As a former soloist with the New York City Ballet, and a person living with type 1 diabetes, I'd be surprised if I didn't have some issues with food and weight. The demands on professional ballet dancers to be thin are constant and unrelenting. Yes, I was told to lose weight more than once when I had gained just a few pounds. Yes, I went over board and got too thin at different times. Yes, I started analyzing everything I ate and felt like I was only special if my body was perfectly thin. And yes I was consumed with self-loathing when I felt out of control and could not stop eating.
I was a young woman, like so many today, with a body image distortion. And I could have ended up with Diabulimia, a condition affecting more and more young women and girls with type 1 or insulin dependent diabetes. (Diabulimia is not a recognized medical condition even though the American Diabetes Association does recognize insulin omission as a commonly used tactic to lose weight).
Insulin, the key to maintaining long-term health, (what we inject ourselves with as type 1 diabetics) is also a fat storing hormone and can cause weight gain.
These teenage girls with diabetes find they can stay thin by not taking their insulin. In fact one of the side effects of uncontrolled blood sugar levels is weight loss. So what better way for these girls (and most likely some males) to stay thin than to neglect to monitor their diabetes? Elevated blood sugar levels can cause patients to become dehydrated, fatigued, and experience a breakdown of muscle tissue. Not to mention the long-term effects that can be devastating such as kidney disease, blindness, heart attack and stroke, and loss of limbs.
Thankfully, I avoided the devastating repercussions resulting from this deliberate insulin deprivation. I come from a health conscious family and chose to turn to my grandmother when I was diagnosed with diabetes. My grandmother, who was also a dancer, was into health food before it had a name. It was the beginning of a very long journey to discover the best way to eat for my diabetes, and my life.
While far from the seriousness of Diabulimia, when you have a condition that is directly affected by what you eat, there is a tremendous pressure around every food choice. I used to feel trapped by every bite of food, and when I would over-eat or eat something contrary to my dietary regime I was consumed with guilt. Diabetes is obviously such a condition, but there are many others. There is much media today about the role diet plays in relation to diseases such as Cancer, heart disease, obesity, IBS, and even ailments that would not appear to have any connection to nutrition or diet.
A few things that have been particularly helpful to me.
1. Control my blood sugar levels. When my blood sugar levels are high I feel ravenously hungry no matter how much food I have eaten. If you have diabetes, control your sugar levels, and if you do not, try to eat foods that keep your blood sugar levels stable.
2. Choose foods that nourish your body. Think of your body like a car. If you don't put gas in, it won't run at all. When you put poor quality cheap gas in, it will run but may stop and start. If you put high quality gas in it will be running like a Ferrari. I feel physically and emotionally better when what I have eaten nourishes my body.
3. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an outlet for emotional stress. I may always be someone who eats when I am stressed and anxious, overly tired and emotional. But that doesn't mean I can't address the underlying causes of my stress. Sometimes I just need to set aside time in the day to just "be" and feel what it is that is bothering me. Exercise and good quality sleep are also extremely important for me to have a more balanced attitude and perspective around the choices I make with food.
4. Educate yourself. When I have been both underweight, and a bit over my preferred weight, I have suffered far more sleeplessness, anxiety, and fear. It helped me to understand that my physiology directly influenced my emotions and my ability to make rational decisions.
You don't have to be a ballet dancer to feel the pressure to look a certain way. Every time I open a fashion magazine, watch TV, or go to the movies I see thin beautiful women that I must admit I compare myself to. It is hard not to be influenced by society's likes and dislikes.
As a ballet teacher and coach today I am in the position to give positive feedback for hard work and effort. My students know that I am pleased with what they do with their bodies, and not concerned with the size and shape of their physique. They also know that I am passionate about living a healthy life, and that I am there for them should they have any questions about their own health and life path.
It is important that we learn to value ourselves because of who we are and not how we look. We should recognize how easily we are swayed by outside influences as well as ingrained negative perceptions of ourselves. My experience in life has been so much richer when I am feeling physically and emotionally healthy, and living with gratitude.