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Eating for Belly Dancing
From my experience, it is very important to eat right when being a belly dancer (and I'm sure it's the same for all dancers). There are times when I've over done it with food and had to face a big problem...my costumes wouldn't fit. This is not a good situation to be in when you are a performer and it's a discipline to correct, but eating healthy is somewhat of a discipline all around, isn't it?
What I've found is that being accountable for what I eat has helped me keep in shape. It's important to eat often and to eat the right things. I don't want this article to be another article that people read and say, "yeah, I know that already" but instead be one where it "clicks" and really makes sense.
For me, I use a food journal to help me keep on top of what I'm eating and what energy I'm expending. It's not to "diet" but to be aware of what effect my actions have on my overall goal (to maintain weight). But food journals are also great for losing or gaining weight, depending on your goal.
So on to what to eat...it's no big surprise that I'm going to say eat healthy things like vegetables and fruits. But why? It's because they are high in fiber, low in calories (most) and give your body a natural source of energy instead of a burst of energy like in highly processed foods and pre-made foods. An example of what my daily intake looks like is below.
But one thing I cannot stress most is drinking water! I carry a bottle with me wherever I go. It's ready ahead of time so I don't forget it. Sipping water is a great way to prevent yourself from being dehydrated and often when you think you're hungry, you're actually thirsty. So what better way to curb a supposed hungry feeling than staying hydrated?
As a dancer, I've found that breads and sugary junk foods are really bad for bloating. As a belly dancer, I am ok with having a little tummy, but a bloated belly or lower abdomen is not only not nice to have bulging over my costume, but also is quite discomforting while performing.
My meal before I perform is light, ususally a salad and lean meat of some sort. I do love spinach salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, and mini mozarella balls or goat cheese, topped off with raspberry viniagrette. A well balanced meal that is refreshing and easy to make. After performing I drink at least 500ml of water to replenish what I worked off and then eat a starchy carbohydrate like a granola bar.
Now, to repeat some of the basics that have been taught by many others, it's important to eat a balanced diet. The following paragraphs will review what I believe is an approach to a balanced diet (NOTE: It may not be suitable for everyone so please check with your physician before making any major change to your eating regime).
The key to a healthy balanced diet is variety. You need to consume food from all the different food groups to ensure that your body is getting the vitamins, nutrients, and energy it needs to function properly and be healthy. This also means not cutting foods from your diet. The scare of fat has people cutting it entirely from their diet, which is actually bad. Your body needs the fat to metabolize properly and release the energy that your body runs on. If you deprive your body of it, you will get cravings and eat unhealthy processed foods that are high in sodium, and contain trans fats.
Eating a balanced diet is not only about eating one good meal, or only eating three meals a day. A balanced diet involves eating small meals and snacks throughout the day to ensure your body is constantly receiving the nutrients, energy, and vitamins that it needs to function at peak form. You may be eating three good meals a day, but because they are so far apart and you get hungry, the snacks you choose might not be healthy, full of sugar and get metabolized so fast, that an hour later, you are hungry again.
In order to achieve a good nutritional balance, each meal needs to have all the different food groups. The snacks in between should also reflect that. Reaching for a piece of fruit, or some veggie sticks is a much better option than fighting with the vending machine.
Fruit and vegetables
These should make up about a third of your daily diet and can be eaten as part of every meal. The Canada food guide recommends 7-8 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. But what is a serving? A single fruit, such as apple, orange, peach, pear, etc count as a single serving. Some strawberries, a handful of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries also count as a serving. Dried, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables also count towards your daily intake. A cereal bowl of lettuce or other green leafy vegetables count as a serving. An onion, some leeks, two large handfuls of shredded carrots, or cabbage also count as a serving each. Potatoes, although vegetables, do not count as a vegetable serving, as they are starchy and belong to the starch group. Sweet potatoes are on the other hand, are an excellent source of vitamins. You should also consume a different variety of fruits and vegetables every day to ensure that you are getting the maximum nutrition possible. Eating the same fruits and vegetables day after day will probably cause you to miss out on other nutrients.
This food group should also make up about a third of your diet and contains the starchy carbohydrates that are the body's main source of energy.
When selecting products from this food group, choose unrefined carbohydrates over those that have been refined, as they will contain the whole of the grain. Wholegrain foods are rich in fibre and other nutrients that have many health benefits. Choose brown rice over white. Whole grain pastas, over the regular white semolina. This food group should not be cut out of your diet completely. Starch contains sugar which is your body’s main source of energy. These foods can be broken down quickly and the energy absorbed right away. By the time the starch has been metabolized, the protein and vegetables and dairy that you have also consumed would also be metabolizing, providing your body with all the nutrients and vitamins it needs. Eating the starchy foods also sends a quick message to your brain that you are getting full. Eating protein alone will cause you to eat more, as it takes longer for it to be processed by your body, as it will take longer for the “I’m full signal” to be sent to your brain. In the end, you will end up consuming more calories and they will have to be converted into fat. So don’t cut the starches out completely, you just need to make better choices of it.
The final third of a balanced diet is made up of three groups containing foods that need to be consumed in smaller proportions than the other two principal categories. These food groups also contain nutrients essential to our diet, so it's important not to leave them out altogether.
Milk and dairy foods
These should be eaten in moderation because of their high saturated fat content, but they're an important source of calcium, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Choose low-fat or reduced-fat version
Meat, fish, eggs and beans
This food group includes both animal and plant sources of protein, which is a major functional and structural component of all cells. Protein provides the body with between 10 and 15 per cent of its dietary energy, and is needed for growth and repair.
Foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar
This group makes up the smallest section include foods that should only be eaten sparingly because, although they're an important energy source, they contain very few nutrients and are often known as 'empty calories'.
They should only be eaten as occasional treats, or to increase the palatability of other important foods (such as olive oil on salads, a scraping of spread on bread, or a sprinkling of sugar on some tart fruits).
Having said all this, an occasional treat is definitely in order. The big part of a balanced diet is proportion and variety. So if you are generally hitting all your food groups, go ahead have that piece of cheesecake, just don’t eat the whole cake on your own. You know your body best, and it will send you signals of what it needs. This is why you get cravings. Your body is lacking a vital nutrient. It is how you eat to satisfy those cravings that makes a huge difference.