Dance diet

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•The Dance Diet
•••••Lose weight while maintaining the energy you need for dance class.
A couple of years ago, when I originally wrote this article, my main concern was to lose about ten pounds while having enough energy to attend 2-3 dance classes a day plus rehearsals. So, I came up with Plan A.

Time passed, and I sustained a knee injury. Suddenly, I couldn't take class every day, and didn't have rehearsal three times a week. So now I had a different set of circumstances, and still wanted to keep my fighting weight so I'd be in pretty good shape when I could dance again. If you're in that boat, see Plan B.

What's the difference between the two plans? In a word: carbohydrates. In Plan A, I give myself plenty of carbs in order to recover from a heavy load of physical activity, and I keep the protein pretty low, since too much protein really made me feel sluggish in class. Plan B is scaled back for minimal activity, e.g. physical therapy/weight-training with a little water aerobics thrown in, or just a few dance classes a week while you're getting back to speed. I took a page from the popular low-carb diets and found that for me the pounds literally fell off as soon as I cut out bread, potatoes, and other starches.

My advice in a nutshell is to take a look at what I've done, and think about your own needs. It took me a long time and a lot of reading and experimenting over the years to find what really worked for me. You may want to try my methods, or use them as a springboard to come up with what works best for you. The great thing is that once you find what is the key to your own metabolism, you learn so much about yourself. And you have this knowledge for life. You learn what is a good and reachable weight goal for yourself, and what size you can maintain and be happy, feeling good.

Plan A
Before I became a dance maniac, I'd used a number of different diets to lose the ten pounds that always seem to creep up on me. Most involved calorie or "points" counting, and I also had a go-round with food combining. There was usually a punitive aspect, whether that manifested itself in daily or weekly weigh-ins or in simply the guilt-ridden feeling that I had not stuck perfectly to the plan. It always felt as if something were being imposed on me from the outside in -- which it was!

When I started to dance seriously and wanted to get into better shape, I remember reading something called The Dancers' Body Book, which claimed to tell us what famous ballet dancers did to keep their much-lower-than-average weights. What I learned instead, is that dancers themselves don't seem to have much of a clue when it comes to nutrition. So, I began to look elsewhere for guidance. And I also wanted to come up with a plan that I fully understood, so I wouldn't have to feel guilty about minor infractions. I believed that really understanding what a diet was trying to do and how it worked would make me a "partner" with the diet, rather than feeling that the diet was the authority figure and that I was the errant child.

After a great deal of reading, and using myself as a guinea pig, I have come to what I feel is my solution to the diet thing. I took a basic diet for long-distance runners, and started to tailor it to my own needs. Like runners, we too want lean muscles and a high level of endurance.

I started out with a ratio of 60% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 25% fat -- and I felt as if I was going to explode from all the carbs (even though I'm an inveterate bread-lover). The long-distance runner probably needs much more carbohydrates than we dancers do, since our highest level of exertion is usually in short spurts. So I started to dicker with these percentages until I found the level where I felt best. For me, that turned out to be 55% carbs, 20% protein, and 25% fat. I could probably cut the carbohydrates even a little bit more, and increase the protein a little. But, after you strictly watch your diet for a couple of months, you'll simply feel when you're eating the proper quantities, and you can put your calorie counters away.

Everyone who reads this probably knows approximately how many calories/grams he or she can have on a weight loss diet. If not, pick up any basic diet book, or subscribe to my newsletter ;-) , where I give you formulas to find your personal calorie limit based on your desired weight and level of activity, as well as how to turn calories into grams of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. I also give you best times of day to eat your carbs and protein to maximize your performance in class and your recovery time after class.

The 55:20:25 diet can be based on percentages of calories or on grams (which makes it easier to figure out what percentages you're eating based on the nutritional labels you'll find on all prepared foods).

I gave myself a very modest calorie deficit, so I'd lose no more than a pound each week. This way, I was able to change my eating patterns through slow weight loss, and keep my energy level high enough that I could keep going with my 10+ classes a week. So ten weeks, and my ten extra pounds were gone -- plus I had trained myself to know what to eat, when to eat it, and I could feel very acutely when I was far off track with what I was eating.

