Intermittent fasting, the keto diet, clean eating, Whole30, counting macros…We are inundated with nutritional “guidance” on a daily basis. For dancers who are both professional athletes and visual performing artists, we are almost predisposed for our eating to get out of whack as we’re pulled between maintaining a “perfect” appearance and fueling our bodies for optimum performance. Before you deep dive into the black hole of online diet information, The Dance Journalist got the real scoop from Rachel Fine, a former dancer and certified dietitian who specializes in nutrition for dancers.
Fine began dancing at a young age in her hometown on Long Island, New York. She trained for several years at ABT’s summer intensives and pursued her BFA in ballet after graduating from high school. With a more demanding dance schedule, Fine knew that fueling her body was incredibly important. However, she was confused with the masses of information, which, at the time, were largely focused around “clean eating.” Though she thought she was following a “healthy” track, her perfectionist tendencies soon led her down a restrictive path toward disordered eating. Luckily, Fine knew this couldn’t be sustainable for a long-term dance career. Determined to find balance, Fine applied to New York University’s Nutrition and Dietetics program. As she continued to study throughout her bachelor’s and master’s careers at NYU, Fine learned how to fuel her performance in an educated and sustainable way. “I realized,” she remembers, “that I could help other dancers, just like myself, learn that dieting is not a requirement for a professional dance career.”
After graduating, Fine founded To the Pointe Nutrition where she provides free resources and paid programs to support dancers of all ages and levels attain their goals for a balanced and enjoyable career. She is also a certified specialist in sports nutrition and a certified counselor of intuitive eating. Additionally, Fine has extensive research experience at NYU Langone’s Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, served as an adjunct professor of sports nutrition at Long Island University (LIU), and was a 2019 nominee for the Dance Educator’s Award presented by the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science.
“Nutrition is key for performance,” Fine explains. “The nutrients in food play a direct role in the body’s performance on stage. That said, I often see dancers strive for a ‘perfect’ diet to unlock their performance potential or reach their body goals. Seeking ‘perfection,’ however, risks unhealthy habits such as restrictive eating which can ultimately lead a dancer to injury, burnout, or a serious eating disorder.”
As a visual performing art, dance is largely based around body aesthetics—shapes, lines, positions, and incredible feats of flexibility, virtuosity, and agility. Many of dance’s aesthetic standards remain deeply rooted in antiquated body ideals. “Dancers have an immense amount of pressure to abide by these strict and often unrealistic body standards as a means to find success in the passion they love,” notes Fine. “Dancers are also athletes who need to adequately fuel their bodies as a means to improve strength, increase endurance, and reduce risk of injury. Since the pressure of maintaining an often-unrealistic body type is coupled with the increased nutritional needs of the sport, dancers require a more complex nutrition education than the general population.” That’s where To the Pointe comes in. Fine has combined her professional dance experience with her extensive dietetic training to create comprehensive and affordable resources for professional and aspiring dancers of all ages.
One of Fine’s goals is to fact check the infectious misinformation of diet culture. Whether you’re researching online or scheduling to meet with a coach, Fine emphasizes making sure your source is a licensed professional. “The titles ‘nutritionist’ and ‘nutrition expert’ are not regulated and therefore, anyone could technically claim them,” she notes. “However, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD or RDN) or Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) are qualified sources that not only receive years of training but also are required to actively continue education as a means to stay informed in a field that is constantly evolving.”
There are many trends and downright untruths floating around in the dance community and in the popular media at large. “Clean eating is a very common myth which often leads to restrictive eating patterns,” Fine points out. Other seemingly ‘healthful’ diets like keto and intermittent fasting can actually lead to impaired performance. “Another myth is the idea that dancers can’t find success without achieving a certain body type,” she adds. “The dance world is making incredible strides in challenging those antiquated ideals and, because of this, more and more opportunities are available for dancers of all shapes and sizes.”
Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that body ideals still play a large role in the dance industry. “Dancers should always prioritize their health and performance,” stresses Fine. “Quick-fix dieting and restrictive eating behaviors will severely risk both and likely lead to injury.” Fine wholeheartedly believes that dancers can develop a lifestyle that incorporates nourishing options (balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats) and adequate fuel (calories) but must remain realistic to their individual body types. “I recommend that dancers download my free workbook for building body confidence to help navigate through this. It’s also imperative that dancers seek environments that foster their growth as artists without encouraging unhealthy behaviors.”
Fine offers a number of both free and affordable programs through To the Pointe Nutrition. The Healthy Dancer™ is her most recommended program: a 6-week course that dives into building a sustainable lifestyle for performance while helping dancers foster a balanced relationship with food and body. Dancers can choose between the Basic Level or the Elite Level. “Both include a wealth of information and a lifetime of access,” says Fine. “The Elite Level involves working with me, one-on-one, for more individualized support.”
Alongside this program is The Healthy Dancer’s Survival Guide series, which consists of eBooks that walk dancers through critical times during their dance training: Summer Intensive Season, Nutcracker, and Audition Season. There’s also an eBook for Plant-Based Lifestyles to help those who practice veganism or vegetarianism. Additionally, Fine offers www.DanceNutrition.com, a free online resource site and blog with weekly articles and YouTube videos centered around dancers’ most common questions. There are also several free downloadable workbooks including a mini-course about nutrition supplements for dancers and a workbook, especially for parents. Be sure to check out all of Fine’s incredible resources and to follow her on Instagram @tothepointenutrition.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling with disordered eating, reach out to a registered dietitian for additional support.