Is there a healthy way to lose weight? After rehearsing all day, more exercise pushes me toward exhaustion. Help! —Alyssa
This is tricky—the ballet industry puts enormous pressure on dancers to be thin. That can lead some to go to drastic, unhealthy measures to lose weight, whether they need to or not. Adding low-impact cardio or interval training to your routine can help, but it sounds like extra workouts might put you at risk of injury with your current schedule.
For now, you can focus on eating differently, not less. Skipping meals or eating erratically will only confuse your body. In fact, Peggy Otto Swistak, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for Pacific Northwest Ballet, notes that many dancers don't eat enough calories to begin with. "When you decrease your food intake, your metabolism slows down," she says. "The body goes into a 'conserve and preserve' mode because it thinks it's starving." It's critical to spread your caloric intake throughout the day, with meals and snacks every few hours.
Increasing the amount of lean protein (beans, low-fat dairy, white meat and more) in your diet and decreasing carbohydrates may help, too, as your body burns more calories to digest protein. But don't cut out carbs completely—your muscles and brain need them for fuel. However, every body is different, so consult a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with dancers. "An RDN would look at the grams of protein and carbohydrates in your diet and do some fine-tweaking," says Swistak. She recommends consulting eatright.org, which can help you find a specialist in your area.