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Patricia Dates O'Brien
Ask Trish
Health Corner

Ask Trish - August 2003 - Thin versus Lean

by Patricia Dates O'Brien
August 1, 2003

Ask Trish - July 2003

Thin versus Lean

Dear Trish—-

Okay, this is not really beauty-related, like makeup and stuff, but I thought maybe you could help me. Anyway it is kinda beauty-related, in that I want to be beauty-ful…, okay, anyway. See, my partner thinks I'm too fat and I need to lose weight before we can compete (he says.) The nerve of him! I think I am totally normal looking and just fine the way I am. What the heck, is he trying to give me an eating disorder or something??? He says that because I'm not "normal people" but "dancer people," I have to be thinner than the average girl. He says that I have to lose body fat in my thighs and hips because they look too "round." He even looks at me funny whenever I eat anything remotely processed, like a bagel or a burrito!! He is driving me psycho, and I can't get any more psycho than I am because USDSC ( the National Championship, arrrrrghhh!) is coming up and I will use my Lee Press-On Dragon-lady fingernails to slice him like a loaf of Wonder Bread if he keeps on with this!!!

Anyway, I'm 5'2," a size 6, and believe me, I ain't hurtin' for dates. Do I really need to lose weight? And how does somebody go about it? (That is, if I decide I need to diet….)

    Burrito Belly

Dear Burrito Belly—

Okay. okay. I sense some issues here. For one, those eagle's claws don't need to be so sharp that you could actually slice someone. How on earth do you expect to get into your costume without ripping it? And are they classified as box-cutters and taken away from you at the airport?? Do you tweeze your eyebrows and cut your own hair with those things?? 'Cuz that would be a neat party trick…

Okay, I digress. Let's get to the meat of this letter (Hahh!!) If your dance partner is telling you to lose weight, this likelihood of this being true is very high, as you both are on the same team and playing for the same goals (winning, becoming the best you can be, etc., etc.) He's trying to help you, not hurt you….however he decides to deliver the message (and that is a WHOLE OTHER COLUMN, believe you me, called "Ask Trish's Nagging Advice Column For Emotionally Dysfunctional Dancers….") (It would be a very popular column.)

Unfortunately, what your partner is trying to say is true—as dancers, it is not necessary to be Thin Thin…but to be lean, lithe, and sleek is an ideal aesthetically pleasing image for a dancer. Now, I don't know what you look like, but if he is telling you certain parts of your body are "too round," chances are you could stand to lose a little overall body fat to help your already existing muscles emerge and give you that slender look.

There are two books that I am thinking of that are excellent references for dancers and I'll tell you why. In fact, there are probably more than just these two books, but these two in particular are helpful in that they explain dieting as a lifestyle choice, not a temporary-just-before-USDSC-drop-ten-pounds-in-a-hurry kind of diet plan. There are millions of lean dancers in the world who live and eat in a healthy way. Some dancers are genetically predisposed towards leanness; some have to work a little, or a lot, at it. These two books will help get you started:

1. Diet For Dancers, the complete guide to nutrition and weight control. Robin D. Chmelar & Sally S. Fitt, Princeton Book Company, Pennington, NJ.

2. The Balance, by Oz Garcia. ReganBooks/ Harper Collins, NYC, NY.

These two books are awesome at explaining how to analyze your metabolic rate (how many calories you burn each day, on an average,) how to increase your metabolism to burn more calories, and how to create a sound nutritional diet for your lifestyle. There's a lot of diet misinformation out there, so if you're going to go for it, I recommend doing the research and educating yourself before you jump into some crazy diet that lets you lose 20 pounds in two weeks, but requires you to only eat one food item over and over again (can anyone really eat that much cabbage? Or grapefruit? Or steak??)

Incidentally, it is darn near impossible to lose weight just in one area of your body, like your thighs or hips. You will have to increase your metabolism and lose overall weight first, and then you will begin to see the difference in your body structure. You achieve weight loss by creating a "calorie deficit"—i.e., you burn more calories than you consume each day—either by not eating foods as high in calories as before, or exercising more, or, best case scenario—both.

It is very easy (in the long run, not at first!!) to make smarter calorie choices each day. For example, eating some fresh strawberries or cherries for dessert is a heck of a lot smarter than eating an ice cream cone, for many of reasons:
1. less calories.
2. more nutrients and vitamins, to get you through practice tomorrow morning.
3. fruit is a complex carbohydrate, not a simple (sugar) carbohydrate like ice cream—meaning it will take longer for your body to digest the fruit. This will not only make you feel full longer, but prevents your blood sugar levels from skyrocketing, then crashing (which is what simple carbs like ice cream and candy do.) Excessive consumption of simple carbs can lead to diabetes and cancers, not to mention fat! The simple carbs digest very easily, meaning you get hungry sooner. But the simple carbs don't have any nutrients, so the body can't use them for energy. Thus, they get stored as fat.

By the way, very recently a group of Swiss scientists determined that no more that 10% of your daily diet should contain sugar. In the United States, the FDA "food guide pyramid" just says "limited use" of sugars and fats. Fat consumption should be no more than 25% for dancers.

As far as increasing your amount of exercise—as a lifestyle choice, not a temporary quick-fix—there are very simple ways to do that, too. Always take the stairs instead of the elevator (I lived on the 16th floor in NYC—people thought I was nuts. However, I'm not dancing anymore, and I am actually thinner now than my dancing weight.) Park your car in the last parking space in the lot, instead of driving around and around to find the closest spot to the door. Go for a nightly walk around the 'hood with your dog/cat/significant other/imaginary friend. Eat when you're hungry. Don't eat when you're not (sounds simple, but you'd be surprised!)

I hope this helps! Good luck and maybe I will meet a new you at USDSC in September!


Trish will be at the USDSC National Dance Competition in Miami Beach this September! Call for more information on makeup or fitness consultations. 941-685-8762. Look for "Ask Trish" and ExploreDance.com goodies in Dance Beat's USDSC Gift Bags!

Trish Dates O'Brien is a former dancer and certified personal fitness trainer. She is available for training both in dance and fitness, private or group. You can call her at 941-685-8762, or email any questions or comments to: TrishDatesOBrien@aol.com.

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