I want to point out that dieting this way is not an extreme, difficult regimen. You're not limiting yourself to bare bones dieting. You get enough food, and with your paperback gram counter in hand, you're in control of which foods you eat. If you find that eating only 20% protein leaves you feeling weak, then try changing your ratios. I found that when I was eating less than 25% fat, I was cranky and worn out -- I felt dried out and lifeless. 60% carbohydrates was too much starch for me (no matter how many vegetables I ate to reduce the amount of bread and pasta). More than 20% protein, and I felt too heavy and bogged down for ballet.

Try it out and you'll see. When counting grams of carbs, protein, and fat, you'll become much more aware of what you're putting into your body, and how it affects you. Then you can carry that knowledge and awareness with you for life!

Plan B
Well, I was recovering from my injury with lots of extra time on my hands (all those hours when I would have been dancing) and the pounds starting affixing themselves to my thighs immediately. So I want to be absolutely upfront and say that my main concern was not choosing a healthy way of losing the weight. My first concern was to get it off and keep it off until I could get back to dancing. But, I ended up learning a lot about my metabolism in the process.

I was sitting in front of the TV watching Oprah, when she had two weight-loss doctors on who were talking about carbohydrate addiction. They were talking about a diet for people who, once they started eating potatoes or cereal or breads or sugary desserts, just kept feeling hungrier and hungrier and didn't feel satisfied after eating these foods. Instead, they wanted to keep eating more and more.

Wow. This got my attention. This really sounded like me. I'd choose a huge bowl of macaroni and cheese over even my favorite protein foods or fruits and vegetables any day. And desserts, or a big loaf of garlic bread -- well, I'm simply not to be trusted.

In short, the program these doctors advocated was one in which you ate protein (meat, eggs, cheese, fish, poultry) and vegetables in equal amounts, with starches or dessert items only at one meal of the day, and only as one third of the total volume of the meal (to be eaten at the same time as the rest of the meal, not hours later).

I headed out to the bookstore, looking for a low-carbohydrate diet book. There were many, so I picked the cheapest paperback, which was the Dr. Atkins diet. This turns out to be the most extreme of the many low-carb diet versions out there. But I wanted to see results fast, so extreme was fine with me. Without going into the details (take a trip to your bookstore), you start out with protein and fat, plus a couple of handfuls of vegetables a day.

The good news is that you can have all the protein and fat you want, and you can get some variety by choosing among meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, bacon, sausage, cheese -- butter on your broccoli -- and you can eat as much of these foods as you want. The bad news is that it's a little challenging to eat out: throwing away the bun on your hamburger, avoiding the hash browns with your breakfast, or pushing away that side-dish of spaghetti.

However, this is the most miraculous diet I've ever been on. The pounds just fell off, and there were many other positive changes as well. No bloated feeling. My hair, nails, and skin looked glossier and better. I slept much better and felt much calmer than usual. And my energy level was way up -- no mood swings. The downside: Okay, I'll just say it, ((constipation)). But this improved as I started to moderate the diet, adding more vegetables, some fruit, and even some starches once I got the weight under control.

I learned that starches and desserts (basically, sugar, since all starches are sugar) are the trigger that causes me to gain weight. When I avoid them, or eat them only in moderation, I don't generally have a weight problem. All these years, I've been fighting those same 10-15 pounds that creep up on me. Through my low-carb diet experience, I now know why. There's really never a reason to fill up on breads and pastas unless your level of activity is very high and you need the fuel.

Now that I have my two plans in place -- one for high activity, and one for moderate activity -- I feel I've got my bases covered, and feel at peace knowing how to eat and what's going on with my body. And, if I'm suddenly gaining weight, I know the reason. There's no reason to agonize over it. It's just time to cut back on the carbs and snack on some protein instead.

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If you're interested in reading about the Dance Diet (Plan A) in detail, it's all in issue #2 of the Blue Diamond newsletter. For a limited time, you can still get all the back issues when you become a current subscriber. Click here to learn more about it -- including lots of testimonials from subscribers all over the world. Or, click here for our secure-site Blue Diamond Store with some great products specifically for the adult dance student.