Like many children of the 1970’s and 1980’s my day typically started with a bowl of Lucky Charms, Apple Jacks or Golden Grahams. My lunch usually included a PB&J and some Oreo cookies and dinner rounded out my nutrition with some Tuna Casserole or other noodly delight. It was not until my mid 30’s that I discovered a lifetime of stomach aches, depression and insomnia were rooted in my diet. I was diagnosed with Celiac. After 15 years as a bread-a-tarian (a vegetarian who mostly eats breads, pastas, and starch and avoids vegetables), I had to make a drastic change in my eating habits. It took time. It wasn’t easy. I fell of that wagon plenty of times either “cheating” or inadvertently eating gluten. Let me say, despite the ups and downs, and the day to day challenges, I have never felt stronger, healthier and saner than I do now at age 40. This body, the sad, ill little thing it used to be is now capable of anything I ask. I teach, dance, and rehearse from 20-25 hours a week. I have energy for my family for my horseback riding obsession, for creativity. My mind is so clear that I can remember 13 dances and where 100’s of dancers stand when it’s show time.
When we discovered that my son also had celiac at age 5, the dramatic effect on his incredibly challenging, moody, unhappy, angry behavior was seen and felt by every person in his life. His teachers, relatives, neighbors and friends noticed this sensitive little being had been hiding under the tirade of fists and tantrums that were our life for his first 5 years. Living without gluten has given us the gift of a creative, resilient, sensitive young man. He was destined to be “that kid” who couldn’t control his body, sit still or keep his hands off his classmates but we changed that destiny with nutrition.
When I see kids come to class I can almost immediately (after 15 years of teaching) tell if they are hungry, tired or having a hard time emotionally. Call it intuition or call it experience, I can absolutely feel them. Yesterday, I had a child come in the door who was already melting. She told me, “I am hungry.” Moments later she fell while galloping and could not recover. She cried for several minutes unconsolable on my lap until I eventually turned her over to her guardian in the waiting room and she went home. If your child comes to class hungry, they will not have a successful day at dance. Unfortunately, it’s what you put into your child before class that really counts.
Would you eat a sucker, cookie or cupcake and then go exercise for an hour?! Maybe I’m weird but I certainly wouldn’t. I see time and time again kids come in on a sugar high and bottom out halfway through class and are crumpled on the floor unable to focus or keep up with the class. It’s a big deal. Nutrition is everything when it comes to success in not only in dance class but in life. A well fed body is like a well oiled machine, it runs and when it hits a little bump it gets right over it and moves on.
What do I suggest? Feed your child a snack before class that has some protein and carbohydrates. Their mood, and ability to dance, focus and participate will show you that you are on the right track. Try and apple and peanut butter, a cheese stick and a few crackers, a hard boiled egg, a banana and a few almonds, a handful of pepperoni or salami, a bowl of soup if you have the time at home to eat it.
When I think back to being a young dancer in Ballet class, there were so many times I was completely spaced out, unable to remember the routine and relying on watching my classmates to help me get through the choreography. Even the most recent company I was in as an adult, I relied heavily on my friend Summer to go over the steps with me over and over until the were muscle memory so I wouldn’t have to rely on my fuzzy brain. I was not eating the way I should but I felt too busy, overwhelmed and tired to do anything else. What might I have accomplished if my brain and body were nourished the way they should have been?