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How Dance Events Can Make You Fat

Posted by on November 9, 2011

Today’s post over at is pretty timely, How to Stay Healthy During Your Travels, since I’m about to jump on a plane this evening and begin several months of being a traveling dancer.

It’s definitely something I agonize about. Unfortunately, the article seems to be written for business people who may have access to things like hotel gyms and who spend a lot of time in airports. While airports will be a part of my life this winter, I’ll be dealing more with issues of staying healthy while visiting people’s homes, and going to dance events where there’s limited time to go forage for the kind of food I want and not much sleep.

Dodgy Food Advice
Additionally I disagree with the health advice in the Lifehack article. While I can’t call myself a full convert yet, I subscribe to the paleo philosophy of eating and Clint Cora’s emphasis on low-fat dairy, granola and fruit for breakfast (almost all sugar!) and multi-grain bread with your lunch doesn’t really fly for me. Sure, stay away from fried food and heavy starches, but the rest is Conventional Wisdom that is being challenged by a lot of people in the paleo/primal community. If you don’t know what I mean, check out these blogs and duke it out with them. For me, it’s still an eating experiment.

Snack Food at Dance Events
The emphasis seems to be on carbs… bagels, cookies, chips. These are things I just don’t want to touch anymore. I’m grateful when there are veggies and fruit as well as cheese and salami. However, most meat and cheese plates are more processed and the meat is packed full of nitrates, (the jury is still out on nitrates and nitrites. I avoid when I can. Some events have made an effort to get more “real” food in the hands of dancers and while I laud this, it still tends to be carb heavy. Catering from the likes of Panera and Chipotle results in a plate full of rice. With thai food, I can serve up a curry dish and avoid the extras, but most restaurants provide a lot of extra carbs as filler instead of real food.

People think that if you’re dancing athletically all night, you need carbs to keep you going. The paleo theory is, if your body is already burning fat, then you just need a little fat and protein to keep you going (good saturated fat, not trans fat or seed oils!). If you are already in the carb burning state (as in, you had granola, potatoes and toast for breakfast) then yeah, you’re going to want more carbs at 2am when you’ve been dancing all day. Every time I’ve been at a dance event and started my weekend off with classic fare, I’m hungry all weekend. While at home, eating a regular paleo diet, meat, eggs, vegetables, occasional fruit and nuts, I can go hours and hours without getting hungry. When I am hungry, it’s a gut hunge, not that, “I can’t focus and my brain is fuzzy” low blood sugar state.

I’m interested to see if I can maintain my paleo diet at my next dance event, and keep the low-blood sugar effect to a minimum. I’ll keep you posted.

My other gripe about dance event snack food is the poor quality. Why buy Skippy peanut butter that is loaded with hydrogenated oil (haven’t dance organizers gotten the memo?) and jam with high fructose corn syrup (again… the memo!) when you can get large jars of Almond Butter or Peanut butter without these ingredients, even at places like Costco. When I shop for my annual dance event, we place a high premium on buying foods that have minimal ingredients and no trans fats or HFCS.

Sharing food with Friends
Being a guest in someone’s home usually means eating whatever they serve you. Going to dinner with friends means compromising on where you would choose to eat over what’s easiest for the group. I can usually find something that sustains me at a restaurant (I know vegetarians and vegans face the same challenge) but in someone’s home, it’s hard to tell a chef who has just proudly cooked up a dish of lasagna or turned out some homemade bread that you don’t eat grains. And after a fun evening of eating and drinking, if someone busts out a pan of brownies or cookies, it’s just damn hard for me to say no. I’m a sugar addict and anyone who brings that stuff nearby is my pusher.

I used to go to every dance class at a workshop (usually starting at 11am), compete in every contest, grab dinner with friends, hit the dance at 8 or 9pm and go till 4 or 5am and start all over again. 72 hours into the event, I’d be in tears over something miniscule.

While I’ve minimized my emotional response to social dance politics these days, the lack of sleep really does have negative impacts. Less sleep means more cortisol is coursing through your system, and it seems that high stress/cortisol levels are linked to weight gain.

So, for all the athleticism of a dance event, it seems with the lack of sleep, high stress, and poor food quality, dance events actually make you fat.

One Response to How Dance Events Can Make You Fat

  1. Angie

    I know this is an old post of yours but I had to track it down. This post was the first reference to paleo living I had read. Apparently the concept needed to marinate for a while in my sugar-filled brain until a few months ago. I’m feeling good and lighter, although I still have a ways to go before I would claim to be fit. Thank you for the discussion and the links. Know that a whisper does produce change….eventually.

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