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The rise of eating disorders within the dance industry

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

This week is eating disorder awareness week. We asked our nutritionist, Francesca to explain the alarming trend of eating disorders that we are seeing in the dance industry.

Francesca, our dance nutritionist regularly hosts dance nutrition seminars to the UK's leading ballet schools. After these seminars, we have seen a worrying trend of enquiries from dancers seeking support as they are under huge pressure to be a certain size and often we hear from clients that have an active eating disorder.

Francesca tells us "Because of the constant pressure of having a lean body figure and looking a certain size, ballet dancers, and in particular the youngest or the most vulnerable, are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders than the general population"

Ballet eating disorder

Furthermore, there is a belief among dancers that to be cast for principal roles they need to be as skinny as possible. Unfortunately, this is also supported by the dance industry and dance schools.

" In fact, it is common practice for teachers and choreographers to talk about dancers' weight and to weekly put dancers on a scale, usually in the afternoon, in front of other peers. "

Often dancers are told that their weight should not exceed a certain level or are given a weight they should aim for - Some individuals basically tell dancers they need to lose weight and reduce their food intake. This is very alarming as these individuals do not hold any nutrition qualifications or knowledge.

The result is that dancers start to inevitably control their calorie intake, cut out food groups and have disordered eating behaviours in the hours before the weekly weight session. This means that dancers start to skip breakfast, lunch and they stop drinking to avoid fluctuations of their weight with detrimental effects on their overall health and performances.

The dance industry, and the pressures of social media, has created is the idea that to be a better performer and the best version of yourself you need to lose weight and be thin. Furthermore, the fact that dancers spend hours in front of a mirror in classes, looking at their body could further increase the risk of developing body image issues, as well as eating disorders, as they aim to an idealized and stereotyped “perfect” body. Dancers tend to grow in a weight-obsessed environment where the competitiveness and the tendency of comparing themselves to their peer group is high, as well as having unhealthy relationships with food.

As said, too many times dancers are told to lose weight or to change their body composition by increasing exercise and eating less food, without being supported by professionals to achieve this. The result is that dancers enter into a cycle of restricting eating and bingeing with negative effects on both their mental and physical health, as well as an increased risk of injury. In particular, it is well known that some great companies still want dancers of a certain height and weight to be cast and during auditions, they compare dancers bodies to some outdated height-weight charts for dancers.

Years of nonsense and non-evidence-based nutrition advice in the dance industry has led to too many dancers not consuming enough energy for their physical activity levels and being in a constant state of low energy availability.

This week is eating disorder awareness week and it's more important than ever to raise awareness of this illness. If you are a dancer or a dance teacher please be aware of the pressure this has on the individual. It is not acceptable to put a weight target for an individual which often is unachievable, unhealthy and can cause the start of a severe mental illness.

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