goals in weight loss. What I just explained can help you maintain a healthy weight with lots of flexibility. Always try to be smart. Eat out. Have cake. Drink wine. Give yourself a 5 pound weight fluctuation. When you are pushing the 5 pounds, that’s when to get serious. Instill the rules, lose the weight and you will always achieve the balance. Only freaks of nature enjoy eating clean 24 hours a day. You and I are humans. We certainly not professional athletes or models. Embrace your body type and always strive to make your body “the best is can be” and nothing more. You have a pear shape – strive to be j-lo. (Ha!). I’m more like a pre-adolescence kid. No waist, hips, or thighs. That also means I’m build like a child. I’ve excepted it. So should you. You are beautiful – just like God intended. The more confident you are about yourself, the more people will will respond to you. You can shine no matter what your size. It’s your attitude that counts. Trust me on this one.
One thing I forgot to add – as you get older you lose muscle. It may be time to add some weight training to your exercise routine. Adding more muscle will definitely rev up the metabolism!!